2G and 3G to be phased out

2G and 3G mobile networks are going to be phased out by 2033 to help increase security and support the transition to networks with faster speeds.

The plans were announced by Nadine Dorries, the UK’s Digital Secretary, ahead of a trip to Washington DC and New York to discuss how the USA and the UK can co-operate on a transatlantic data policy.

£250 million strategy announced

The announcement follows the recent passage of the Telecommunications Security Act through Parliament and forms part of the government’s £250 million strategy to build a more competitive, innovative and diverse supply chain for telecoms, to reduce the world’s over-reliance on a few equipment makers. The UK and the US are united in their mission to resolve this global issue.

The government has agreed with the UK mobile network operators (MNOs) Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three that 2033 will be the date by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off.

The plans will free up spectrum – the radio waves used for sending and receiving information – to allow for the mass rollout of 5G and other future networks such as 6G which will help create huge possibilities for people’s lives. These technologies will help power driverless vehicles and drones, immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences, as well as innovations in tech to achieve Net Zero and improve healthcare. The hyper-fast speeds of 5G will also revolutionise internet accessibility on the go.

The government’s £200 million 5G Testbeds and Trials programme is already seeing next-generation networks transform industries – from smart farming to immersive reality experiences to enhancing the UK’s top tourist destinations and 5G buoys helping coastguards save lives at sea.

Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “5G technology is already revolutionising people’s lives and businesses – connecting people across the UK with faster mobile data and making businesses more productive.

“Today we are announcing a further £50 million to put the UK at the forefront of mobile connectivity and to make sure our telecoms networks are safe and secure now and in the future.

“We can only do this through stronger international collaboration and I will be meeting with our US allies today as we strengthen our ties on technology.”

In the next step in the tech revolution, the government and MNOs are also announcing new plans to boost innovation and accelerate the rollout of a new wireless communication technology known as Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), which enables mobile networks to be built using a variety of different equipment suppliers.

Open networks can feature components from multiple suppliers within one mast site or allow for components to be exchanged or used as replacements at masts that, until now, have been kitted out by a single supplier.

The new plans include a joint ambition for 35 per cent of the UK’s mobile network traffic to be carried over Open RAN by 2030, £36 million in funding for fifteen projects to trial the technology across Scotland, Wales and England, and a £15 million cash injection for the SONIC prototype testing facility for next-generation telecoms tech.

Nadine Dorries will also meet with Director of the White House Office for Science and Tech PolicyDr Eric Lander today. They will discuss strengthening ambitions for the US-UK Technology Partnership which aims to foster collaboration on shared challenges across a range of issues including online safety, data and digital competition.

She will also speak at a reception at the UK Ambassador’s Residence in Washington attended by a selection of digital, tech and cyber stakeholders from the US administration, think tanks, Congress and UK government. She will promote the upcoming UK National Cyber Strategy which will strengthen the country’s collective security and defend a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace.

How will 2G and 3G be phased out?

A current barrier for new suppliers entering the UK’s 5G market is that they must, as it stands, offer 2G or 3G services because they are required by all four domestic mobile operators. Setting out a timeline for winding down these services follows recommendations from the Diversification Taskforce and will allow new suppliers to enter the market by giving them certainty on when they can start work building 5G networks across Britain.

There are wider benefits including reducing the power needed to run multiple networks, being able to reuse spectrum and retiring old kit. It also makes running networks simpler as operators do not have to handle the challenges which arise from managing up to four networks, and even more as we move towards 6G.

Some individual operators will switch off their networks, particularly their 3G networks, earlier than 2033, and will announce their own plans on timing. The number of consumers using 2G and 3G who will need to upgrade is expected to be very low by 2033, and operators have committed to help customers transition to newer network technologies.

Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK, said:

“Mobile UK and its members welcome the government’s statement. Switching off 2G and 3G will enable operators to transition fully to more energy efficient and high capacity networks to the benefit of customers. We are also working with government and wider industry to support the maturity of new RAN solutions to open up further opportunities for innovation and new services in the future.”

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