Three is technically the U.K.’s second-youngest network — formed in 2003 — but many consider it to be the youngest, since industry leader EE was formed from the ashes of T-Mobile and Orange. Three’s age matches its status and its name: other networks boast vast amounts of capacity at all levels of the spectrum, but Three only offers 3G and 4G services.
Despite being the smallest in the market, Three is owned by one of the world’s largest multinational conglomerates, CK Hutchison, and it’s this backing which is allowing it to shake up the market.
In this Three network review, which will be updated as new deals and offers come to market, we’ll analyze the network including its coverage, plans and what lies ahead for the U.K. carrier.
Three UK network technology
Three’s network currently uses the following frequencies:
Protocol:UMTS / HSDPA / HSPA+ / DC-HSPA+
Three’s U.K. network has always been data-focused, with the network prioritizing the data-capable 3G standard ahead of the voice-centric GSM 2G standard. Other networks offer 2G services as a backup plan, but Three only offers 3G and 4G services. The carrier covers over 98 percent of the population with 3G, and over 99 percent with 4G.
Three was the last mobile network to offer 4G LTE in the U.K.. It didn’t switch its 4G network on until December 2013 and it then only covered four major cities. It wasn’t until late 2014 that the carrier’s coverage reached another 450 locations. Today, Three offers the lowest level of population coverage out of the big four carriers, but its 97 percent overall coverage is still comprehensive.
Its 4G network was originally planned to operate in the 800MHz spectrum, but Three was also granted license by the regulator in 2012 to operate in part of the 1800MHz obtained through the creation of EE. Although limited in capacity, the 800MHz support means Three’s indoor and long distance 4G coverage holds up well.
While its rival networks all introduced 4G services at a premium to customers before almost dropping 3G contracts in their entirety, Three chose to tease its delayed network with a campaign offering LTE to all customers at no extra premium. The carrier’s early All You Can Eat data proposition drew in millions of customers looking for unlimited data.
4G is standard across all the U.K.’s networks these days, but Three still offers some compelling deals for the data hungry consumer.
Three 5G plans
Three will launch its 5G network in the second half of 2019 in 25 cities. It will start with 5G mobile broadband and phone access will follow later in the year. This technically puts the network just ahead of O2 for its 5G rollout if you look beyond phones, but behind Vodafone and EE that have already launched their 5G networks in the U.K..
The carrier also hasn’t detailed its broader rollout plans for launch cities and 5G phones, aside from commitments to stock 5G devices such as the HTC 5G Hub, Huawei Mate X, and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G. Three was confirmed, however, that it won’t charge customers extra to use 5G. Instead, 5G will be useable by any existing or future user on SIM only, contract, or Pay as you go free of charge.
As for the network itself, Three suggests peak mobile speeds on its 5G network will be twice as fast as the competition, as well as providing a “more reliable connection and experience.” Three claims it can offer this with support from 140MHz of newly acquired 5G spectrum, which includes a 100MHz contiguous block.
Three coverage checker
You can check to see if Three has the best mobile network coverage for you using the Three coverage checker.
VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling
Three supports Wi-Fi Calling on selected Apple, Samsung, LG, Google, Motorola, Alcatel, ZTE, Razer, Sony, and Huawei/Honor phones.
4G Calling (VoLTE) is offered by Three under the moniker “4G Super-Voice.” Selected Samsung, Apple, LG, Huawei, Sony, Lenovo, Microsoft, Razer, Motorola, and ZTE phones are supported.
Three leases its network to 11 mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the U.K.. The most notable of the bunch is iD Mobile — an MVNO network offered by the mobile retail giant Carphone Warehouse.
Three UK plans and devices
Pay Monthly Handsets
Three’s Pay Monthly handset (PAYM) plans offer a range of inclusive allowances, up to unlimited minutes and data. However, the actual plans and prices available depends on which handset you go for.
All of Three’s PAYM contracts come with unlimited texts and most come with unlimited calls. All contracts will tie you in to a 24 month contract for your new handset. Packages on leading flagships can start from as little as 1GB of data per month. At the most expensive end, you’ll also find unlimited data packages, complete with no caps on tethering (personal hotspot).
The only caveat with some of the less expensive packages is not including the Go Binge perk (more on that below) which only kicks-in on any plans over 4GB.
Overall, Three may not offer the bells and whistles that other networks do but what it does do is offer benefits and features its customers actually use. From no worries about going over data allowances to roaming abroad for free, the U.K.’s smallest network offers one of the best no-nonsense packages on the market.
Three stocks a wide range of phones from a variety of manufacturers on Pay Monthly. Below is the full list of the major brands:
Three is also one of the few carriers to offer premium phones on Pay as you go and these are all unlocked as standard.
Pay Monthly SIM Only
Like every network, Three also offers SIM Only packages for customers who prefer to buy their phones and contracts separately. Three offers four different plans on either 1 month, 12 month, or 24 month contract terms with data ranging from 4GB to unlimited data. The 24 month plans represent some of the best value SIM Only packages from any U.K. network.
Here’s the current range of available Three SIMO plans:
|Minutes||Texts||Monthly data||24-month price||12-month price||1-month price|
Monthly data:4GB + Go Roam & Hotspot
Monthly data:12GB + Go Binge, Go Roam & Hotspot
Monthly data:30GB + Go Binge, Go Roam & Hotspot
Monthly data:Unlimited + Go Binge, Go Roam & Hotspot
Pay as You Go Plans
Like many networks, Three splits its Pay as you go (PAYG) offerings into packs, with different amounts of minutes, texts, and data each month. To simplify its offering and make things easier for customers, Three’s 3-2-1 package offers easy to understand call charges for customers who go over their allowances or choose not to use a pack.
3-2-1 is Three’s way of not overcharging customers and the carrier has a big point: if a single minute costs a fraction of a penny, why do some networks charge 40 pence per minute on PAYG? 3-2-1 means you’ll pay just 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per MB of data if you go over your allowances or don’t have an active pack.
Compared to the competition, 3-2-1 is vastly cheaper and it’s a great reason to buy a Three PAYG plan, especially if you use your handset infrequently. Considering even PAYG customers get access to 4G without charge and your PAYG credit never expires, the case to choose Three on PAYG is certainly strong.
Those who want PAYG bundles can buy an add-on pack with set allowances. This offers up to unlimited data, however, you don’t get the Go Binge perk and other useful add-ons will cost you extra.
Here’s the current range of available Three PAYG plans:
Go Binge is an initiative that allows users to stream from Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer, Snapchat, and other services without eating into their data allowance. This is available on all contract plans with 12GB of data and above.
Previously known as Feel at Home, Go Roam allows customers to use their call, text, and data allowance in over 70 destinations around the world at no extra cost. You can find a full list of the countries in the scheme here.
The Three app lets users view bills, PAYG allowances, check upgrade eligibility, and chat with Three’s customer service via live chat.
Three offers a range of mobile broadband products like USB dongles, Mobile Wi-Fi routers, and data only SIMs. Here are the data-only SIM plans at the time of writing:
|Data||24-month cost||12-month cost||30-day cost|
Three’s main mobile broadband products are the Huawei AI Cube and Three HomeFi smart hotspots which connect up to 64 and 32 devices, respectively. These are intended as home broadband alternatives and offer unlimited data tariffs from as low as £22 a month.
Tablets, accessories, and smart home
Three stocks various tablets on contract and Pay as you go deals. This includes high end tablets from Samsung and Apple as well as more budget tablets from Alcatel and Huawei.
Three also has a dedicated store for accessories which sells cases, headphones, screen protectors, chargers, action cameras, and smart speakers.
Broadband, landline phones, and quad-play
Unlike a number of its rivals, Three does not offer any quad-play services to its customers, nor has it mentioned any current plans to offer quad-play services in the near future.
The closest Three has come to offering home internet packages is the aforementioned HomeFi or Huawei AI Cube, both of which run on Three’s 4G network, rather than traditional telephone or fiber lines.
Three UK network review: Verdict
Three’s network has certainly undergone major transformations and improvements over the past few years. At first the company had the worst coverage in the U.K. but that’s changed drastically over the years. Things would have changed even further had the company been allowed to go through with its buyout of O2, but the sale was blocked by the European Commission in mid-2016.
More U.K. content: Best phones under £500 in the U.K.
From unlimited data and Go Binge, to Go Roam for free international allowances, Three offers a lot to its customers and almost always undercuts the opposition on pricing. Its network has also become more reliable over the years, and while the company still falls behind O2 and EE in customer service surveys (but ahead of Vodafone), customer satisfaction has been consistently on the up for years.
Three is also making big claims about its 5G speeds and is promising free 5G for every customer. We’ll have to wait and see if it can use the latest network technology to springboard past its rivals.
In short, if you want data and don’t want to break the bank, go to Three!
Are you a Three customer? Let us know your views on Three in the comments.