EE updates 3G network closure dates

UK’s leading mobile operator releases more specific details about plans to devote spectrum resources to 4G and 5G services, and announces 3G scheme with charity

Hot on the heels of rival UK mobile operator Virgin Media O2 making a similar move, and after a successful trial in the town of Warrington in Cheshire, EE has added more details to its plans to begin switching off 3G services on its network, confirming its nationwide 3G switch-off will start from January 2024, with the plan to complete it across the UK by that March.

3G usage on EE’s network reached record-low levels in summer 2023. 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.

The background to the switch-off began in December 2021, when the UK government and the leading UK mobile network operators – 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 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, and innovations in tech to achieve net-zero targets and improve healthcare.

EE’s pilot in Warrington this summer saw the town become the first place in the UK where the company’s 3G network was switched off. The operator regarded the pilot as a significant milestone in its journey to enhance Britain’s mobile infrastructure and helped inform the approach for nationwide retirement of 3G.

The BT-owned operator added that following the switch off, there were no customer complaints about network coverage or performance.

It also said there were also no capacity issues reported on either EE’s 2G or 4G networks, despite a natural rise in traffic as more people used them every day.

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As it was making the transition to more effective mobile services using 4G and 5G spectrum, EE also noted that its future would also be more sustainable.

“3G represents around 35% of our mobile network’s total power consumption – massively outweighing its usage, which is falling all the time,” said EE chief networks officer Greg McCall.

“Retiring the technology is one of the best steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, as modern networks like 4G and 5G are not only faster and more reliable for customers, but also up to ten times more efficient,” he said. “In fact, we estimate that switching off our 3G network across the UK will save the equivalent amount of energy needed to fully charge up to four billion smartphones, making it better for the planet as well as our customers.”

As it was making its move, EE also revealed it has made 3G a dedicated part of its partnership with charity AbilityNet, which is delivering digital skills training and support to more than 4,000 over-65s across the UK.

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