3G ending: an obituary for the first mobile broadband network

31st January 2023
Kristian McCann

3G, the once revolutionary network that ushered in a new era of mobile connectivity usage, is coming to a close As telecoms companies across major economies begin shutting down their 3G coverage, with the US, India and China having now largely completed their process, and two of the UK's 'Big Four' mobile service pledging to end its coverage in the UK by 2023, the network enters its twilight years.  

So with an end of the network on the horizon, Electronic Specifier  takes a look at the journey of 3G and what it brought to the table. 

A history of 3G 

Although the laymen will mostly be familiar with 3G coinciding with the arrival of what some dub the first, fully realised smartphone - the Apple iPhone - in 2007, the network began blossoming as early as 2001.  

Its predecessor, the 2G network, had seen massive advancements from the analogue transmission of 1G. Based on the Global System for Mobile Communication, its switch to a digital network saw an improvement in mobile talking, a new feature of encrypted calls and improved sound quality. This led to an increased usage of mobile adoption from both businesses and consumers, and with it, came increased demand for data; something 2G's 0.2Mbps couldn't keep up with.  

So, by 2001, the first commercial 3G launch by NTT DoCoMo in Japan dawned on the 1st of October. This technology was the result of research and development work carried out by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to achieve speed 2G technology couldn't reach. The ITU technical specifications standardised 3G as part of a framework called IMT-2000. They delegated five 3G standards frameworks: three standards based on CDMA channel and two standards based on based on TDMA channel. A 3G standard called the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, operating at 2.1GHz, was then agreed upon by governments and communication companies. 

By May of 2002, two South Korean commercial 3G networks were live, creating the first competition among 3G operators. By 2003, the US, UK and Australia all had commercial 3G networks, and by June 2007, the 200 millionth 3G subscriber had been connected. The increased speeds ushered in by 3G created the term 'mobile broadband' as devices using it could now be capable of accessing the Internet from a variety of locations.  

How 3G improved connectivity 

3G represented an upgrade over its predecessor mainly through the standard of accessibility and speed of mobile devices. This was because 3G operated on a higher frequency (2100Mhz) to 2G (900Mhz and 1800Mhz). This enabled bandwidth of 15 to 20MHz for 3G, in turn increasing its data transmission of 4mbps to 2G's 0.2Mbps. This additional data transmission now allowed for things that 2G didn't have the bandwidth to conduct, like video calls, live GPS, even mobile TV. It also allowed things like medical devices, fire alarms, ankle monitors to use this network, marking a first for a cellular communications network being used in a wide variety of tasks, beginning a widespread usage of cellular networks. 

Why is it being turned off? 

3G's end is attributed to a number of reasons. Mainly, because network technology has advanced well beyond the capabilities of it. Since the creation of 3G we have had both 4G and 5G. 4G, which despite the advent of 5G, remains the most common way of connecting mobiles to the Internet in the UK, and offers up to 100Mbps. Yet 5G is predicted to eventually reach speeds in excess of 1Gbps. But there is only a limited amount of spectrum available. By shutting down the 3G network, companies like Vodafone will open up 10MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz band in the UK to be re-purposed for use by modern 4G and 5G mobile services. So, although 3G will be no more, its end could result in faster mobile broadband speeds and better network coverage of the networks that prevail.  

Featured products

Product Spotlight

Upcoming Events

View all events
Latest global electronics news
© Copyright 2023 Electronic Specifier