Got an old phone? You may soon lose internet access as Vodafone begins to turn off 3G with others to follow
If you've got an old mobile handset you may soon lose internet access. Vodafone has become the first major mobile network to switch off 3G in parts of the country with other networks set to follow. Here's how to check if your handset is impacted and what you need to do about it.
Below we explain:
- Whose handsets are most likely to lose internet access.
- When internet access on your phone will be turned off.
- How to check if you'll still be able to get the internet on your mobile.
- What to do if you're affected.
If the switch off means you now need a new handset or Sim, see our Cheap Mobile Finder tool.
The switch off is most likely to be an issue for users of older mobile devices and Sim cards that can't connect to newer 4G or 5G networks. It means that if you have a phone or Sim that only supports 3G, you will no longer be able to conduct most internet-related tasks once your network turns it off (you'll technically still have access to the internet on 2G but the speeds will be so slow you'll struggle to be able to perform most tasks).
You’ll still be able to make calls and send text messages over 2G, though you'll also lose the functionality to do this when 2G is eventually switched off too.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom estimates 5.5 million people will be affected by the combined shake-up.
Other devices, such as personal care alarms, security alarms, car satellite navigation systems and payment terminals, might also be affected by the 3G switch-off - though it's unclear if these rely on a particular network's service. We've asked Ofcom and major manufacturers for more information and we'll update this story when we know more. If you're concerned in the meantime, contact the retailer or the manufacturer.
The Government has set a deadline for 3G to be turned off by 2025 and 2G by 2033 - though some networks will do so sooner. Here's when the major mobile networks plan to turn off 2G and 3G:
- Vodafone: The 3G switch-off began in February 2023 in Basingstoke and Plymouth initially. From June 2023, this was extended to Greater London, Hull, and Oxford. Vodafone hasn't said exactly when 2G will be turned off yet.
- EE: 3G will be switched off in early 2024, with its 2G network to be switched off "later in the decade".
- Three: 3G will be completely turned off by the end of 2024. Three doesn't use the 2G network.
- Virgin Media O2: It has confirmed that it'll begin switching off its 3G network in 2025. It added that 2G will be switched off by 2033, but that it'll remain in place for now for calls and texts while 3G is switched off.
If you piggyback off a major network, you'll also be affected
Once the main networks switch off 3G and 2G, it'll also disappear on the networks that piggyback off of them.
For example, Asda Mobile, Lebara, TalkMobile and Voxi all use the Vodafone network, so users in Basingstoke and Plymouth can no longer access 3G on those networks. See our Piggybacking your phone network guide for more on how this works.
To check if your phone will still be able to access the internet once 3G is turned off, there are a number of things you can try:
- Go to your phone's settings and look for the "Mobile Network" or "Network Settings" option. Here, you should see a list of network modes that your phone supports, such as 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Make sure 4G (or 5G) is listed and enabled. If you don’t see 4G or 5G, then your phone doesn’t support it.
- Check your phone's specifications in the user manual or by searching for your phone's make and model online. Look for information on the phone's network capabilities and check if it supports 4G or 5G.
- Use a 4G checking tool, such as Vodafone's 4G checker, which is also available to customers of other providers, or IEMI.info. To use the checkers you'll need your phone's IMEI number, its unique ID number. You can get this by doing the following:
- Dial *#06#
- You'll be shown a barcode relating to your phone, including your phone's IEMI number.
- Enter this IEMI number into a 4G checking tool and it'll tell you if your phone is compatible or not.
- Contact your network. If you're still unsure whether your phone supports 4G, you can contact your network and ask it to check for you.
You'll still be able to make and receive calls for now, but check if you can boost the sound quality
As outlined above, while the 3G switch off means you can't use the internet on your phone, you can still make and receive calls and texts over 2G for now. However, you can boost the audio quality of your calls by checking if you have something called '4G calling' switched on.
This is typically only available to those with handsets released from 2016 onwards, and you can check if your device supports it by following the process above and looking for '4GLTE' or '4G Calling'.
However, even if your device supports 4G calling, your network might not, so you'll need to check that too. The big four networks do, as well as some of the piggybackers, such as Lebara and Asda. But others, such as Plusnet Mobile aren't yet capable.
If your phone and/or Sim isn't 4G capable and you want to use the internet, then you'll have to buy a new device or Sim. Both the phone and the Sim need to be 4G capable; having just one or the other won't work.
Almost all new phones and Sims now support 4G, with the exception of some "dumb phones" (non-smart phones). You can use our Cheap Mobile Finder to find the best option for you.
Why networks are switching off this access
The UK Government has set a deadline of 2033 to phase out the older services.
Ofcom says turning off 3G networks will free up capacity, or "spectrum", that can then be used to expand 4G and 5G network coverage, which should help to negate so called "signal dead spots".
In its latest Connected Nations report, Ofcom said the four main networks have 4G coverage outdoors in around 99% of the UK, while initiatives such as the Shared Rural Network have improved mobile coverage in remote areas.