Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK announces plan to phase out 2G and 3G networks

Out-Law News | 15 Dec 2021 | 9:58 am | 2 min. read

The UK’s 2G and 3G networks are set to be phased out by 2033 as part of new plans to increase the capacity of the nation’s 5G coverage.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the move will free up spectrum - the radio waves used for sending and receiving information - to allow for the mass rollout of 5G and other future networks.

The announcement forms part of the government’s £250 million strategy to build “a more competitive, innovative and diverse supply chain for telecoms”, reducing what it described as “the world’s over-reliance” on a select few equipment makers.

Currently 5G suppliers must also offer 2G or 3G services because both networks are still required by all four of the UK’s domestic mobile operators - Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three.

DCMS said the requirement was “a barrier for new suppliers entering the UK’s 5G market”, adding that winding down 2G and 3G services would give them certainty on when they can start work building 5G networks across Britain.

Colvin Simon

Simon Colvin

Partner, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms

The benefits of rationalising spectrum for future usage as well as the opening up of RAN will allow for the UK to leap ahead in the international telecoms sector.

Switching off older services would also allow operators to retire old equipment and reduce the power needed to run multiple networks.

The UK’s major mobile operators (MNOs) have all backed the plan to switch off older networks, with some set to make the change earlier than the government’s 2033 target.

The number of consumers using 2G and 3G who will need to upgrade is expected to be very low by 2033, and operators have committed to help customers transition to newer network technologies.

They have also agreed to work with ministers to roll out a new wireless communication technology called Open Radio Access (Open RAN).

Open RAN will enable mobile networks to be built by a variety of suppliers, with components at one mast site able to be exchanged or used as replacements at another mast that could previously only be equipped by a different supplier.

DCMS said it held a joint ambition with MNOs for 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic to be carried over Open RAN by 2030, and revealed the winners of its £36m Future Radio Access Network Competition to develop the technology across the UK.

The winning consortiums, based in Glasgow, Cardiff, Cambridge, Newcastle, Newport, Slough and Ebbw Vale, will be tasked with developing technical solutions to roll out Open RAN networks across the UK quickly.

Simon Colvin, technology expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “It is great to see the announcement of this major milestone in plans to phase out 2G and 4G. The benefits of rationalising spectrum for future usage as well as the opening up of RAN will allow for the UK to leap ahead in the international telecoms sector.”

“It will be the consumer that ultimately benefits from the collaboration between MNOs and between MNOs and government,” he added.

Digital secretary Nadine Dorries said: “5G technology is already revolutionising people’s lives and businesses - connecting people across the UK with faster mobile data and making businesses more productive.”

She added: “Today we are announcing a further £50 million to put the UK at the forefront of mobile connectivity and to make sure our telecoms networks are safe and secure now and in the future.”

“We can only do this through stronger international collaboration and I will be meeting with our US allies today as we strengthen our ties on technology,” Dorries added.