Campaigners are cautioning that Vodafone’s decision to switch off its 3G network will have adverse consequences for individuals who rely on older, more basic phones, pushing them further into what is being referred to as “digital poverty.”
Vodafone is set to become the first telecoms company in the UK to discontinue 3G services when it commences a nationwide phase-out in June. The move is aimed at freeing up radio frequencies to provide faster 4G and 5G services, according to the company.
While Vodafone claims to be working on supporting vulnerable customers, the Digital Poverty Alliance, a campaign group, has criticized the network shutdown. Vodafone UK’s chief network officer, Andrea Dona, explained that the use of 3G has drastically declined, with less than 4% of customer data being utilized on the 3G network, compared to over 30% in 2016. As a result, Vodafone believes it is time to bid farewell to 3G and focus on the current benefits and future possibilities of their 4G and 5G networks.
Vodafone has stated that it is collaborating with third parties, including charitable organizations, to assist customers during this transition. The company has also highlighted the support it offers, such as information on its website to help users determine if their phone is capable of accessing 4G. Additionally, Vodafone has partnered with an organization called We Are Digital to establish the Digital Skills Helpline, which can be contacted free of charge from any mobile or landline within the UK.
The Digital Poverty Alliance, which aims to help people access the life-changing benefits of digital services, has expressed concerns, noting that 14 million individuals in the UK rarely engage online and that 18% of adults rely on their phones to access digital services. They argue that shutting down 3G will have detrimental effects, particularly for individuals who only have access to basic devices and cannot connect to 4G networks.
In a statement, the alliance warned, “Older and basic devices do not have 4G capabilities, so individuals who can only get online using a basic device will fall into digital poverty.” They added that switching off 3G will hinder the mission of enabling more people to access the digital world.
While Vodafone is moving forward with the nationwide phase-out following successful trials in Plymouth and Basingstoke, some customers have expressed concerns about how this change will affect them. Maryn Czechowski, a 28-year-old self-employed IT consultant living in a village near Eastbourne, stated that he only receives a 3G signal at his home office. Since being informed by Vodafone in October about the impending closure of 3G services, he claims that 4G and 5G connectivity in his area has been virtually non-existent. Mr. Czechowski is now contemplating switching providers because, as an IT consultant who relies on phone calls for his livelihood, a reliable service is crucial.
Ofcom, the regulatory authority, has announced that all 2G and 3G services will be shut down by 2033 at the latest, with 3G networks being phased out first.