Why 2G and 3G are still important in the UK
Millions of IoT devices in the UK rely on 2G or 3G services for their connectivity. Smart meters are a great example – there are over 25 million smart meters in operation in the UK today, sending small packets of mobile data over 2G and 3G on a regular basis. But the list also includes vehicle and asset trackers, and some less commonplace but very important devices such as medical monitoring equipment and data-only wearables for lone and remote-workers.
But there’s a problem. Put simply, 2G and 3G won’t last forever.
‘Sunsetting’ is the term coined to describe the shutting down of network technologies by mobile network operators (or MNOs), to make way for newer generations of technology. Uncertainty abounds around when the 2G network shutdown and 3G network shutdown will take place in the UK. So the question that faces every manufacturer or provider of IoT devices is this: how long will 2G and 3G be available?
2G and 3G sunsetting plans in the UK
In December 2021, after a period of consultation with the four national mobile network operators, the UK government announced that 2G and 3G networks would be phased out by 2033.
While this latest guidance does provide the IoT industry with an end date for these vital services, it doesn’t as it sounds provide 10 plus years certainty of service. In reality, operators are not bound to maintain their 2G and 3G services until 2033. Indeed the Government report itself states, “Some individual operators will switch off their networks, particularly their 3G networks, earlier than 2033, and will announce their own plans on timing”.
With this in mind, the clearest picture of intent can be built by reviewing the positions of each individual network. Here’s what we know about the plans of the UK operators at the time of going to press.
Vodafone is one of the leading IoT providers globally and they have a vested interest in supporting legacy M2M and IoT connections that are using 2G technology. Erik Brennels, CEO of Enterprise at Vodafone announced that its 2G network will remain live in Europe until at least 2025. In June 2019, Vodafone hinted that it would become the first UK network to turn off its 3G network by the end of 2022.
As the name indicates, Three never had a 2G network operating in the UK. Having had discussions with insiders, it’s clear that Three will continue to invest in rolling out and improving their 3G, 4G and planned 5G networks.
Everything Everywhere (EE, now BT) plans to turn off its UK 3G network by end of 2022, providing services through a mixture of 2G, 4G and 5G services, according to Howard Watson, CTIO of BT Group. From documents available to GSMA members, EE has informed the GSMA of a tentative closure of its 2G network by 31 December 2025.
As with Three, O2 has not made any public announcements if they will sunset any of their 2G, 3G or both networks, but sources indicate that they have no current plans to sunset any of their networks, but rather plan to invest more in these networks.
Why OV offers the answer to sunsetting uncertainty
IoT manufacturers and providers must typically choose just one network for their 2G or 3G connectivity. This leaves you at the mercy of that network’s sunsetting plans, which as the above indicates, are uncertain at best.
Partnering with OV changes all that. We offer a multi-network platform, that enables you to switch at any time to any of the remaining available 2G or 3G networks in the UK. No more having to worry about when your provider will sunset – OV’s platform means that as long as 2G or 3G is available on at least one UK network, your IoT devices in the field will be supported. Our network-independence gives your users the freedom to move between networks whenever it’s needed.
If you’re an IoT manufacturer or provider looking to ensure connectivity for your 2G or 3G devices for as long as possible, OV is your partner of choice. Just drop us a line we’d love to talk.