Three is technically the U.K.’s second-youngest network — formed in 2003 — but many consider it to be the youngest, since EE is made up of second- and third-oldest networks T-Mobile and Orange. Its age matches its status: other networks boast vast amounts of capacity at all levels of the spectrum, but Three only offers 3G and 4G services. Its 4G network was built with a healthy donation of spectrum from EE following its creation.
Despite being the smallest in the market, Three is owned by one of the world’s largest communications company, Hutchison Whampoa, and its this backing which is allowing it to shake up the market.
Three’s network currently uses the following frequencies:
|2100MHz||UMTS / HSDPA / HSPA+ / DC-HSPA+||3G|
Three’s U.K. network has always been data-focused, with the network prioritizing the data-capable 3G standard ahead of the voice-focused GSM 2G standard. Other networks offer 2G services as a backup plan, but Three only offers 3G and 4G services. The carrier covers 97 percent of the population with 3G, and 91 percent with 4G, so it has little for a 2G backup.
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. VoLTE support didn’t appear until 2015. Today Three offers the lowest level of population coverage out of the big four carriers, but its 91 percent 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. Three has also always had more consumer friendly tethering policies.
4G is standard across all the U.K.’s networks these days, but Three still offers some compelling deals for the data hungry consumer. All You Can Eat data remains in place for its more expensive plans, and Three also has its Go Binge initiative that allows users to stream from Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer, and other services without eating into their data allowance. Plans that qualify for Feel at Home/Go Roam also allow customers to use their call, text, and data allowance in at destinations around the world at no extra cost.
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 calls, and tie you in to a 24 month contract for your new handset. Packages on leading flagships can start from as little as 1 GB of data per month, ranging through 4, 10, 12, 30, and up to 100 GB packages. At the most expensive end, you’ll also find All You Can Eat packages, complete with generous personal hotspot and roaming allowances.
The only caveat with some of the less expensive packages is not including the personal hotspot, roaming, and Go Binge perks. These only start to kick-in at the 4 GB mark, with the hotspot allowance capped at 30 GB even on the larger packages.
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 biggest and best packages on the market.
Pay Monthly SIM Only
Like every network, Three also offers SIM Only packages for customers who prefer to buy their phones and contracts separately. Almost all of the same packages are available on both 1-month and 12-month contracts. 12-month plans cost £3.00 per month less on average. There’s also a split between Essential and Advanced plans that again determine whether you’ll receive roaming, hotspot, and binging privileges.
Three doesn’t limit its SIM Only plans, meaning some offer All You Can Eat data, though tethering is limited to a maximum of 30 GB per month (like Three’s Pay Monthly handset plans). Here’s the current range of available Three SIMO plans:
|Minutes||Texts||Monthly data||12-month price||1-month price|
|All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat||4 GB + Go Binge, Roaming & Hotspot||£13.00/m||£18.00/m|
|All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat||12 GB + Go Binge, Roaming & Hotspot||£15.00/m||£20.00/m|
|All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat||30 GB + Go Binge, Roaming & Hotspot||£20.00/m||£25.00/m|
|All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat||100 GB + Go Binge, Roaming & Hotspot||£27.00/m||Not Available|
|All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat||All-you-can-eat + Go Binge, Roaming & Hotspot||£30.00/m||£35.00/m|
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.
If you choose to go for a Three PAYG pack, there are a smaller selection to pick from but all of them come with 3000 minutes, 3000 texts, and last 30 days. The 12 GB or larger packages qualify for 12 GB data roaming allowances in 71 countries as well. Here’s the breakdown:
- 1 GB – £10.00
- 5 GB – £15.00
- 12 GB – £20.00
- 30 GB – £25.00
- All You Can Eat – £35.00
If you’re undecided about the packs, there’s something worth remembering: while customers using 3-2-1 can’t take advantage of FAH, those with a PAYG pack can. This means if you choose a pack and go to any of the included countries, you’ll be able to use your phone abroad without charge just like post-paid customers.
Overall, Three’s PAYG offer is arguably the best on the market.
The drastic increase in demand for data-driven services has meant mobile networks are encroaching on traditional fixed-line service providers to offer their customers TV, broadband, and landline services.
Unlike its chief 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 HomeFi initiative, which runs on its 4G network, rather than traditional telephone or fiber lines. There’s no contract with HomeFi, so you can break off anytime after the first month. It can connect up to 32 devices at once. 40 GB of data will cost £24 per month. Three also offers a selection of Mobile Wi-Fi dongles that start at £8 per month for 2 GB of data.
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. Things would have changed even further had the company been allowed to go through with its buyout of O2.
From All You Can Eat data and Go Binge, to Feel At Home roaming, Three offers a lot to it’s customers. I’ve used Three on and off over the past few years and noticed the changes the network has undergone. It’s network has become very reliable, and perhaps the fastest around. Three ticks all the boxes and has enough unique points to make it an intriguing proposition for all customers.
More UK carriers reviews – Choose yours below!
- O2 UK network review: Everything you need to know
- Vodafone UK review: Everything you need to know
- EE network review: Everything you need to know
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