Skip to main content

MEF Programme Director for IoT Nassia Skoulikariti comments on the impending UK ‘switch off’ of the 2G and 3G networks, and explores the potential implications for IoT suppliers and enterprises.

The UK stands poised for a transformative leap in the throes of relentless digital innovation. The nation’s primary mobile network operators (MNOs) have set in motion a decisive migration away from the 2G and 3G networks, instead casting their gaze upon the potent capabilities of 4G and 5G. This impending shift heralds an age of accelerated and frictionless connectivity.

However, this bright horizon is juxtaposed against intricate challenges and golden opportunities, particularly for IoT providers, enterprises, and the myriad devices still anchored to legacy networks.

Landscape of the Network Transition

Ofcom, the regulator authority for the UK communications industries, charts a clear trajectory. By 2033, the ambition is to retire 3G networks, pivoting towards the dominant forces of 4G and 5G. This transition isn’t just on the horizon; it’s at the doorstep. Leading the charge, Vodafone, Three, and EE are committed to concluding their 3G journeys by 2024’s end. Not far behind, VM02 targets 2025 as its watershed year.

The UK’s imminent network evolution is a watershed moment, teeming with challenges and burgeoning opportunities… With the concerted efforts of all stakeholders, the UK’s digital tapestry promises not only to weather this transformative storm but to emerge richer, stronger, and ready to craft the future.

The Silent Majority: Devices of Yesterday

The magnitude of this transition is anything but trivial. An estimated 5.5 million devices, diverse in function and sector, are still tethered to the 2G and 3G lifelines. This vast spectrum ranges from the critical telecare and security systems ensuring our collective safety to pivotal financial linchpins like ATMs and payment gateways. This enormous digital realm is now on the brink of an evolutionary leap.

The Accountability Dilemma

Who takes up the mantle of responsibility in this sweeping tide of change? Ofcom’s vision is unmistakable. IoT providers and third-party device suppliers bear the onus of guaranteeing continuity in the wake of the 2G and 3G sunset. The stakes are high. Devices bound to 3G SIMs risk fading into obsolescence unless proactively upgraded in synchrony with the impending transition.

Strategizing the Journey Ahead

Astute planning is non-negotiable for devices presently on the 2G wavelength or those predestined for this realm post-3G. A comprehensive migration roadmap, aligned with the 2G cessation, warrants meticulous crafting and execution. But the challenges transcend the technical sphere. This metamorphosis demands adept communication strategies, logistical agility, and forward-thinking customer engagement.

Transparent communication is paramount. IoT and device suppliers must cultivate clear, timely dialogues with their clientele rooted in the strategic pivots of MNOs. Identifying and supporting vulnerable customer segments and forging cohesive risk aversion strategies are essential. The essence of this transition lies in collaboration with MNOs, roaming SIM providers, and other digital stakeholders orchestrating a harmonious, undisrupted digital symphony.

Gearing Up for a Collaborative Transition

Grasping the sheer scale and intricacies of the 2G and 3G exodus, Ofcom passionately implores industry associations to craft nuanced guidelines tailored to their unique constituents. Siloed strategies stand to falter in this expansive landscape. A unified, synchronized approach, fortified by clear communication and all-encompassing planning, emerges as the imperative.

Beyond the Switch-Off: Future-proofing Connectivity

The upcoming changes are more than just shutting down networks; they mark the start of a new digital era. Moving forward requires careful planning, foresight, and effective collaboration to maintain and improve service standards.

With the phasing out of 2G and 3G, there’s a notable development in the form of eSIMs (Embedded SIM) and iSIMs (Integrated SIM). These digital SIM technologies are set to change how devices connect to networks and could be the next standard in mobile connectivity.

 eSIMs: Redefining Flexibility

Legacy physical SIM cards have long-anchored mobile connectivity. But eSIMs, integrated directly onto device motherboards, bring forth unprecedented adaptability. Their capability to remotely switch between operators eliminates the age-old SIM swapping. In the 2G and 3G twilight context, eSIMs offer an agile antidote, facilitating remote network profile updates and ensuring seamless transitions.

iSIMs: Integrating Connectivity and Processing

Amplifying the eSIM paradigm, iSIMs meld directly with a device’s chipset. This fusion within the System-on-Chip (SoC) empowers devices with compactness, energy efficiency, and robust security. This innovation is transformative for IoT devices, particularly those under power or size constraints. As 2G and 3G networks fade, iSIMs promise to be pivotal in maintaining a seamless, secure IoT landscape.

Streamlined Device Manufacturing and Deployment

eSIMs and iSIMs empower manufacturers to craft universally adaptable devices, obliterating the need for geographically-tailored SKUs. This streamlines manufacturing and enables fluid global distribution. For IoT stakeholders, it translates to globally deployable devices that can easily assimilate into local networks, simplifying operations and logistics.

Enhanced Security and Control

Both eSIMs and iSIMs are armoured with strong encryption and security protocols. This fortified protection is invaluable in an era increasingly conscious of device security, especially within the IoT domain. Coupled with remote provisioning, devices can be swiftly deactivated or reallocated, enhancing security and flexibility.

In this era of phasing out legacy networks, eSIMs and iSIMs emerge as solutions and innovative trailblazers. They pledge a connected, uninterrupted, and vibrantly interconnected digital horizon.


The UK’s imminent network evolution is a watershed moment, teeming with challenges and burgeoning opportunities. eSIMs and iSIMs, in their transformative avatars, offer the nation a golden chance to leap ahead, pioneering and setting international standards for mobile connectivity. With the concerted efforts of all stakeholders, the UK’s digital tapestry promises not only to weather this transformative storm but to emerge richer, stronger, and ready to craft the future.

The forthcoming network shift is more than a transition; it’s a defining chapter in the UK’s digital saga, merging challenges with boundless potential. Through calculated planning, robust collaboration, and a shared vision, all stakeholders can ensure the UK’s digital legacy not only remains intact but also evolves, constantly pushing boundaries and setting global paces.

Nassia Skoulikariti

Programme Director – IoT