7 September 2023: Virgin Media O2 has announced that it will start to switch off 3G services in 2025 as part of its ongoing network transformation. This will enable the company to further expand and upgrade its 4G and 5G connectivity, reduce energy consumption and deliver enhanced speeds and reliability for customers.
It follows the Government and industry’s joint statement in December 2021 that all UK mobile network operators will switch off 2G and 3G by 2033 at the latest, and subsequent announcements by other operators.
Virgin Media O2’s programme will see 3G services switched off in phases across the country, with 3G connectivity expected to be fully switched off by the end of 2025.
Use of the 3G mobile network, which launched two decades ago, has fallen considerably over recent years – and carried less than 4% of all data used on Virgin Media O2’s network last year. The move to simplify the network will mean mobile spectrum can be reallocated to the more efficient 4G and 5G services which will improve customers’ experience with faster data speeds, more reliable streaming and higher-quality voice call services.
Helping customers who need additional support
The vast majority of existing customers won’t need to take any action during this switch off period, but Virgin Media O2 is committed to helping those who may need additional support – for example those who still use older devices. The company will be contacting customers well in advance to ensure they are aware of these changes and will clearly outline the steps they need to take and their options, with support pages and trained agents on hand to help customers with this change.
Virgin Media O2 will also work closely with consumer groups and charities, including Good Things Foundation, to draw on their expertise and experience to help manage this transition in the best way possible. As the date of the switch off approaches, Virgin Media O2 will work with its customers to ensure they stay connected.
Improving energy efficiency
The programme will also contribute to the company’s ambitious sustainability goals as 4G and 5G are significantly more energy-efficient compared to older 3G equipment. While the 3G network carries less than 4% of all data used on Virgin Media O2’s network, it accounts for 11% of the company’s total energy consumption. 4G and 5G, which together account for 96% of mobile network data traffic, are 10 times more efficient. The move to switch off 3G will contribute to Virgin Media O2’s wider plans to reach net-zero by 2040.
Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “3G was once an exciting new development for telecoms providers that brought new opportunities for customers. But as we continue to evolve our network to provide the best mobile connectivity, it is clear that switching off 3G and focusing our attention and investment on the faster, more reliable and more efficient 4G and 5G services is the right thing to do for our customers, our business and the environment.
“We will begin to switch off 3G in 2025, but between now and then, we will be communicating directly with our customers to explain what this means for them and outline any steps they should take in the next 18 months. While most customers will need to take no action at all, we are committed to supporting everyone with this necessary transition.
“As this switchover takes place, we will continue to invest heavily in maintaining, upgrading and expanding our 4G and 5G networks to ensure we’re providing the fast and reliable mobile connectivity that our customers depend on.”
Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said: “Good Things Foundation has been working with Virgin Media O2 since 2021, when together we set up the National Databank to provide mobile data to low income customers at risk of digital exclusion. I am delighted that we have now been invited to work with the company on its 3G switch-off programme. Our expertise and insights can help deliver Virgin Media O2’s ambition to ensure all its customers, particularly those from vulnerable groups, are fully supported through the transition away from 3G, so their connectivity is safeguarded and maintained.”
Virgin Media O2’s 4G coverage already covers 99% of the population and by the end of 2023 5G services will be available to more than half of the UK population. Furthermore, while 2G will ultimately be switched off by 2033 – in line with government targets – it will remain in place to carry calls and texts while 3G is switched off.
Ahead of direct communications being sent, customers can find out more about Virgin Media O2’s switch off programme on our website.
Notes to editors