The 3G mobile network switch off – what you need to know

Mobile phone networks have already started to switch off or in some cases, have already switched off their 3G network. For some with older handsets, this could mean you'll lose internet access. Here's how to check if your handset is affected and what you need to do about it.  

This is the first incarnation of this guide. If you've any feedback, please let us know in the 3G mobile network switch off forum thread.

What is the 3G network switch off?

Currently, when you use your mobile phone, it'll use what's known as a 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G signal to allow you to make calls, send texts or access the internet. But now, 3G is coming to the end of its life and is being switched off to make way for the more efficient 4G and 5G signals.

If your phone can't connect to the newer 4G or 5G networks, you'll likely be unable to access the internet when you're out and about (unless you can connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot), and you'll need to use the slower 2G network for calls and texts – which could mean poorer quality calls.

When will the 3G switch off happen? 

All networks will switch 3G off by 2025 – though some will do so sooner. 

There's four main networks in the UK: Vodafone, EE, Three and O2. If you're on a different network (for example Giffgaff or iD Mobile) it'll 'piggyback' on one of the main four's network to power its service. When 3G is switched off on the main network, it'll also be switched off on the piggybacking firm too (see our Piggybacking guide for full info).

  • Vodafone: Its 3G switch off was completed in February 2024.

  • EE: Its switch off was completed in February 2024.

  • Three: It plans to complete its 3G switch off by the end of 2024.

  • Virgin Media O2: It has confirmed that it'll begin switching off its 3G network in 2025.
  • 2G will also be switched off eventually

    For now, the 2G signal will still be around but the Government has confirmed networks will switch it off by 2033. When 3G is switched off, older devices and smaller networks will still rely on 2G to make calls and send texts. Networks haven't yet confirmed exactly when it'll start switching off its 2G networks.

  • What is 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G?

    The 'G' stands for generation, so each number is a separate 'generation' of mobile network technology, and each generation brings improvements in speed and quality.

    Third generation (3G) technology has been around since 2003, while 2G has been around since the 90's. 4G was launched in the UK in 2012, while the latest generation – 5G – first arrived in 2019.

Why are networks switching 3G off

The Government has set a deadline of 2033 to phase out both 3G and 2G technology. The decision was made with the major mobile networks (Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three). 3G will be switched off by the end of 2025, whilst networks will switch off 2G nearer the 2033 deadline.

Telecommunications regulator 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 tackle so-called "signal dead spots".

If your phone or Sim doesn't support 4G (or 5G), you'll lose internet access

If you have a phone or Sim that only supports 3G, you'll effectively no longer be able to use the internet once it's fully switched off by your provider – you'll still technically be able to connect to the internet, but you'll struggle to do even basic tasks.   

You’ll still be able to make calls and send text messages over 2G, though the quality of the call will likely be a lot worse than it was on the 3G network. 

The 3G switch off is only likely to affect you if you have an older mobile devices or (very old) Sim card, which can't connect to the newer 4G or 5G networks. See how to check if your phone is 4G capable.

According to communications regulator Ofcom, says there are around five million people that will be impacted by the switch off of both the 3G and 2G networks.

Phone or Sim isn't 4G capable? You may need to upgrade

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 basic (non-smart) phones. You can use our Cheap Mobile Finder to find the best option for you.


With Three? If you can't get 4G on your phone it'll lose ALL functionality

Mobile provider Three doesn't have a 2G network, so that means when it completes its 3G switch off, any phone that can't connect to 4G or 5G networks will stop working almost entirely – you won't be able to make any calls (except to emergency services), send any texts or connect to the internet.

If that's you, you may want to consider upgrading your device before Three completes its switch off. It's said it'll start switching off its 3G network in April this year and hopes to finish by the end of 2024. To find a new phone you can use our Cheap Mobile Finder tool.

  • What other devices will be affected by the 3G switch off?

    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.

    If you're concerned in the meantime, contact the retailer or the manufacturer to see if you device is effected.

How do I know if my phone is 4G capable?

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:   

You can also manually check in your phone's settings...

  • 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 its network capabilities and check if it supports 4G or 5G.

For better call quality, check if your phone & networks supports '4G calling' or VoLTE

You can boost the audio quality of your calls by checking if you have something called '4G calling' switched on and if your networks supports it. 4G calling, also known as Voice over LTE (VoLTE), allows you to make and receive calls over a 4G network instead of falling back to 2G (or 3G where still available).

This is typically only available to those with handsets released from around 2016 onwards, and you can check if your device supports it by using our 4G checker tool. 

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, Voxi and Asda. But others, such as Giffgaff don't just yet, but is rolling this out gradually.

1pMobile, Asda MobileEE, Honest MobileiD MobileLebara Mobile, O2Sky MobileSmartyTalkMobile, Tesco MobileThree, VodafoneVoxi

Ecotalk, Giffgaff, Superdrug Mobile, Talk Home, Your Co-op, Zevvle

If neither your phone or your network supports 4G calling, then once 3G has been switched off, your phone will use 2G signals when making calls. As 2G is slower, you may experience poor audio quality.

How to check if 4G calling is switched on?

If your phone and network support it, you'll need to ensure it's switch on in your device settings.

For Android devices, go to Settings, select SIM & network and then Enhanced communications. Make sure Enable VoLTE (4G calling) is set to On.

For Apple devices, go to Settings, select Mobile Service, then Mobile Data Options, tap Enable 4G and then Voice & Data to enable 4G calling.

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