3G network shutdown could hit parking and other services, councils warn

Parking meters, alarm systems and telecare devices could be disrupted and left obsolete due to the upcoming switch off of 2G and 3G mobile networks, councils warn.

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Parking meters, alarm systems and telecare devices could be disrupted and left obsolete due to the upcoming switch off of 2G and 3G mobile networks, councils warn today.

All mobile operators have agreed with the Government to switch off 2G and 3G by 2033, as these services are being replaced by faster 4G and 5G technologies, although this means some older devices may no longer work and need to be updated or replaced. Many are expected to begin earlier, with Vodafone already starting to phase out its 3G network.

A survey by the Local Government Association has found that the majority of councils are aware of the network closures and are making the necessary preparations, but almost two-thirds of councils who responded say they are still using devices and systems reliant on 2G and 3G networks to at least a small extent.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, said greater guidance and awareness-raising of the switch off is needed from government and the telecoms industry to make sure any disruption to devices and services are kept to a minimum and to better help them prepare for the transition.

Adult social care, housing and environmental services are among the areas which could be affected, particularly in rural parts of the country where mobile signals are more patchy, the survey reveals. It also found that: 

  • Over half (57 per cent) of councils responding to the LGA’s survey said their highways, transport and parking services were still reliant on the older networks, the most of all their services, with parking meters the main area which needs upgrading. Some councils said they are concerned about not being able to afford the upgrade and potentially reducing access to parking machines.
  • Environment and waste services were the second most impacted (45 per cent), with refuse collection vehicle in-cab displays among the devices affected.
  • The third most impacted were housing services at just under 40 per cent still reliant on the old networks, including smart sensors in housing stock and emergency auto diallers in lifts. 
  • Telecare safety devices, used by older and vulnerable people to be able to live more independently at home, were also referenced in the survey as needing to be replaced.

The LGA says a lack of adequate 4G and 5G coverage, particularly in rural areas, will further hamper efforts to move on from the legacy networks. It is calling on the Government and regulator Ofcom to build on the findings and recommendations of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, published earlier this year, to improve the quality of mobile coverage reporting data. This in turn would help improve understanding and awareness of overall mobile coverage across the country.

Local digital champions, working in councils, can also act as a central point of contact to help extend gigabit-capable broadband and mobile coverage across the country as quickly as possible and could help with managing the impact of the switch off locally. The LGA is calling for these digital champions to be extended to every local area, to help improve connectivity and reduce the digital divide.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, LGA digital connectivity spokesman said: 

“Mobile data is vital for running certain services which people use and rely on every day, whether it be for help in paying for parking or providing a vital helpline in social housing.

“Councils want to do all they can to minimise the impact of the 2G and 3G network switch off, but cannot do it alone. We need government and telecoms leaders to work together to raise awareness of the transition and what it means for those at the sharp end, including on how best to manage the move to the latest technology.

“Older, legacy infrastructure ranging from parking meters and payment machines, to emergency auto diallers and sensors in social housing, may need upgrading or replacing to work on new, faster 4G and 5G networks. Time is running out if we are to avoid the fallout from the big switch off.”

Notes to Editors

LGA: 2G/3G switch off impact survey