Millions of smart meters could stop working after the 3G and 2G switch-off

Smart meter tracks energy readings
Over 30 million homes with smart meters may need to upgrade or replace their existing meter due to 2G and 3G network closures (Image credit: Getty Images)

Millions of homeowners' smart meters could stop working when 3G and 2G mobile networks are switched off. 

Over 30 million smart meters will need to be replaced or upgraded by 2033 due to the UK choosing to phase out older mobile networks to make way for 4G and 5G signals instead. The smart meters will need to be replaced because they are not designed to adapt to different mobile connections and they still work off 3G and 2G networks.

Smart meters one of the most common energy saving tips and here we explain why 2g and 3G networks are being switched off in the UK, why homes with existing smart meters will be affected and how best to go about upgrading your smart meter for the change.

Why is the 3G and 2G switch-off happening?

As a part of the government's efforts to enhance the country's telecommunications infrastructure, plans have been announced by Ofcom to decommission the outdated 3G and 2G networks. 

This move aims to create room for advanced 4G and 5G signals, which will serve as the foundation for smart cities and autonomous vehicles. The deadline for the new networks is set for 2033.

"The 2G and 3G networks rely on older technology and running them alongside newer 4G and 5G services involves increased operating costs, as well as a less efficient use of spectrum and energy," it explained in the Ofgem report on the 3G and 2G switch-off.

Why will some smart meters stop working?

This will have an adverse effect on smart meters, which are reliant on 2G and 3G networks as they do not run off WIFI.

Daisy Cross, head of Future Retail Markets, said: “Any big infrastructure upgrade, it’s not a one off, it’s not about the smart meter, it’s about the upgrade of the grid and 2G-3G switch off will be part of that.

“It’s part of a natural upgrade to the system, there are costs associated with it and a lot of those costs are associated with the install.”

Poses a problem for UK's smart meter rollout

The decision to remove 2G and 3G networks places even greater restraints on the government's plans to install smart meters into every UK household.

The government aimed to install smart meters and even offer to pay the installation costs for consumers.

Minister for Climate Change, Lord Callanan, said: "Smart meters are playing an important role in helping the UK deliver a cleaner and more efficient energy system, with the added benefit of also saving tens of billions of pounds in the process."

However, according to data from the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, there were 15.1 million first-generation meters, which are not compatible with 4G networks, and 14.8 second-generation meters installed in British homes at the end of 2022, which falls well short of government targets.

Even more concerning though is this leaves millions of households with smart meters which are soon to be outdated and will require updating.

The government is now faced with installing more smart meters to meet original targets whilst also bringing existing smart meters up to date so they are compatible with 4G networks.

This news comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) recently launched a report on the rollout of smart meters progress finding that the government rollout is slower than planned, as many as 500,000 first-generation smart meters losing their smart functionality when switching to a new supplier and a 10th of smart meters are faulty and giving inaccurate readings.

In it the report acknowledged that a strategy for dealing with the 3G and 2G switch-off had not yet been put forward by the Department for Energy, Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) .

How do I upgrade my smart meter for the switch-off?

As the networks will not be installed until 2033, there is no immediate concern for households. That said, upgrading your smart meter may not be as simple as it seems.

Despite homeowners not paying for smart meter installations, it is expected they will be asked to handle any upgrade costs, or any new installations.

Smart meters have a SIM card (like your mobile phone), which connects to wireless networks such as 2G and 3G networks and to change to a 4G network all that is needed is a new SIM card that connects to a 4G network.

However, you can only do this if you have a second-generation smart meter, and even then the option to move to a 4G network will not become available until 2025 at the earliest, according to the Data and Communications Company. No smart meters currently use 5G.

You will need to check with your provider to see whether your smart meter is compatible as first-generation smart meters, known as SMETS 1 (Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specifications) were rolled out before 2018 and will need to be upgraded to the SMETS 2 specifications before gaining the new SIM card, which may require a new installation.

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.