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Huge network change could leave some smartphone users without access to WhatsApp and Gmail this month

Huge network change could leave some smartphone users without access to WhatsApp and Gmail this month

Time to get up to speed with the 3G network changes that have already started happening.

It's hard to imagine a life without phones - we feel lost even if we don't have ours for five minutes.

After all, they have our lives on them - from chats with our friends to all of our emails.

Well, buckle up, because a big change in the UK's mobile infrastructure could potentially leave you without access to things like WhatsApp, Gmail, Instagram and more.

Older devices might only work on the 3G network.
Tim Robberts/Getty

So what's it all about?

Mobile operators are slowly planning to switch off its 3G network, because we've increasingly started using 4G and 5G networks.

Companies like Three have said shutting down 3G would free up resources to improve 4G connectivity and help boost 5G rollout.

Essentially people with older devices that only run on 3G won't be able to access the internet. That means no WhatsApping memes to your friends, checking your emails or doomscrolling Instagram when you're out and about.

According a survey of 2,000 UK adults by Uswitch in November 2023, 5% of respondents said they still use a 3G handset, while 13% don't know if their phone is 4G or 5G ready.

The clue's in the name - 5G is considerably faster than previous generations of mobile connectivity and is able to deliver larger amounts of data faster.

“3G kick-started the mobile revolution – and launched Three into the UK 20 years ago – but the future is undoubtedly 5G,” David Hennessy, Three UK’s chief technology officer, said.

5G is set to be the future.
monkeybusinessimages / Getty

“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."

The main network providers in the UK are Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three - and they all have plans to switch off 3G.

Vodafone has already started the process, and said the 'final phase will take place in January 2024'. Three aims to switch off 3G by the end of 2024, Virgin Media O2 will start the process in 2025, and EE started last July and hope to finish by the year's end.

But that doesn't mean you'll be completely stranded if you've got an older 3G-only device or you aren't sure if it's 4G-compatible. The major networks all have specific sites dedicated to the 3G switch-off, where you can look for advice on how to upgrade, or ensure your device is running on 4G.

Featured Image Credit: Matt Cardy/Contributor / Tim Robberts / Getty