Is 3G still available? News that Three UK, a major mobile network provider, is set to pull the plug for its 3G network by the end of 2024 might not come as a huge surprise – especially as USA carriers have already begun their 3G cull – but it does raise the question as to how the incoming end of 3G will affect you.
The general answer, at least certainly for those with a 4G/LTE and/or 5G capable device, which will cover the majority of releases over the past several years, is that it will have no notable impact. Only a very small number of those still using far older devices that cannot access 4G or 5G spectrum will likely need to rethink their product choice.
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Which carriers will end 3G and when?
- AT&T: already gone, February 2022
- T-mobile: scheduled 1 July 2022
- Sprint: expected to end '31 May 2022'
- Verizon: scheduled 31 December 2022
- EE: scheduled 'early 2023' (date unspecified)
- Three: 'end of 2024' (date unspecified)
- Vodafone: 'in 2023' (date unspecified)
- o2/Telefonica: will switch off 2G and 3G 'by 2033'
The end of 3G: Why's it happening?
In short: 3G is old. Like, really old for a technology – it arrived back in 2002, some 20 years ago. It's therefore inefficient for those networks and carriers to even be running multiple systems, especially in a world where a vast majority of their users will be using 4G or greater – whether they're acutely aware of that or not.
Secondly, the way data is packaged works differently between 3G and 4G (and 5G) – the USA uses CDMA, the UK is GSM, so are different again – and it's inefficient to be running both at once when the world is moving forward.
The number of users expected to be affected isn't explicitly known, but as a percentage it's believed to be small worldwide – less than 10 percent at the time of writing. Even so, that's still not a small number of people, so some millions of network users could be affected in the coming years.
No more 3G connection: What can I do?
You'd need to possess a rather old device to fall foul of the 3G cut – say, an iPhone 5 or earlier. Even then, however, some access to ultra-slow (by today's standards) 2G will remain, so it won't necessarily wipe out your connection entirely – although 3G-specific products were released and, in such instances, yes, you'll need to look to buy something new to replace the fallout.
Is it such a bad thing that 3G is ending? It'll save companies operational costs which, in theory, should be used for re-investment in newer, faster systems and architecture. And that, ultimately, can only benefit the future of network connectivity as we move into a world where 5G is the norm – until, again, in the future we move beyond that too.