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Three to switch off 3G network in 2024

Mobile operator Three has said it will switch off its 3G network at the end of 2024 as it ramps up investment in 4G and 5G infrastructure.

The target date lies just over two decades after the network was originally launched on 03.03.03, with the network going live later that month.

The operator said that its “significant investments” in 4G and 5G would allow it to end 3G support entirely. The firm purchased sizable chunks of 5G spectrum bands in 2018 to boost its capacity.

Vodafone has already announced that it will switch off its 3G network even earlier – by the end of 2023 – and EE also has similar plans for the same year.

Three said that turning off 3G will allow it to focus investments and spectrum resources on further improving 4G customer experience, while rolling out 5G, A new study sponsored by the network found that that 5G usage in the UK has already exceeded 3G, and predicts it will account for 35 per cent of data usage by the end of 2022.

Currently, Three covers 99 per cent of the UK outdoor population with its combined 3G and 4G network and carries 28 per cent of mobile data traffic in the country. With demand for data constantly increasing, the average data usage per Three customer, per month, reached 19GB in December 2021 - up 20 per cent year-on-year.

Three also anticipates declining usage of 3G only handsets as faster 4G and 5G devices are introduced the market.

David Hennessy, chief technology officer at Three UK said: “3G kick-started the mobile revolution – and launched Three into the UK 20 years ago – but the future is undoubtedly 5G. As we continue to roll out our ultrafast connectivity, by not only upgrading our existing 4G sites but building new 5G sites, we’ll be in a position to switch off our use of 3G across our network by the end of 2024.

“As the leader in 5G deployment and the fastest network as rated by Ookla, we are focused on delivering our goal of providing better connectivity, every day, for every customer.”

All 4G voice-calling devices provided by Three since mid-2018 are VoLTE capable and ready for the future of Three’s network, along with any 4G data only devices. Three said it would work with customers still relying on 3G when the switch off date comes to ensure they stay connected.

According to research from Which? last month, Three is the worst network for reliability, download speeds and value for money and its customers experienced more problems than any other provider, with nearly half having an issue in the past 12 months.

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