The big 3G shutdown: is 3G still available? Three latest network set to pull the plug

What the 3G shutdown means for you. Does it matter that 3G network support is on the out?

3G 4G phone on styled background
(Image credit: Gettyimages)

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.

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.

As the Tech Editor at T3, Mike handles all things tech - from phones, tablets and laptops, to gaming and computing. Everything that's geeky yet cool. He's been working as a consumer technology journalist for the best part of 15 years, travelling the globe to attend all manner of industry events. You'll always find him setting up a new mobile phone or planning his next get-away.