Vodafone announces 3G switch off for all UK customers from June sparking internet access fears

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The telecoms firm has confirmed a key service will be axed nationwide from next month

Vodafone has announced it will be switching off its 3G network nationwide from June in a move that will affect millions of customers.

The UK telecoms firm said the switch-off will allow 3G radio frequencies to be used for faster and more efficient 4G and 5G services instead.

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It also says the retirement of the 3G network is an important part of its strategy to reach Net Zero for its UK operation by 2027, with modern 5G networks being much more energy efficient. Sending a terabyte of data across the 5G network uses just 7% of the energy used to send the same amount of data across the 3G network.

Vodafone will be switching off its 3G network nationwide from June (Photo: Getty Images)Vodafone will be switching off its 3G network nationwide from June (Photo: Getty Images)
Vodafone will be switching off its 3G network nationwide from June (Photo: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Vodafone has already completed two successful switch-off pilots across Plymouth and Basingstoke in February this year, and has now confirmed plans to shutdown the remainder of its 3G network from next month.

The national switch-off will be done in phases throughout the remainder of 2023, beginning with Hull, Oxford and Greater London before progressing across the South. The remainder of the UK will follow later in the year.

Turning off the 3G network will affect customers’ mobile data, which is used when your phone is not connected to a WiFi network. Vodafone’s 2G network, which currently covers over 99% of the UK population, will remain in place for calls and texts and the firm said it will be providing extra support to vulnerable customers.

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Vodafone’s UK Chief Network Officer, Andrea Dona, said: “Our focus is to continue building the UK’s most reliable mobile network. To continue to do this, we need to ensure our technologies are fit for purpose.

“3G use has already dropped significantly, as most of Vodafone’s customers now use the 4G network. Currently less than 4% of data is used on our 3G network, in comparison to more than 30% in 2016.

“We’re also strengthening and improving our 4G and 5G coverage and this can only mean good news for our customers, as well as the wider UK economy.”

But campaigners have warned the switch-off could lead to millions of older people and those with basic phones without internet access. Digital Poverty Alliance has criticised the move, warning that the loss of 3G would have “detrimental effects”.

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In a statement, the group said: “Older and basic devices do not have 4G capabilities, so individuals who can only get online using a basic device will fall into digital poverty. Switching off 3G will have an adverse effect on the mission to help more people access the digital world.”

Vodafone says it has partnered with charities and other third parties to help support vulnerable customers, and has set up a Digital Skills Helpline. Customers who phone the helpline will be supported by specially trained advisors who can help with issues such as setting up a phone or tablet, or building confidence when using the internet.

Ms Dona added: “We’ve been working hard to make sure our customers are fully aware and have the information and tools they need to support themselves, as well as friends and family, through the programme.

“The Digital Skills Helpline is a great asset, bringing customers the skills they may need to make the most of their device. On this solid bedrock, now is the time to say goodbye to 3G and focus on the current benefits and future possibilities of our 4G and 5G networks.”

The Digital Skills Helpline – on 0800 987 4110 – is free to call from any UK mobile or landline and is open to everyone, whether they are a Vodafone customer or not.

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