back to article 2033 is doomsday for 2G and 3G in the UK

The UK government has announced measures to phase out 2G and 3G networks by 2033 ahead of Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries' meeting with US Secretary for Commerce Gina Raimondo. The government also spoke of its "ambition" for 35 per cent of the UK's mobile network traffic to be carried over open and interoperable Radio Access …

  1. Dave Pickles

    Nothing in the statement about SMETS2 energy meters or eCall - enabled vehicles, both of which rely on 2G.

    1. Flywheel

      We'll be "encouraged" to go out and buy new ones! Bish bash bosh..sorted. Dunno about the "smart" meters though and I'm not convinced the Government does either.

      1. N13L5

        American Evangelicals have it, that Jesus returns in 2028.

        That means you don't have to worry about 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, 6G 7G, whatever they come up with.

        Its like Elon Musk wanting to go to Mars...

        Good luck to him, but I will be all set to live or die with the earth. Life on Earth has been good, and she can have all those atoms I borrowed back, when the time comes that I don't need them anymore.

        Elon will put a Neuralink into the people's brains before they "go" and maybe they will truly believe they are on mars...

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      So, the bet has to be on whether they achieve the smart meter rollout target before the whole lot get rendered obsolete then.

      A tenner on "no" please.

      eCall: Who gives a shit?

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        "eCall: Who gives a shit?"

        Probably anyone with it in their vehicle when they have a single vehicle incident.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "eCall: Who gives a shit?"

          Sounds like the UK version of the US's "OnCall". Which I think, has also had it's older versions go titsup due to a similar network change. To bad the car companies can't make the radio part up gradable.

    3. ARGO

      TBF there is a 4G version of eCall, and anything being sold now is on that version.

      Cars tend to last longer than handsets though, so likely to be quite a few still using the circuit switched system in 2033.

    4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      "We told you so"?

      So, "smart" meters are considered to be in the same category as other IoT tat like doorbells and thermostats, to be replaced every 5 years when the supporting network and servers are abandoned? Nice little earner for the energy companies, until people wise up and just say no.

      I resisted a smart meter for a long time, but finally gave in a month or so before completing on the sale of the house. It's somebody else's problem now, I suppose. No choice in the new house, but it looks like it won't matter soon anyway if the underlying network is going away.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "We told you so"?

        Aren't meters replaced every 10 years anyway?

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Re: "We told you so"?

          The modern ones are, but historically a lecky meter would typically last several decades. For gas, the old mechanical ones could last decades, but the electronic ones tended to run out of battery sooner.

          That's another of the unspoken costs of the unsmart meter rollout. Even without technical obsolescence - by the time they've finished installing them, they'll need to be replacing them at the end of their shorter life.

        2. AW-S

          Re: "We told you so"?

          "Aren't meters replaced every 10 years anyway"

          Bought house in 1986.

          The electricity and gas meters were changed for the first time this year with the "smart" versions. 35 years service each and they didn't look new when we moved in.

    5. DS999 Silver badge

      Its a one time issue

      For 2G/3G stuff. It won't ever be a problem with LTE because 5G was designed to be interoperable with it - they can share the spectrum. There isn't likely to ever be a reason to upgrade to 6G in the lower frequency bands so even if future standards like 6G aren't interoperable I wouldn't be surprised if LTE is still available fifty years from now.

      1. Justthefacts Silver badge

        Re: Its a one time issue

        Just because they are interoperable, doesn’t mean the network side will still support it.

        Operators are very keen on high spectral efficiency. Since 5G supports more MIMO streams than LTE, LTE-only handsets will be “bad”. It’s trivial for an operator to set a minimum UE class on their network.

        And actually this was already done, even within LTE. When suddenly my wifes iphone5 stopped working last year on EE network, even though it was showing good 4G signal strength, it took me a good deal on noodling around on Google to figure out why. Turns out that Apple put in a UE cat2 modem chip! When EE decided to block cat2, on spectral efficiency grounds, without explicitly telling anybody, end of iphone5!

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Its a one time issue

          The life of phones is not why the UK has pushed way out with a 2033 date to drop 2G/3G. It is all the longer lived stuff like energy monitors, which only needs to connect once a day or the like. Phones that connect all the time will be phased off the networks long before 2033 - they could drop voice support on the networks long before 2033 while leaving data/SMS support for the non phone type of devices. I imagine they don't care about cat2 devices if they are only connecting for a minute a month like a smart energy monitor, they just don't want phones and tablets that connect all the time wasting their spectrum.

          The iPhone 5 was Apple's first LTE device, so obviously it isn't going to have the most modern LTE chip. It had the MDM9615, which was announced by Qualcomm in Feb. 2011. Its successor MDM9625 was announced in Feb. 2012, far too late to have been included in the iPhone 5 that had to ship in the tens of millions eight months later.

          1. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: Its a one time issue

            Longer-lived things can include phones…..

            For example, many phones for dementia, like Doro, rely on GSM. Similarly, the various elderly call alarms often use GPRS.

            1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

              Re: Its a one time issue

              Well at least my elderly mother isn't (statistically) likely to outlive 2G and the Doro phone she uses.

            2. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Its a one time issue

              Not familiar with the Doro, but those "call alarms" would have an average use of a few minutes per year, so they would be treated like fire/burglar alarm panels and smart meters not phones. They would only need to leave the tiniest fraction of bandwidth open for that stuff on outdated standards that carriers will eventualy not permit phones to use.

              1. Justthefacts Silver badge

                Re: Its a one time issue

                Yes, but that’s not the way the standards work. Or at least not 3G and LTE. 5G might be different, I left the industry before 5G.

                The standard defines UE categories that simply depend on what level of MIMO, data-rate, block-size etc is *supported*. And that’s all negotiated at UE Attach message time. The network has no clue whether it’s a low-class phone or a burglar alarm.

                1. DS999 Silver badge

                  Re: Its a one time issue

                  Pretty sure they can tell when you activate - at least I know carriers in the US were able to prevent people activating cellular hot spots on MVNOs because they were able to tell what kind of a device it was when activation was attempted.

                  Regardless, they could ban phones by having tariffs for 2G or 3G that severely limited usage, so the only way you could keep them from kicking you off the network for violating terms of service was if you hardly ever used it.

    6. Soruk

      It almost makes sense to keep a single 2G network alive with a small slice of bandwidth for GPRS and SMS (no voice) which any existing networks' 2G IOT SIMs can roam on to.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Digital Secretary

    How come El Reg are now putting Dorries' reality-TV escapades in articles when comments mentioning dromedary dactyl dining were previously being moderated?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Digital Secretary

      El Reg decides what can appear in El Reg.

      bottom line - It's their responsibility, we can only post our humble offerings in hope.

    2. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

      Re: Digital Secretary

      Because it's only polite when mentioning a politician to cite their most important achievements to date.


    What about those parts of the UK yet to receive reliable mobile signal, never mind 2g and 3g, areas which are presumably very low on the list for upgrades to 4G or 5G. The only semi usable data round here comes from wifi, via copper wires as long as it isn't windy or raining, and the broadband stays up for our glorious 3Mbps if we are lucky...

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      I think you can safely say if they don't care about those areas now, then they won't care about them 10 years from now either. Or it could make things better when deploying services becomes more cost effective. Who knows. At the end of the day, if the economics don't add up for the provider then they won't do it will they. Ofcom have mandated coverage requirements in licenses before, if you don't think the operators are living up to them where you're referencing then complain.

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      OTOH BT's wet string is crap round here. I got around twice the bandwidth when I stuck a magic mobile router on my window sill. And it's a lot more reliable, too.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    3. ARGO

      The shared rural network is supposed to address that. It's 4G only though.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Not enough votes unless they're marginal constituencies.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Keep up at the back

    3G in Germany is being phased out this year. I think 2G may stay around for a while, because of the range and there are lots of embedded devices with it, but nothing using much bandwidth as there never was much anyway, so it will probably be easy enough to pare back the spectrum used and reallocate.

    I think things in the UK will probably be fairly similar in practice with spectrum being awarded for a certain period of time and most operators having already moved on to LTE kit in most locations anyway, because it's easier to manage and maintain.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tracking..... mention that 5G needs more GCHQ can do MUCH better tracking of the great unwashed (including moi!).


    Long live 2G!


    Just saying!

    1. Lazlo Woodbine

      Re: Tracking.....

      If you're part of the great unwashed why go to the expense of 5G tracking, they can simply follow your aroma...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    4G, 5G I'll take fibre

    Who cares about 4G or 5G? I've been impressed lately by Openreach vans driving around and rodding out all the ducts. They said they want to make sure they're clear for when they put fibre into them. A couple also came to our front door, asking how the cable got to our house and where it terminated, 'so that if you ask for fibre, they'll know what they need to do'. It all seemed like genuine preparations for FTTP rollout to me. (and Cu ripout :) )

    1. Lazlo Woodbine

      Re: 4G, 5G I'll take fibre

      Where I live, every time Openreach (usually Murphy Telecom engineers) come round to do anything they spend half a day figuring out which box we're connected to, then the second half of the day scratching their arses.

      The next day a second team arrive, spend the morning finding the box etc...

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: 4G, 5G I'll take fibre

      Somebody made similar enquiries here a good while ago. I told him it follows the same route as the water and sewer underground: under the hedge, under the orchard, under the greenhouse which has a concrete base, under the concrete drive, under the concrete laid paving, through the concrete foundations and into a crawl space under a concrete floor. It's why I'm not keen on FTTP seeing as FTTC is Quite Good Enough. He left muttering to himself.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: 4G, 5G I'll take fibre

        None of those obstacles should be a problem if the original (copper) cable was correctly installed in a flexible duct.

        For one client the duct was nearly two miles and installed sometime before 1995, so actual route uncertain but definitely under roads and pavements, it took OpenReach two relatively short visits: one to check the duct was clear of water and debris, second to blow the fibre down.

        Obviously, in this instance FTTC wasn't "quite good enough".

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: 4G, 5G I'll take fibre

          This was installed some time before 1970. AFAICS it's just buried. There's no sign of a duct where it emerges through the foundations.

          The estate where my daughter lived is a similar age. I don't think they're ducted either. Like us they have a good FTTC service.

          I'm the only house round here not to have overhead cables strung (by neighbour across the road had a phone burnt out by EMP in a thunderstorm) & I'd like to keep it that way. On the daughter's estate all the houses have phone & electricity supplies underground. I'm not sure what the planners would say if that were to be changed.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: 4G, 5G I'll take fibre

            Suggest you suggest to the next OpenReach engineer, your installation would be a good trial for their new cabling moles...

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Switching off 2G and 3G will enable operators to transition fully to more energy efficient and high capacity networks finally force customers with near-indestructible old phones onto a regular and profitable upgrade cycle.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I don't know about 4G, but I was under the impression that 5G is very short range, competitively speaking, and will require many more cell sites than 2/3/4G. So assuming that 4G is more energy efficient than 2/3G, how does that work with 2/3/4 times the infrastructure required for 5G? Or is 5G really THAT much more efficient that many more transmitters is better than a few 3G ones?

      Or am I completely barking up the wrong tree here?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I don't know about 4G, but I was under the impression that 5G is very short range, competitively speaking, and will require many more cell sites than 2/3/4G."

        There are 2 distinct aspects to 5G - there's the "normal" frequencies similar to existing 3G and 4G bands and then there's the "millimetre wave" stuff in far higher frequencies (24GHZ-40GHz).

        It's the millimeter wave stuff that has relatively short range (and it's also the alleged reason for the "5G will kill everyone" mob's concerns though most of them just read that 5G in general is "bad" and cannot coherently explain why).

        Also AFAIK no millimetre wave bands have yet been licensed for mobile use in the UK and indeed the last time I looked only 1 (or was it 2?) EU countries had licensed them to any OpCos but no networks in EU had deployed them so far.

  8. John Sager

    4G? What's that?

    I'm betting it'll be a cold day in hell before we get a usable 4G signal in my home due to location, let alone 5G. That was solved by running a 3G femtocell until Vodafone in their wisdom turned off the service. So I was forced to find a phone that supported Wifi calling on their network (thank you Google). So now I have the periodic problem of Voda's end of that going down like it did yesterday.

  9. McAron

    Doomsday is near

    2032 - calendar in my Palm Centro won't take any new entries

    2033 - 2G is switched off

    Time to consider an upgrade, I suppose...

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Doomsday is near

      2038 - embedded systems based on 32 bit Unix get … interesting.

  10. The Basis of everything is...

    And another technological downgrade on the horizon

    No 5G here, 4G only works upstairs if I'm standing under a booster and as for downstairs forget it. But 2G calling works just fine even when in behind the garage at the bottom of the garden. As events oop north have shown recently, having a reliable voice service that doesn't rely on the power grid (do you really think the 1000's 5G cells will have 5 day battery backup, let along a standby generator) could be very useful once we've all be forced to fibre.

    If WiFi calling worked on all networks I guess it wouldn't be so bad, but Voda have disabled it in the work phone and Plusnet don't do anything that wasn't standard 10 years ago. And of course that would also rely on me having 5 day battery backup or a genny.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: And another technological downgrade on the horizon

      "And of course that would also rely on me having 5 day battery backup or a genny."

      Most of the street cabinets and phone masts don't have that much backup power, so having 5 days backup at home probably won't help you make outside calls :-)

  11. Roland6 Silver badge

    "Killing off 2G and 3G will also free up spectrum and lower barriers of entry to the UK market"

    Someone is being hopeful, given how the five 3G operators became four and just escaped becoming three (although that could still happen)...

  12. PRR Silver badge

    > phase out 2G and 3G networks by 2033...

    Am I reading this right? 2033???

    In the US, 2G was largely shut-off 3 years back; 3G has a drop-dead appointment (icon) of next month (Jan 2022). Upsetting both times because we had/have to get new phones. The retailers say they will help: the 'replacement' I was offered was not even a good prison-phone, and my wife is getting the infinite run-around from the A T and Tea people (but IAC, she can't keep her cherished dumb-phone).

    > if the original (copper) cable was correctly installed in a flexible duct.

    Duct? Quack quack? Here in the woods of Maine our phone and our TV cable are loose-laid a few inches under what we call ground. Like they were trenched with a tea-spoon. When my neighbor's cable failed mid-winter they laid an orange cable on top of the snowy ground, saying they would be back in spring-- that was 7 years ago.

    And each service complaint the 2nd-level technician blames "water in the cable". Could happen. Hasn't happened yet. I did have wet cables at my old place and I can tell.

    My electric meter does "phone home" with readings; I dunno how. It was so old (mechanical!) that if it was cell it had to be <=2G. However last month they said the meter was bad and gave me a new meter; maybe the real reason was fading 2G here?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    end of 2G and 3G = end of being able to disable data on phones in general

    Once 2G and 3G is shut off then people who may typically disable mobile data on their phone (perhaps for "security" reasons) when they are not browsing/using apps will find they lose telephone service as in 4G and 5G networks any telephone calls are carried via data (its called VoLTE for 4G, not sure what the correct 5G term is). That's assuming "WiFi Calling" is also not being used.

    Currently if you have a 4G or 5G phone but have VoLTE (and the 5G equivalent) disabled the phone falls back to using either 3G or 2G for calls - that includes receiving incoming calls. Obviously once 2G and 3G networks are both turned off you will need to keep data enabled at all times for incoming phone calls to work.

    I'm not sure how SMS works in 4G and 5G but assume it must also require a data connection.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: end of 2G and 3G = end of being able to disable data on phones in general

      Fear not, the 3GPP have thought of this. If you turn ‘data’ off with 4G, the device will still connect to the operator data connections (APNs) required for non data services such as VoLTE and SMS. The device operator specific settings will have the ims and hos (home operator services) APNs defined as non data. For those APNs the customer is never billed for the data usage (home or roaming) and is instead billed for the service used.

  14. mark4155
    Thumb Down


    "Furthermore it [getting rid of 2g 3g] frees up valuable spectrum to be refarmed for future services"

    "Refarmed"? Surely a spelling mistake try "Resold to the highest bidder"

  15. Jim Whitaker

    Maybe I will have reliable indoor 4G by then.

  16. notyetanotherid


    ... falls over on entering a house?

  17. EnviableOne

    Dabbs Hierachy of Signals

    5G-> 4G -> 3G -> 2G -> Edge -> fax modem-> Morse code over telegraph-> smoke signals.

    at least those still on smoke signals will at least not notice the difference when the grid collapses ...

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Dabbs Hierachy of Signals

      Grid/civilization collapse drives people to creative methods of cooking food. Some of the less constrained attempts cause a great deal of interference with smoke signals.

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