Telekom and Vodafone will switch them off at the end of June, Telefónica a little later. What does this mean for cell phone users?
Do you still regularly use the 3G cellular network for internet access on your smartphone? Then you now belong to a minority of cell phone users. Current figures show that fewer and fewer people are using the aging 3G mobile network.
Vodafone announced on Tuesday that 3G only accounts for 2.5 percent of mobile data traffic in its network. In May, the value was still five percent. The proportion of customers who still use the network and do not have access to 4G fell from three to two percent in the same period.
Telekom does not provide any information on the 3G share, but the trend is comparable. “A tiny percentage of our customers only use the outdated 3G standard,” says a company spokesman.
Both mobile phone providers want to switch off their 3G networks by June 30th. Telefónica plans to take this step by the end of 2021. The freed up frequency spectrum will be used for 4G / LTE or 5G.
Lots of money and high expectations
3G, also known as UMTS, was, in a sense, the prelude to mobile communications as a mass market. High hopes were associated with the once ultra-modern technology: In 2000, six companies committed themselves to a state license auction to pay almost 100 billion D-Marks, i.e., a good 50 billion euros.
But the hope for a highly profitable business with the Internet on the mobile phone turned out to be a castle in the sky, and the payment obligations were too high. Two companies did not make progress with the expansion and had to return their licenses. Four network operators remained, whose names have since changed: T-Mobile became Telekom Deutschland, Mannesmann became Vodafone, and today’s O2 network was derived from Viag Interkom E-Plus.
To date, the equivalent of a good 50 billion euros is by far the record at a mobile phone auction in Germany. For comparison: In 2019, four companies put around 6.5 billion euros on the table for the 5G transmission standard, associated with high hopes.
The days of 3G are over.
To put it simply, the state of affairs in the mobile communications market in 2020 can be presented as follows: The future is 5G, the present is 4G, and in 2021, 3G will definitely be the past. At the end of June, 3G will go into a well-deserved retirement, according to Vodafone. »Bye, old 3G network, and thank you for everything!«
The head of Telefónica Deutschland, Markus Haas, says: »3G was important for the breakthrough in mobile data communication in Germany. But after 20 years, the days of this technology are numbered. «All three network operators emphasize that 4G and 5G offer customers much more and that the power consumption per byte is significantly lower.
The number of customers for whom the 3G shutdown is annoying is likely to be small in proportion. Because the vast majority of contracts on the market have long since included 4G / LTE reception — reasonably modern cell phones with corresponding contracts are already connected to the faster network.
It becomes particularly problematic when old cell phones are not 4G-compatible and are still being used today: Devices that came onto the market around 2011 tend to fall into this category. However, in most cases, these cell phones only serve as a replacement cell phone, often with a prepaid card.
What the shutdown means in practice
Anyone who has such an old phone in the car or the drawer for an emergency call will not find it completely useless: The cell phones can still be used for making calls and SMS, via the one that is still available after the 3G shutdown Telephony network 2G (also called GSM or Edge). However, there is no access to the mobile Internet via 3G.
Theoretically, there is also prolonged mobile internet over the 2G network, according to an information page from Telekom. The company also makes it clear that only data services and apps can be used that “have meager demands on the speed of data transmission.” “The shipment of pure text messages is still possible,” he writes, “but not as the problem receiving or sending lots of pictures or videos.”
Telefónica writes on its website that the company will proactively inform customers whose mobile data usage is limited to the 3G network: “O2 will offer its customers a free SIM card exchange and hardware options if required.”
Vodafone has put an overview of questions and answers on the subject of 3G shutdown in the network. In response to the question of what happens if you want to continue using a mobile phone without 4G / LTE capability: »From July 2021, your mobile phone will only access the 2G network. Telephoning, texting, and surfing in the WLAN continue to work as usual. If your device is not 4G-capable, you can no longer use the mobile internet in your cellular network.