Vodafone announces 3G network retirement in 2023

Vodafone UK Newbury headquarters

Telecommunications giant Vodafone has announced the retirement of the 3G mobile data network next year.

The Newbury-headquartered company says it will use the freed-up spectrum to expand its 4G and 5G networks.

The company has 18 million customers in the UK – and is reckoned that between two and three million people across all network providers are still using an older handset that is not capable of connecting to the newer 4G or 5G networks.

Vodafone said that today four per cent of the data used on its network travels via 3G, compared with 30 per cent in 2016.

Vodafone’s UK CEO, Ahmed Essam, said: “We’re building the UK’s most reliable mobile network, and focusing on the technologies that best connect our customers and have the least impact on the environment. 3G has connected so many customers over the last 17 years, but the future is 4G and 5G.

“We’re going to be focused on giving customers a faster and more reliable mobile experience, and minimising our impact on the environment by taking away a layer of our network that uses inefficient equipment.

“We start communicating to customers about this today – our goal is for everyone to stay connected, and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that’s the case. During the campaign, we’ll be asking customers not just to make sure that their own phone supports 4G and 4G Calling, but also to check in on friends and family.

“There are people who aren’t confident with technology, and we want to ensure everyone is getting the help that they need so that no one is left behind.”

3G came to the UK in 2003 with Hutchinson’s Three. Vodafone launched its own 3G service 18 months later in 2004.

4G arrived in 2021, with EE rolling the service out to 11 cities, including Bristol. But the faster network is still unavailable in some rural areas.

5G arrived in May 2019 with EE and Vodafone at the vanguard and is still being rolled out. The network is limited to users in urban areas on the latest handsets.