by Daisy Bashford

Earlier this year we shared the news that Vodafone had announced its intentions to switch off its 3G network, leaving rural areas in digital darkness. A mere 4 months later, British telecoms company and phone giant, Three, has announced that it too will switch off its 3G network with the aim of retiring it fully by the end of 2024, shifting its focus instead to 4G and 5G networks.

In a recent statement, the company said that turning off their 3G network would ‘free up resources’, allowing them instead to focus on improving their customers’ current experience of their 4G network and rolling out 5G. Chief Technology Officer at Three UK, David Hennessy said: “As we continue to roll out our ultrafast connectivity, by not only upgrading our existing 4G sites but building new 5G sites, we'll be in a position to switch off our use of 3G across our network by the end of 2024.” 

As with Vodafone’s decision earlier this year, the choice to switch off 3G means that any mobile phone which does not support the use of 4G or 5G, will be redundant, leaving those phone users in a costly position. Despite Three saying that it expects the trend of customers buying 3G-only devices to decline, it will still be a blow to many customers in rural communities if Three’s target deadline for delivering faster networks is not met. 

Sarah Lee, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Countryside Alliance said: “The Countryside Alliance knows that 4G and 5G are the future for delivering connectivity and the role they can play in rural communities should not be underestimated. We welcome Three’s ambition and investment in this area, but we are concerned that if they do not meet their target date then they must delay switching off the 3G network to prevent leaving thousands of their customers without vital connectivity.”

The Countryside Alliance has long campaigned for better connectivity for rural areas in order to bridge the digital divide and will continue to do so. The ability to use your mobile phone is an important part of everyday life and can be fundamental for those running small businesses in the countryside, so the lack of digital connectivity available to those in rural areas is a huge challenge. 

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