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(Pocket-lint) - Vodafone’s UK network chief says that 3G will be switched off over the coming years – but that old 2G networks are here to stay. By switching off 3G more spectrum can be made available to beef up incoming 5G networks.

Andrea Dona, head of Vodafone’s UK mobile networks talked to Pocket-lint about the move at a briefing ahead of Voda’s 5G launch on 3 July.

“In the medium term, we will be switching off 3G, because the use of the 3G band and what we get in return is not that efficient so we can use some of the 3G spectrum bands for 5G. Then we don't have to waste higher frequency, like the US are using the millimetre wave (mmWave)...we can use the low band which is more efficient.

“We don't have a date. We're working on a plan, next two to three years.”

As with other UK 5G networks, Vodafone’s 5G spectrum is in the low to medium band – below 1Ghz for coverage (700, 800, 900Mhz) and 3.4Ghz for capacity. Vodafone also has other bands for 4G, of course.

Dona says there are several pre-requisites to switching off 3G, notably the migration of customers from voice over 3G to voice over LTE (on 4G). “The switching off of 3G is a very complex program because you have to ensure that all your handsets in the market are of a certain type, that they are all enabled for 4G. We need to ensure that where we are providing 3G coverage in certain areas, that will be replaced by 5G or 5G.

But what about 2G? “2G is an interesting one,” Dona says. “2G will have a longer lifetime, a longer role to play, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things [like smart meters, for example] where you actually don't need speed, you don't need the capacity, you just need it to be ticking away in the background with low power…it doesn't make economic sense to go out and change these devices.”

Dona was asked if he could see all four UK mobile networks sharing spectrum on 2G. “Yeah I could see that absolutely…where you have a common 2G layer that just ticks along in the background.

Vodafone says it has invested over £2 billion in its 5G network so far to modernise base stations in preparation for network requirements over the coming years. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.