EE, Vodafone and Three users issued with important deadline – check your phone now

UK mobile operators will soon start switching off their 3G networks, but millions of people remain unsure if they will be affected. According to new research from Uswitch.com, one in eight mobile phone owners don’t know if their phone can access 4G and 5G networks.

“This equates to 2.7 million Brits who could be without access to mobile data if they do not upgrade their device or follow the steps advised by their provider,” Uswitch said in a press release.

It means millions of Britons could be unsure if they will lose access to the web and the ability to access popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp that rely on an internet connection over 3G, 4G, 5G, or Wi-Fi. 5% of people asked said their phone is definitely a 3G handset, meaning the switch off might force them into buying a new mobile.

Vodafone started to turn off its 3G networks last year and will continue to do so in January. EE is beginning to this month, while Three will follow later in the year with O2 to turn off the lights by the end of 2025, but 43% of Brits are not even aware it’s happening, according to the research.

The idea behind the switch off is to free up precious mobile frequencies to better serve more modern and capable 4G and 5G networks that allow faster speeds and higher bandwidth for modern audio and video streaming.

Part of the reason many are unaware of the 3G switch off is down to how redundant the technology has become for most Brits. 3G was launched in 2003, and at the time was a huge leap forward for internet-connected mobile devices.

“Every UK mobile network has committed to switching off their 3G network by 2033, and we are the first to go ahead,” Vodafone said. “This gives us a head start on reusing the radio frequencies used for 3G to help more customers get faster, more efficient 4G and 5G services. Our 2G network remains in place for calls and texts.”

Most mobile voice calls now go over 4G or 5G, or fallback on the old 2G network if needed. With data services much faster on 4G and 5G, the UK’s 3G networks are being decommissioned.

Uswitch said elderly people are more likely to be affected by the end of 3G, with 24% of people over 75 unsure if their phone is 4G or 5G compatible. Although Vodafone’s 3G network is due to be completely retired by the end of January, 52% of British adults said they have not seen any communication about the switch off.

Such uncertainty echoes similar concerns voiced around the current switch over of landlines from analogue to digital technology. This switch over has even been paused for some customers after reports of essential phone and emergency technology being affected for vulnerable communities, resulting in Government intervention to reassess the phone companies’ initiative.

Though there is confusion around the 3G switch off, Uswitch.com said ‘‘most’ consumers now use a 4G or 5G smartphone and so shouldn’t be affected.

“The 3G switch-off will mainly impact the internet for customers using older mobile devices and services, and calls and texts will still be available to all mobile devices,” the firm said.

If you are unsure if you will be affected by the UK’s 3G switch off you should contact your mobile provider directly.

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