2G and 3G will have their mortal coils shuffled off as the UK government plans to phase them out by 2033 in preparation for 5G networks.
In an announcement today (8 December), the new measures are not done in infinite jest but designed to boost the UK telecoms security and bring in new suppliers. Huawei was not specifically mentioned, but the government has previously announced its plans to remove this Chinese company from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027 for security reasons.
Today’s development comes as Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries travels to the US to discuss future cooperation on telecoms, tech and data with her American counterparts.
Dorries explains: “5G technology is already revolutionising people’s lives and businesses – connecting people across the UK with faster mobile data and making businesses more productive.”
The government has also revealed a further £50 million for mobile connectivity and the telecoms networks.
Dorries will meet with US Secretary for Commerce Gina Raimondo, and several senior ministers and officials on the four-day visit to Washington DC and New York to build cooperation on “digital and tech priorities”.
The announcement follows the recent introduction of the Telecommunications Security Act and forms part of the government’s £250 million strategy to build a more “diverse” supply chain for telecoms, to reduce the world’s “over-reliance” on a few equipment makers.
The government has agreed with the UK mobile network operators (MNOs) Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three that 2033 will be the date by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off.
The plans will free up spectrum – the radio waves used for sending and receiving information – to allow for the mass rollout of 5G and other future networks such as 6G.
We’re a very long way off from all that, assuming it works, but the government sees these technologies powering driverless vehicles and drones, immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences, and ways to achieve Net Zero and improve healthcare.
The government and MNOs want to accelerate the rollout of a new wireless communication technology known as Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), which enables mobile networks to be built using a variety of different equipment suppliers.
The idea is that 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic is to be carried over Open RAN by 2030. There will be £36 million in funding for 15 projects to trial the technology across Scotland, Wales and England, and a £15 million cash injection for the SONIC prototype testing facility for telecoms tech.
As the government points out, a current barrier for new suppliers entering the UK’s 5G market is that they must, as it stands, offer 2G or 3G services because they are required by all four domestic mobile operators. New suppliers can now enter the market with some measure of “certainty” on when they can start work building 5G networks across Britain.
There are “wider benefits” to all this news – including reducing the power needed to run multiple networks, being able to reuse spectrum and retiring old kit.
Some individual operators will switch off their networks, particularly their 3G networks, earlier than 2033, and will announce their own plans on timing.
Back in October, the government unveiled two UK-India collaborations as it tried to boost the nation’s 5G networks and telecoms.
For example, the UK-India Future Networks Initiative is a £1.4 million project led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with other UK and Indian universities. This is designed to build the capability, capacity and relationships between the two countries in “telecoms diversification technologies and research for 5G and beyond”.
In September, BT opted for Oracle’s framework. This will be implemented within BT’s EE network. The announcement came as part of BT’s plan to reach 50% 5G availability by 2023 and 100% availability by 2028.