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Virgin Media O2 to begin switching off 3G network in 2025

As its network evolves and looking to enhance customer experience and improve services, VMO2 announces plans to pull plug on legacy mobile network to focus on upgrading faster, more reliable and energy-efficient infrastructure

Following its rival mobile operators in the UK, Virgin Media O2 has announced that, as part of its ongoing network transformation, it will start to switch off 3G services in 2025, enabling it to expand and upgrade its 4G and 5G connectivity.

In December 2021, the UK government and the leading UK mobile network operators (MNOs) – Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three – agreed on 2033 as the year by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off.

The switch-off plan was made to free up the required amount of spectrum to allow for the mass roll-out of 5G and other future networks such as 6G, which the UK government sees as providing the bedrock for use cases such as autonomous vehicles and drones, immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences, as well as innovations in tech to achieve net-zero targets and to improve healthcare.

Virgin Media O2’s 4G network currently covers 99% of the UK population, and by the end of 2023, 5G services will be available to more than half. While 2G will ultimately be switched off by 2033 – in line with government targets – it will remain in place to carry calls and texts while 3G is switched off.

As it made its announcement, Virgin Media O2 said the 3G switch-off would have two prime benefits: reducing energy consumption, therby contributing to Virgin Media O2’s wider plans to reach net zero by 2040; and delivering enhanced speeds and reliability for customers.

4G and 5G are significantly more energy-efficient than older 3G equipment. The operator revealed that 3G accounts for less than 4% of mobile data traffic on its network, but represents 11% of its energy consumption. By contrast, its 4G and 5G networks together account for 96% of mobile network data traffic and 29% of energy consumption. This means 3G uses 2.97 units of energy per unit of mobile traffic, while 4G and 5G together use 0.3 units of energy per unit of mobile traffic.

The move to simplify the network will mean mobile spectrum can be reallocated to the more efficient 4G and 5G services, which will improve customers’ experience through faster data speeds, more reliable streaming and higher-quality voice call services. Virgin Media O2’s programme will see 3G services switched off in phases across the country, with 3G connectivity expected to be fully switched off by the end of 2025.

As it planned for the switch-off, Virgin Media O2 assured that the vast majority of existing customers would not need to take any action during the switch-off period and said it was committed to helping those who may need additional support, such as anyone still using older devices. The company said it would be contacting customers well in advance to ensure they are aware of these changes and will clearly outline the steps they need to take and their options, with support pages and trained agents on hand to help customers navigate the changes.

“Switching off 3G and focusing our attention and investment on the faster, more reliable and more efficient 4G and 5G services is the right thing to do for our customers, our business and the environment”
Jeanie York, Virgin Media O2

“3G was once an exciting new development for telecoms providers that brought new opportunities for customers. But as we continue to evolve our network to provide the best mobile connectivity, it is clear that switching off 3G and focusing our attention and investment on the faster, more reliable and more efficient 4G and 5G services is the right thing to do for our customers, our business and the environment,” said Virgin Media O2 chief technology officer Jeanie York.

“We will begin to switch off 3G in 2025, but between now and then, we will be communicating directly with our customers to explain what this means for them and outline any steps they should take in the next 18 months. While most customers will need to take no action at all, we are committed to supporting everyone with this necessary transition.

“As this switchover takes place, we will continue to invest heavily in maintaining, upgrading and expanding our 4G and 5G networks to ensure we’re providing the fast and reliable mobile connectivity that our customers depend on.”

In its move, Virgin Media O2 said it would also work closely with consumer groups and charities, including Good Things Foundation, to draw on their expertise and experience to help manage this transition in the best way possible.

“Good Things Foundation has been working with Virgin Media O2 since 2021, when together we set up the National Databank to provide mobile data to low-income customers at risk of digital exclusion,” said Good Things Foundation chief executive Helen Milner.

“I am delighted that we have now been invited to work with the company on its 3G switch-off programme. Our expertise and insights can help deliver Virgin Media O2’s ambition to ensure all its customers, particularly those from vulnerable groups, are fully supported through the transition away from 3G, so their connectivity is safeguarded and maintained,” she added.

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