2G and 3G are the second and third generations respectively of mobile phone networks. 2G, introduced in 1991, enabled text messages as well as voice calls. 3G, introduced in 2003, added basic internet connectivity. They have been followed by 4G and 5G.

The government announced in December 2021 that it and the mobile industry had agreed to switch off 2G and 3G networks in the UK. The UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs: EE, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, and Three) will retire both networks across the UK by 2033 at the latest, but likely much earlier. Mobile services will be carried over 4G and 5G networks instead.

When will 2G and 3G be switched off?

The MNOs have already started switching off their 3G networks. EE, Vodafone, and Three plan to retire 3G in 2024. Virgin Media O2 plans to do so in 2025.

3G, which is primarily used for mobile data services, is being switched off first because it has already largely been superseded by 4G. According to Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, just 3% of mobile data traffic was carried over 3G in 2023.

The MNOs have not yet set a timetable for switching off 2G, although EE has indicated that it will do so by 2030. The 2G network is mainly used for voice calls and texts. As 2G currently has wider coverage than 4G, it remains important for providing voice and text services in rural areas. There are also more non-mobile phone devices that rely on 2G (such as energy smart meters).

Other mobile providers (such as Lebara, Sky Mobile, and Asda Mobile) use the networks built by one of the MNOs. Their switch-off timings will depend on which network they use.

Why is it happening?

Switching off 2G and 3G will free up capacity on mobile networks that can be used by faster 4G and 5G services instead.

It is also part of the government’s strategy to improve the resilience of UK communications networks. Following the decision to ban Chinese company Huawei, there are just two major suppliers of 5G network equipment in the UK market: Nokia and Ericsson. Switching off 2G and 3G will make it easier for new suppliers to enter the market because their products will not need to be compatible with legacy 2G and 3G technologies.

How will customers be affected?

Mobile handsets

4G and 5G-enabled devices will not be affected by the switch-off. They will be able to use 4G for voice calls and texts, and 4G or 5G for mobile data.

Ofcom estimated in 2023 that there are over 2.4 million devices in use that rely on 2G or 3G (down from 5.5 million the previous year). Of these, over half are residential customers with a 3G mobile phone. Once 3G services in their area are withdrawn, these customers will not be able to access mobile data services unless they upgrade their device.

Most customers with 3G handsets will continue to be able to make voice calls and send texts, as these services typically use the 2G network. However, Three does not have a 2G network, so its customers will lose voice and text services if they do not upgrade to a 4G device.

When 2G is also switched off, all customers will need to have upgraded to at least a 4G-enabled device.

Basic 4G phones cost from £15. Customers who are concerned about their ability to purchase a new handset should contact their mobile provider. EE has said that it will offer a free 4G-ready handset to customers who are registered as vulnerable.


Ofcom expects the impact on mobile coverage to be “negligible”. As of September 2023, 99% of UK premises can receive a 4G signal indoors from at least one operator.

All MNOs are in the process of expanding their 4G networks, including to ‘not-spots’ under the Shared Rural Network programme. Further information can be found in the Library briefing, Rural mobile coverage in the UK: Not-spots and partial not-spots (January 2024).

Non-mobile devices

There are devices other than mobile handsets that use 2G and 3G networks, such as:

  • Smart energy meters communicate wirelessly between a customers’ premises and their energy suppliers. In southern England and Wales, smart meters use the 2G and 3G networks for this. The Data Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for the smart meter communications network, has agreed a deal with Vodafone to utilise its 4G network The Public Accounts Committee has estimated that 7 million meters will need to be upgraded to enable them to connect to the 4G network.
  • Some telecare devices (for example, personal alarms and health monitoring systems) use 3G SIM cards. Ofcom estimates that 1-2% of these devices will need to be upgraded.
  • eCall systems in some modern cars and vans automatically call the emergency services in the event of an accident. They use the 2G network to make calls.

Device suppliers are responsible for ensuring that their devices continue to work after the 2G and 3G networks are switched off.

In January 2024 Ofcom published guidance for third-party suppliers and wrote to local governments and the telecare sector to raise awareness.

What is the role of the government and Ofcom?

The 2G and 3G switch-off is an industry-led process. Neither the government nor Ofcom have a direct, formal role. However, both have said that they are monitoring the implementation of the switch-off to minimise its impact on customers. The government said that it will:

work with network operators to ensure a smooth transition that meets the needs of business users, ensuring that consumers, including vulnerable groups, are treated fairly and can continue to access the services they need.

As the telecoms sector regulator, Ofcom is responsible for making sure that mobile companies are meeting their obligations to customers.

What obligations do mobile companies have to their customers?

Ofcom imposes obligations on communications providers that may be of relevance to the switch-off. In this context Ofcom has set out its “expectations” for MNOs as they switch off their 2G and 3G networks. Ofcom’s regulatory requirements on mobile providers fall into three broad areas: customer contracts, vulnerable customers, and emergency calls.

Customer contracts

Service providers are required to give customers detailed, transparent, and understandable information about contract terms. Ofcom has said that for customers entering into a contract with a device that is not 4G capable should be told:

  • The date when the device will no longer function on the 2G and 3G networks (if known); and
  • That they will need to upgrade to a 4G-capable device to access services from that date.

Customers who have already entered into a contract need to be notified at least one month in advance of any contractual changes that are not to their benefit. Ofcom stated that this would include customers who will be impacted by the 2G and 3G switch-off. These customers may have a right to exit their contract penalty-free.

Treatment of vulnerable customers

Service providers must have policies in place to support vulnerable customers, such as disabled customers. For example, they must communicate with vulnerable customers in a format that suits their needs. Ofcom expects providers to work with consumer bodies and charities to develop and monitor their approach to the switch-off.

Access to the emergency services

Mobile service providers must ensure that they offer uninterrupted access to the emergency services.

Calls to the emergency services currently use the 2G network. Unlike other calls they can utilise any available MNO’s network, rather than just the customer’s own MNO. MNOs will need to enable emergency calling and roaming via 4G before the 2G network is switched off.

The emergency video relay service, which allows deaf British Sign Language users to contact the emergency services, needs a mobile data connection (3G, 4G, or 5G). Users of this service will need at least a 4G-capable handset to utilise this service once the 3G network is switched off. Ofcom expects that “most” users are likely to have a 4G device but says it will be important for providers to identify users and make them aware of the switch-off.

Voluntary commitments

In addition to their legal obligations, the MNOs have all made voluntary commitments under Ofcom’s Fairness for Customers charter. Ofcom has set out further expectations based on these commitments. For example, it expects MNOs to:

  • Deliver the same level of 4G coverage so that customers do not experience a reduction in coverage.
  • Ensure that their online coverage checkers include information about the switch-off.
  • Communicate with and support customers who may be affected, including giving 3 to 6 months’ notice to customers who may need to upgrade their handset and informing them of low-cost options.
  • Make “every effort” to identify non-mobile devices that may be affected and contact relevant industry groups.

Support and advice

Individuals should contact their mobile provider if they need support or have questions about how the switch off will affect them. The MNOs have published information pages:

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