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The UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks will be closed by 2033 to boost the use of Open RAN for 5G and next generation 6G networks. This is because UK network operators are required to offer 2G and 3G services as well as 4G and 5G. Phasing out the older technologies is intended to boost new operators in 5G, particularly around Open RAN, and free up spectrum for 6G. It also makes running networks simpler as operators do not have to handle the challenges which arise from managing up to four networks.

The move is intended to increase the security of telecoms supply chains and to support a smooth transition to faster mobile networks and follows the announcements of projects intended to provide a UK-based manufacturing supply chain based on the Open RAN specification. The UK government and UK mobile network operators have a joint ambition for 35 per cent of the UK’s mobile network traffic to be carried over Open RAN by 2030.

The government has agreed with Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three that 2033 will be the date by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off although individual operators may move faster than this.

A £200m 5G Testbeds and Trials programme is already seeing next-generation networks used in industries from smart farming to immersive reality experiences to enhancing the UK’s top tourist destinations and 5G buoys helping coastguards save lives at sea. An additional £50m is being allocated to the Future RAN (FRANC) projects and SONIC test centre.


The SONIC centre, run by the Digital Catapult, will receive £15m on top of the initial £1m for testing Open RAN systems, including those developed by the FRANC projects.

“While more can be done to accelerate the commercialisation of UK innovation in advanced connectivity, opportunities like FRANC show the willingness of our tech companies, SMEs and academic community in helping deliver the long-term aspirations of secure, resilient, open and disaggregated networks,” said Matthew Evans, Director of Markets at techUK.

The timeline for winding down 2G and 3G services follows recommendations from the Diversification Taskforce to allow new suppliers to enter the market by giving them certainty on when they can start work building 5G networks across Britain.

Some individual operators will switch off their networks, particularly their 3G networks, earlier than 2033, and will announce their own plans on timing. The number of consumers using 2G and 3G who will need to upgrade is expected to be very low by 2033, and operators have committed to help customers transition to newer network technologies.

“Mobile UK and its members welcome the government’s statement. Switching off 2G and 3G will enable operators to transition fully to more energy efficient and high capacity networks to the benefit of customers. We are also working with government and wider industry to support the maturity of new RAN solutions to open up further opportunities for innovation and new services in the future,” said Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK.


“Diversification and interoperability are key themes driving UK capabilities in advanced digital technology and we are pleased to expand Sonic Labs’ role in delivering fast, secure and reliable connectivity,” said Joe Butler, Chief Technology Officer at Digital Catapult. “We look forward to expanding access early next year to our testbed network to companies looking to experiment with and test new products and services. Today’s announcement will help us reach more businesses to prepare them for the digital future.

 

Further reading

Report ‘sees’ potential and risks with OpenRAN
Bring Your Own RAN program for private networks
Accelleran in TIP-led OpenRAN drive funded by UK government
Mavenir deploys 4G OpenRAN-based outdoor small cell with CSP


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