Mobile operator Three has announced that it will switch off its 3G network at the end of 2024 as it increases its investment in 4G and 5G infrastructure.

The target date is just over two decades after the network’s initial launch on 03.03.03, with the network going live later that month.

The operator said its “significant investments” in 4G and 5G would allow it to end 3G support entirely. The company purchased significant chunks of 5G spectrum bands in 2018 to boost capacity.

Vodafone has already announced that it will switch off its 3G network even sooner – by the end of 2023 – and EE also has similar plans for the same year.

Three said turning off 3G would allow it to focus spectrum investments and resources on improving the 4G customer experience, while rolling out 5G. A new study sponsored by the network has revealed that 5G usage in the UK has already overtaken 3G and predicts it will account for 35% of data usage by the end of 2022.

Three currently covers 99% of the UK’s outside population with its combined 3G and 4G network and carries 28% of mobile data traffic in the country. With ever-increasing data demand, average data usage per Three customer per month reached 19GB in December 2021, a 20% year-over-year increase.

Three also anticipates a decline in the use of 3G-only handsets as faster 4G and 5G devices are introduced to the market.

David Hennessy, Chief Technology Officer at Three UK, said: “3G started the mobile revolution – and launched Three in the UK 20 years ago – but the future is definitely 5G. As we continue to roll out our super-fast connectivity, not only upgrading our existing 4G sites but building new 5G sites, we will be able to stop our use of 3G on our network by the end of 2024. .

“As the leader in 5G deployment and Ookla’s fastest network, we are focused on delivering on our goal of delivering better connectivity, every day, for every customer.”

All 4G voice calling devices supplied by Three since mid-2018 are VoLTE-enabled and ready for the future of Three’s network, as well as all 4G data-only devices. Three said it would work with customers who still rely on 3G when the switch-off date arrives to ensure they stay connected.

According to research by Which? Last month, Three was the worst network in terms of reliability, download speed and value for money and its customers had more problems than any other provider, with almost half having had a problem in the last 12 month.

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