It ushered in an era of super-fast communications, allowing us to access the Internet on the go for the better part of 20 years.
But 3G’s days appear to be numbered, as one of the UK’s biggest mobile operators has finally ended the service.
Vodafone has switched off its 3G network so it can invest more money in 4G and 5G, which most of its customers now use.
However, it does mean that Vodafone customers with older 3G smartphones that don’t support 4G or 5G, such as the iPhone 5 and earlier, will have to buy a new phone.
Here’s how to see if the change will affect you.
Vodafone’s decision to disable 3G means its customers with older phones that don’t support 4G or 5G, such as the iPhone 5 (pictured) or older, will have to buy a new device.
Vodafone assures that the vast majority of smartphones will not be affected since they work with 4G or 5G.
However, models that work with 3G include the iPhone 5 and earlier and the Samsung Galaxy S4 and earlier.
Users of these models will have to upgrade to a newer device if they want to continue accessing the Internet while traveling, although they will still be able to make and receive calls and text messages.
Vodafone announced its national 3G shutdown in early 2022 before moving forward in stages from June last year.
It says the blackout, which was finally completed this week, will allow the company to be more energy efficient and focus on its 4G and 5G networks.
“Our aim remains to continue building the UK’s most reliable mobile network and to continue to do so we must ensure our technologies are fit for purpose,” said Andrea Dona, Vodafone’s UK network director.
“Now is the time to say goodbye to 3G and focus on the current benefits and future possibilities of our 4G and 5G networks.”
Dona said Vodafone’s 4G and 5G network will become “stronger and faster” thanks to the reuse of 3G spectrum – the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over.
Moving away from 3G will also reduce the company’s environmental impact, as modern 5G networks are more than 10 times more energy efficient than older 3G equipment.
The withdrawal of Vodafone’s 3G network is also “an important part” of its goal to achieve net zero emissions for its UK operations by 2027.
Vodafone has switched off its 3G network, meaning many feature phone users will have to upgrade to modern devices (stock image)
By retiring 3G, Vodafone will be able to reuse 3G bandwidth, meaning its 4G and 5G networks will get a boost in speed and capacity, so customers can enjoy a better connection.
Net zero – a term used by many companies to tout their green credentials – refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases you produce and remove from the atmosphere.
According to Vodafone experts, sending one terabyte of data over the 5G network uses seven percent of the energy used to send the same amount of data over the 3G network.
A Vodafone spokesperson told MailOnline it could not reveal how many of its customers currently use 3G.
However, less than four percent of customer data is used on Vodafone’s 3G network, down from more than 30 percent in 2016.
According to recent research by Uswitch.com, seven per cent of the UK’s 2,000 British adults (potentially equivalent to several million people) say it is the only network they can access.
Some critics say getting rid of 3G will force people to buy new phones, making older devices obsolete.
Dennis Reed, of campaign group Silver Voices, said: “This decision by the giant telcos is an unnecessary and cynical move to force as many customers as possible onto smartphones and 4G and 5G networks.”
Surprisingly, Vodafone’s 2G network, the predecessor to 3G, is still active and the company has no plans to shut it down anytime soon.
Vodafone’s 2G network, which currently covers more than 99 per cent of the UK population, remains in place for calls and texts, but customers will not be able to access data with it.
Vodafone is maintaining 2G because it is a “truly universal technology”, according to a spokesperson, although telcos have agreed with the UK government to phase out 2G by 2033.
The first 3G voice call in the UK was made by Vodafone in April 2001, although its 3G mobile data network was only launched in 2005. Pictured is a Vodafone store in Bristol, 2003.
The first 3G voice call in the UK was made by Vodafone in April 2001, although its 3G mobile data network was not launched until 2005.
This was two years after rival Three launched on 3 March 2003 as the UK’s first 3G-only network.
The end of Vodafone’s 3G is another nail in the coffin of the communications standard, which ushered in the era of convenient and relatively fast mobile Internet.
Although we now take it for granted, 3G was considered revolutionary because it allowed users to browse the web, check email, and access basic applications on the go.
In the UK, there are four mobile operators that own the mobile network infrastructure – Vodafone, Three, EE and O2 – but they have all closed or are in the process of closing 3G.
EE began shutting down its 3G network in January, while Three aims to close it at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, O2 will stop using 3G at the end of 2025.