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EE is about to switch off your 3G signal – what it means for you

UK mobile operator EE will switch off its 3G network in January, leaving people who use 3G-only phones or data plans without access to internet services when not using their device on Wi-Fi. But the company says it will offer customers a free 4G-ready mobile phone – if they are eligible.

EE, which is owned by BT, said it is retiring the 3G network because most of its mobile phone customers are using its 4G or 5G networks, and that use of its 3G network is at “record low levels”, accounting for less than 0.4% of all downloaded mobile data.

3G launched in the UK in 2003 and offered fast mobile data speeds over previous technology. It brought proper web pages to mobile devices for the first time and paved the way for the iPhone and Android phones, which by the end of the decade had larger screens on which to easily browse the internet.

But the closure of EE’s 3G network means if your EE smartphone can only access 3G data networks, or you choose to still pay for a 3G-only data plan, you’ll have to upgrade your handset or data plan after January, when the network will begin to be switched off. You might still be paying for a 3G-only plan if it’s all you need, if it has been a cheap price, or if you simply never changed or upgraded to 4G or 5G. Without data services, you will not be able to use apps and services such as Gmail, Facebook, or WhatsApp.

EE said it is the only UK mobile operator offering a free 4G-ready mobile phone to “vulnerable customers”, and says it has already contacted those eligible. The free phone it’s offering is the Doro 7030, a flip phone that can make calls over 4G, and also has WhatsApp and Facebook installed. Alternatively, these customers can redeem 20% off a pay monthly for a 4G or 5G phone of their choice.

If you want to find out if you are eligible for the free device, you can call EE on 150 free of charge from your EE phone. If you want to find out if your handset is already 4G or 5G compatible, you can text HANDSET to 150.

“EE provides additional support to customers with a wide range of vulnerabilities,” an EE spokesperson told Express.co.uk via email. “These can include age-related or physical disabilities, learning impairments, or those who find themselves in a vulnerable situation as a result of a major life event such as family bereavement, divorce, financial hardship, or other issues related to managing money.”

The first iPhone to support 4G was 2012’s iPhone 5, so if you have an iPhone older than that, you’ll no longer be able to connect to 3G for internet services – though you’ll still be able to make calls over the 2G network, which is still on, and use the web over Wi-Fi. You will still be able to call 999 without 3G, too.

If you are on a 4G or 5G plan with a compatible phone, the change won’t affect you.

“While our 3G network has delivered on what it was built to do, it is now 20 years old and has been made redundant by newer technologies,” Greg McCall, chief networks officer at BT said in a blog post. “With our 2G network remaining for voice calls and texts, there is nothing else 3G does that is not improved by using 4G or 5G.

“For the small minority who still use a 3G-only phone or data plan, we recognise this is a period of change. We are committed to ensuring all of them, especially vulnerable customers, have the support available to help them make the transition successfully if they want to.”

Vodafone has already begun switching off its 3G network, with Three planning to switch off by the end of 2025, and O2 at some point in 2025.

EE says its 3G shutdown will free up valuable mobile spectrum to be reused for improved 5G performance in several areas in the UK, with customers in Belfast, Darlington, Uxbridge, Dartford, Solihull, York, Dagenham, Hayes, Harringay and London set to benefit first.

EE, which formed as Everything Everywhere after the merger of Orange UK and T-Mobile UK in 2010, was rebranded as EE in 2012 before being acquired by BT in 2016. The network was the first in the UK to launch a 5G mobile network, in 2019.

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