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It’s the beginning of an end. Mobile network operators have set their plans in motion to sunset 3G. This year marks two decades since the network was introduced to the UK, so it’s fair to say that it’s had a good run. The 3G network predates Skype, Facebook and the iPhone, and in its lifetime 4G and 5G have entered the picture, offering faster, more reliable services. 

3G has not only become outdated, but increasingly costly to maintain. By switching it off, mobile networks can fully focus their time and investment on newer networks, making room for better services. Vodafone plans to close its network this year, having already begun trails in the Basingstoke and Plymouth areas. It will then roll out the sunset on a region-by-region basis from June, aiming to completely switch off the network in December. EE and Three have set their sights on next year while O2 is yet to announce any switch-off plans. 

For the estimated 5.5 million mobile customers dependent on 2G or 3G (Ofcom), change is on the horizon. Customers on some mobile networks will be able to continue using 2G for a while as it’s being kept online as backup, but they’ll have to contend with the network’s much slower speeds. However, customers on the Three network won’t even have that option. The company doesn’t offer 2G, so Three users will be left with no service. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that it isn’t only mobiles that will be affected by the 3G sunset. There are plenty of devices that use the network to transfer data, such as certain e-readers, GPS systems, alarms and much more. Now is the time for businesses to take note of their inventory and find out if they have anything that could soon be disconnected. 

Beyond the SIM and on to bright potential 

To avoid being left without mobile data, it unfortunately may not be a simple case of switching out a SIM card. Devices need to be 4G and 5G compatible to use these networks, so anyone with a device compatible with only 3G and earlier generations will need to upgrade if they still want access to mobile data. 

While being forced to move on from old technology can be confusing or inconvenient to some, the positives of upgrading far outweigh the negatives. An upgrade to 5G-ready devices won’t just mean a move to a much faster network – although being up to a hundred times faster than 4G is certainly noteworthy. While the very first 5G mobile networks were rolled out in early 2019, we’re still at the dawn of its potential. 

5G offers greater capacity, handling thousands of connected devices in a small area with ease so users won’t be left fighting for data. It also has ultra-low latency, meaning the time it takes for data will barely be noticeable. We can enjoy near-instant sharing, seamless video calls and uninterrupted streaming and gaming. But what’s more exciting is 5G’s capability to transform industries. Some even believe there are things it’s capable of that we’re yet to imagine. 

Who’s benefitting already? 

In manufacturing, 5G can improve efficiency and make factories and plants much safer. 5G-supported video monitoring can detect faults in machinery, flagging any need for maintenance. It can also support IoT sensors measuring the conditions of the environment like temperature or humidity. 5G’s low latency means machinery can be shut down in milliseconds if required, making it much safer to use. 

5G is also driving huge advancements to the healthcare industry. Smart ambulances could allow doctors and specialists to guide paramedics through a live video link, helping to assess, treat and prepare patients before they arrive at the hospital. From the ambulance, paramedics could send information about the patient in advance and keep hospitals updated on expected arrival times. 5G can also support virtual reality technology to help train medical students, making scenarios seem even more realistic with its low latency. 

In logistics, supply chain transparency is invaluable. 5G will prop up the technology that keeps track of goods in real-time, from cargo in ports to boxes in warehouses, allowing for better inventory management. It’s also expected to be able to track vehicles more accurately, letting companies know where goods are, warning them of delays and updating them on arrival times. 

When 3G launched, smartphones seemed like the stuff of science fiction. As we come to the end of its lifetime, technology has grown capable of even more seemingly impossible things. What will come next does seem easier to predict, however as 5G promises to bring even more innovation and take IoT to new levels, who knows where the limits lie.