Vodafone UK outlined plans to begin retiring its 3G network in 2023 to use the freed-up spectrum to improve the speed and coverage of its 4G and 5G networks.

The operator launched a year-long campaign to inform customers about the planned closure.

Vodafone UK CEO Ahmed Essam stated 3G had “connected so many customers over the last 17 years, but the future is 4G and 5G”.

Less than 4 per cent of the data running over Vodafone’s network is now on 3G, compared with more than 30 per cent in 2016.

The operator also pointed to the environmental advantages of the switch-off#3G , noting 5G networks are “more than ten-times as energy efficient as old 3G equipment”.

Rivals are planning similar moves. BT’s mobile operator EE plans to phase out its 3G services by 2023, while CK Hutchison-owned 3 UK moved to end the sale of compatible devices from 2018.

Open RAN push
In December 2021, the UK government announced it had agreed with 3 UK, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone to switch off all public 2G and 3G networks by 2033.

The aim is to free up spectrum for the mass deployment of 5G and other future networks which the government said can be used for driverless vehicles and drones, immersive VR and AR experiences, and innovations around sustainability and healthcare.

New suppliers entering the market and deploying next-generation networks is an expected result from the shutdown, alongside benefits from reduced power use and simplification in management of the networks.

The UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the operators also agreed to accelerate the deployment of open RAN, with goals to carry 35 per cent of mobile traffic on compatible equipment by 2030.