Minister pledges ‘clear roadmap’ for scaling back 2G and 3G networks

Written by Sam Trendall on 2 June 2021 in News

Matt Warman says government will provide more details of future networks plan this summer


Credit: Alpha/CC BY-SA 2.0

Minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman has said that the government will shortly provide “a clear roadmap” for the downsizing or possible closure of the UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks.

The second-generation infrastructure was relied upon by the country’s mobile phone users for most of the 1990s, while the 3G network launched in 2003. 

Retiring, or at least scaling back, these ageing networks would free up additional spectrum space that could, in theory, be used by the incoming 5G network. 

However, some areas, users, and programmes – notably the government’s smart meters initiative, which runs on the 2G network – continue to rely on the previous iterations of the technology. 

Last year, communications regulator Ofcom indicated that it had “set up a project to consider the impact of switching off the 2G/3G infrastructure in the UK”. 

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“This project is currently in its preliminary ‘fact-seeking’ phase and we are not aware of  any announcements by MNOs (mobile network operators) regarding the timescales of their potential 2G/3G switch-off,” it said in June, in response to a freedom of information request relating to the use of 2G-powered vehicle-tracking devices. “However, we are aware that 2G/3G still has a variety of uses such as smart meters, eCall systems, and the example you have mentioned in your request. Going forward with this project, we will keep in mind the needs of consumers, businesses and service providers.”

Answering a written parliamentary question from his counterpart in the shadow government, Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah, Warman said that the government would continue working with network operators and the wider telecoms sector to establish a timeline for the migrating away from 2G and 3G. 

This work follows on from advice given by the recently established telecommunications Diversification Taskforce which – in the light of the ban on Huawei technology – aims to help reduce the UK’s reliance on a handful of large vendors.

“The government is working with mobile operators, suppliers, and users to set a clear roadmap for the sunsetting or streamlining of 2G and 3G technologies, following the recommendations of the Diversification Taskforce, published on 20 April on GOV.UK,” he said. “The government expects to set out next steps this summer, in order to provide operators, suppliers and users with clarity and confidence about the long-term technology roadmap in the UK.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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