How to force a Three (3) phone to use 3G only in Ireland



Note: While this post is specifically written for 3 Ireland users, this trick will probably work for those having a similar issue with other networks.

With O2 gradually merging with the 3 network in Ireland, at this time it is possible to ‘roam’ on to 2G masts on the O2 network in a similar way as with the Vodafone network. This effectively means that a 3 customer has at least call and text coverage where ever they are in range of a 3, O2 (2G) or Vodafone (2G) mast.

Based on my experience trying out O2 coverage in various areas, data is a lot more usable than the Vodafone network, probably because Vodafone prioritises the already crippled 2G bandwidth to its customers. In many rural areas where there is no 3G coverage, it is practically impossible to browse the web using Vodafone 2G. If I’m very lucky, I can send and receive e-mail without attachments, however most data-dependent apps will fail to run. With the O2 network, I have no problem browsing the web, even if pages take up to a minute to load and lightweight data apps such as for e-mail, news and weather work fine.

The following are two Speedtests, the left conducted on the Vodafone 2G network and the right on the O2 2G network, both with a full signal. The speed test on the left is the only speed test I ever managed to get to run on the Vodafone network as it would usually fail with a communication error as it ran the downlink test.

This national roaming ability does come with a catch where my phone seems to prefer using the 2G networks even where 3G coverage is available on the 3 network. This is especially true when my phone uses the O2 network where it shows ‘3.’ as the network name and I’ve heard of others having the same issue. Even in the middle of a town with strong 3G coverage, my phone will often continue to use the O2 2G network even with ‘3G’ selected as the preferred network type in my phone’s settings.

On some phones such as some LG, HTC and Sony models, it is possible to force the phone to use the 3G network by changing the ‘Preferred Network Type’ to ‘WCDMA Only’ if this option is available. Other phones such as the OnePlus One can be forced through a hidden menu as discussed further down.

The following shows the LG G2 Mini preferred network types on the left and for the OnePlus One on the right:

Regardless of whether I set my OnePlus One to ‘LTE (recommended)’ or ‘3G’, it still seems to prefer roaming on the O2 2G network (showing ‘3.’) or in some cases the Vodafone 2G network, particularly in Killybegs town that I occasionally stop at for shopping, doctor, etc.

To force this phone (and many others) to use the 3G network, I need to bring up the hidden preferred network types menu. This can be accessed by dialling ‘*##4636##*’ which brings up the menu shown on the left below. Go into ‘Phone Information’ and scroll down to where it says ‘Set preferred network type:’ with a drop-down menu on the middle below. Another way to get into this menu is with the app ‘Elixir 2’ – Launch the app, go into ‘Information’, touch ‘Telephony’ and touch “Turn WiMAX (4G) on” as shown on the right.

Touch this line (shown as “LTE/GSM auto (PRL)” on my phone) and choose ‘WCDMA only’ or ‘LTE/WCDMA’ if your phone is 4G capable and this option is listed. The following shows this drop-down on an OPO, LG and HTC phone, respectively. The HTC One SV as shown below only gives the option of ‘WCDMA Only’ and ‘LTE Only’ (further down).

Once this option is chosen, the phone will only use the 3G (or LTE) network. The obvious catch is that you will lose call and text coverage in areas with only Vodafone or O2 coverage as neither network will allow 3 customers to use their 3G masts and obviously the phone will not use a 2G network with this hidden option chosen. With some phone such as the OnePlus, this restriction can be undone by rebooting the phone. On some other phones, the user must go back into the hidden menu or the preferred network types menu and choose an option that allows 2G use.

Hopefully in the coming months as the O2 and 3 merge fully completes, 3 customers will be able to roam on O2’s 3G masts also.