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UK to phase out 2G and 3G mobile networks by 2033

The move will enable operators to transition to more energy-efficient and high capacity networks

The UK will phase out all of its public 2G and 3G mobile networks by 2033 in order to facilitate the mass rollout of 5G and 6G, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced.

The deadline was agreed with Vodafone, Virgin Media O2, Three, and EE, and is based on predictions that the demand for the two legacy networks will be “very low" by 2033. 

Phasing out 2G and 3G will free up spectrum, allowing it to be reused for next-generation 5G and 6G connectivity, as well as reduce the power needed to run multiple networks.

DCMS said that the exact sunset dates will be determined individually by the mobile operators. In July, EE became the first UK mobile operator to set a date for the retirement of its 3G services, with customers set to be phased off the third-generation mobile technology by 2023 – a decade prior to the government’s deadline.

Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators, has welcomed the the government’s announcement.

“Switching off 2G and 3G will enable operators to transition fully to more energy-efficient and high capacity networks to the benefit of customers,” said director Hamish MacLeod.

The announcement of the deadline comes ​​alongside as the government sets a target to have 35% of the UK's mobile network traffic carried over Open RAN by 2030.

As part of the ambition, digital secretary Nadine Dorries announced £36 million in funding for 15 projects to trial Open RAN across Scotland, Wales and England, as well as a £15 million cash injection for Sonic Labs testing facilities in London and Brighton.

Launched in June with a seed funding of £1 million from DCMS, the Labs aim to help speed up the development of new 5G-based technologies and reduce the country's reliance on a small set of providers, and are a joint project from Ofcom and technology non-profit organisation Digital Catapult.

The news comes ahead of Dorries' first visit to the United States as digital secretary, where she is expected to meet with US Secretary for Commerce Gina Raimondo to “strengthen” the US’ and UK’s “ties on technology”.

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