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  • Writer's pictureAngela Sanna

3G has retired in the USA – here’s what you need to know

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

The 3G mobile networks are gradually being switched off over the next few years.

The UK’s mobile services currently use four different ‘generations’ of mobile technology: 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. The 3G networks have been around since 2003 and are used to deliver calls, texts, and lower speed data services.

The mobile providers have decided to switch off their 3G networks, starting from early next year. This will affect customers in the UK on those networks using older mobile devices and services. If you have a 4G or 5G mobile device or service, this change is unlikely to affect you and may only require a software update.

The US, however, is ahead of the game and some of its mobile providers have already retired their 3G networks. If you’re jetting off to the States, you may be affected. Here’s what you need to know…

Why are networks turning off 3G?

Two decades ago when most phones just made calls, the first 3G networks ushered in the era of wireless data. They made it possible to use apps on our phones, integrate GPS systems with our cars and do lots of other tasks on the go. But as carriers transitioned to 4G LTE networks and now to 5G, they’re shutting down 3G for good this year. As a result, many older mobile phones will be unable to make or receive calls or use data services.

4G is taking over

As the majority of smartphones work on 4G as well as 3G, it’s likely you won’t notice that 3G is gone while you’re travelling stateside. But if don’t have 4G, you will no longer be able to use your phone to access the internet over 3G.

If you’re not sure whether your phone is capable of 4G calling, Vodafone have a handy list you can check. Alternatively, you can check the IMEI info website and look for a green tick mark in the ‘LTE’ box (Long-Term Evolution is another term for 4G).

Data roaming is changing

As a result of the switch off, you may see low quality calls and slower data speeds while you’re in the States. This is an industry wide issue as the 2G network has become congested. Vodafone are working to implement a solution that will enable customers with a 4G plan to make calls over the 4G network.

Until then, if you have a 3G phone, you can make phone calls, send text messages and use mobile data on T-Mobile’s 2G network in America. If you have a 4G phone, you can also use mobile data on T-Mobile’s 4G network.

If you’re in a part of the US without T-Mobile coverage, you’ll be connected to AT&T’s 4G network. In this case, you will be able to access the internet, but you won’t be able to make phone calls. This is because AT&T has already shut off its 2G network, while T-Mobile’s 2G is still active (there is no firm date for this switch off yet).

Before you fly, we advise our customers to check that the software on your device is up to date and that settings are set correctly to enable access to the 4G network, or give us a call and we’ll advise you.

If you have any questions about how the 3G switch off will affect your business in the UK, contact our expert team for more information about roaming in the USA.

Providers are switching off their networks at different times

Each mobile provider in the UK is setting its own timetable for its 3G network switch-off. These timings might change and you should check your mobile provider’s website for the latest update:

  • Vodafone is starting its switch-off in early 2023.

  • EE plans to start its switch-off in early 2024.

  • Three expects to switch-off by the end of 2024.

  • O2 has not yet announced any switch-off plans.

Which devices are affected?

Most phones released in the past few years will work just fine after 3G networks go away. The key is to have a handset that supports voice over LTE, which would certainly cover any recently released phone as this has been the standard for a while.

The 3G shutdown affects more than just phones though. Other devices make use of 3G connectivity, too, and because they’re not upgraded as frequently as phones are, the impact of 3G networks being turned off will be more acute. Specifically, connected devices ranging from medical alert devices, older tablets, smartwatches, in-car SOS services, Kindle readers, home security products and other devices that are dependent on 3G.

At Delta 365, we work with the leading network suppliers so that you can have the best choice when it comes to their networks and tariffs. If you have any questions on how the 3G switch off will affect your business, or about getting your business connected to the 5G mobile network, contact our dedicated team on 020 4599 1365 or via our contact form.

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