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Three 4G Coverage and Network Review

5th November 2018

Three Network Coverage

Three has widespread coverage, with over 99% population coverage currently and that figure is growing all the time.

But where Three really stands out is with its extras, such as unlimited data tariffs, free roaming in numerous international destinations and more.

Below you’ll find a full overview of the network, as well as information on the ways in which it stands out and those in which it could improve.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Free roaming beyond the EU

Tests suggest latency could be improved

Unlimited data plans

Top speeds aren't as high as some rivals

Competitive prices

Not all plans allow tethering or global roaming

Our Rating

Coverage

Three Coverage

Network Type

Coverage by population

4G 

99.8%

3G

98.3%

2G

N/A

Unlike the other UK networks Three doesn't offer 2G, but instead only offers 3G and 4G services with coverage reaching 98.3% and 99.8% of the UK population respectively. That puts Three roughly in line with rivals and the network is investing heavily in its infrastructure.

Use Three’s coverage checker above to find out more about Three coverage in your area, including signal strengths and details on both indoor and outdoor coverage.

Coverage Comparison

Network

4G Coverage by population

Three

99.8%

EE

>99%

O2

99%

Vodafone

99%

Towns and cities with partial or full Three 4G coverage include (but are not limited to):

Aberdeen, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bolton, Bournemouth, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Coventry, Derby, Dundee, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Gloucester, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Sheffield, Southampton, Southend On Sea, Stoke on Trent, Swindon, Watford and York.

Not only is that just a partial list, but Three is adding to it all the time. So if you don't have 4G where you are now you likely will do soon.

Awards

Three has won a large number of awards over the years, with recent examples including the “Most Popular Mobile Network” and “Best Network for Roaming” at the 2018 uSwitch Mobile Awards, and the “Best Network for Data” award at Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2017, an award it also won at the 2017 uSwitch Mobile Awards.

Other awards include but are not limited to “Best Pay Monthly Network” and “Best Network for Roaming” at the 2017 uSwitch Mobile Awards, and “Best Network for Roaming” at the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2017.

In other words then, you should be in safe hands with Three, particularly if data and roaming are priorities for you.

Network Speeds and Frequencies

OpenSignal – Mobile Networks Update, October 2018

Network

4G download speeds

4G latency (ms)

EE

28.9Mbps

39.77ms

Three

18.78Mbps

48.15ms

Vodafone

21.92Mbps

40.78ms

O2

14.61Mbps

42.38ms

While Three’s 4G coverage is seemingly the best, its speeds aren’t quite. According to OpenSignal it offers average 4G download speeds of 18.78Mbps, beaten by EE and Vodafone. Its average latency of 48.15ms meanwhile is worse than all its main rivals. Latency is a measurement of how long the network takes to respond to a request and it’s not normally noticeable, but can affect things like online gaming and anything else where a fraction of a second makes a difference.

Speedtest – Mobile Speedtest Data, Q3-Q4 2017

Network

Download/upload speeds

EE

28.80/9.29Mbps

Vodafone

17.26/8.16Mbps

Three

14.58/7.35Mbps

O2

14.11/7.13Mbps

Speedtests download speed figures are lower but the placing is the same, putting Three in third place with an average speed of 14.58Mbps. However, these include both 3G and 4G, whereas OpenSignal’s just judged 4G speeds. In other words, Three’s 4G service is fast, but at the time of these tests it wasn't as widely available as rivals, hence the lower combined speed here.

Speedtest also provides information on average upload speeds, with Three coming in third again with 7.35Mbps. Again though, this will be an average of 3G and 4G speeds.

Network Frequencies

Frequency

Frequency Band

Network

800MHz

Band 20

4G

1800MHz

Band 3

4G

2100MHz

Band 1

3G

Three uses the 800MHz and 1800MHz bands for 4G. The 800MHz band can travel over long distances, making it a good fit for rural locations, where masts are often spread far apart. But it can also do a good job of penetrating walls, making it great for bringing 4G indoors.

1800MHz meanwhile isn’t quite as long range or as good at passing through walls, but it’s available in a higher capacity, which means it can cope with lots of simultaneous connections.

Three also has some other spectrum in the 3.4GHz and 3.6-3.8GHz bands, however this isn't currently in use and will instead come into play when the company rolls out 5G.

For more in depth information, check out our 4G frequencies guide, or check out the table above for a breakdown of Three’s frequency usage.

4G+

Although not specifically marketed by Three as ‘4G+’, the network has launched a faster 4G service in major cities such as London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow. This uses carrier aggregation to boost speeds on average by between 15% and 33%, and you’ll know it’s active if you see a ‘4G+’ symbol on your phone.

Planned improvements

Three is regularly improving its network, but often doesn’t announce the improvements, so it’s less clear what the network has planned than some of its rivals. However, the network did recently acquire 20MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum (useable for 5G) and has announced that it is “now in the process of planning how best to launch 5G services to the maximum benefit of our customers.”

Traffic management

Three uses what it calls ‘TrafficSense’ for traffic management. In general, it’s not something you’ll notice or that will really affect you – indeed it’s designed to ensure users get the best data experience possible.

However, Three notes that TrafficSense may restrict or prioritise certain types of data use when the network is congested or has a fault, in order to keep things running smoothly. It also allocates a dedicated amount of bandwidth to tethering on some plans, but this isn’t something you should notice.

When using your phone abroad in Go Roam locations, video may be delivered in standard definition, and the speed of P2P and VPN services may be reduced.

Plans

Three has a range of Pay Monthly, SIM Only and Pay As You Go plans. They stand out through high – and in some cases unlimited – data allowances, and if you opt for an Advanced Plan additional extra features, full details of which you’ll find below, however all plans, whether Essential or Advanced, come with 4G at no extra cost.

Three Pay Monthly Plans

 

Mobile Phones

SIM Only

Data Only

Plans Available

Max Data

Unlimited

Unlimited

40GB

Contract lengths

24 months

1 or 12 months

1, 12 or 24 months

VoLTE

-

WiFi Calling

-

Data Rollover

Spending Caps

 

View deals

View deals

View deals

Three’s Pay Monthly Plans are split into Essential and Advanced Plans, with Advanced Plans giving you access to Three’s Go Roam Around the World roaming service (detailed below), and giving you the ability to use your data for tethering. Advanced Plans also let you make free calls to Three’s customer services and in some cases offer unlimited data. On the other hand they’re more expensive than Essential Plans.

Three’s SIM Only Plans are also split into Essential or Advanced Plans, with Advanced Plans giving you inclusive roaming beyond the EU, allowing you to tether and giving you free calls to customer services – as well as offering more data at the top end, while Essential Plans are simply cheaper.

Having said all this, at the time of writing Three only seems to be offering Advanced Plans, meaning that if you’re a new or upgrading customer you should be able to get all the Advanced Plan benefits no matter what you opt for.

Three also offers Data Only plans for tablets, MiFi devices and dongles. These come with data but don’t include any minutes or texts. They are available on 1, 12 or 24-month contracts and come with up to 40GB of data.

The plans at their core stand out from most rivals through having potentially unlimited allowances and potentially widespread roaming (if you're on an Advanced Plan). There are also numerous other benefits, most of which are highlighted in the chart below.

Pay Monthly Plan Benefits

 

Essential

Advanced

EU Roaming

Global Roaming

Max Data Allowance

4GB Unlimited

Contract Length

24 Months 24 Months

Wuntu Rewards

Tethering

Go Binge

✔*

We’ll cover most of the benefits of Three’s plans in detail below, but you can see an overview in the chart above. Wuntu rewards refers to an app available on Android and iOS which is packed full of exclusive offers, discounts, competitions and rewards. The content is refreshed every week.

* Go Binge

Three now lets Advanced Plan customers with an allowance of at least 12GB 'Go Binge', while mobile broadband customers need at least 15GB of monthly data to get Go Binge. With Go Binge you can stream as much as you want on Netflix, Apple Music, Snapchat, Deezer, TVPlayer and SoundCloud without it coming out of your data allowance.

Tethering

Tethering comes on all of Three’s Advanced plans (but not on Essential plans) and the network lets you use as much of your data as you want for tethering. That means if you have a plan with unlimited data you can tether indefinitely.

WiFi Calling

Wi-Fi Calling allows you to seamlessly call and text over Wi-Fi, making it ideal if you’re in an area with no signal, and it’s a service that Three offers as standard.

However, while it works on all iPhones from the iPhone 5S onwards, it only works on select Android handsets, and only if they’ve been bought direct from Three. Check out the full up to date list of compatible handsets here.

It’s worth noting that if you can’t get Wi-Fi Calling on your phone you should be able to get Three’s inTouch app, which offers a similar service, but works via an app, so it’s slightly less seamless.

VoLTE

VoLTE stands for Voice over LTE, and it means being able to make and receive calls over 4G, which is handy as it allows you to continue calling in areas which don’t have a 3G signal. Call quality is also sometimes higher when using VoLTE.

Three was the first UK network to offer a VoLTE service, one which it calls 4G Super-Voice. This comes as standard on plans and is currently available to most of the UK population, but as with Wi-Fi Calling you’ll need to have bought your handset from Three if you’re using an Android phone, and it will need to be one of the ones on this list. iPhone users don’t have to have bought their phone from Three, you just need an iPhone SE or above.

Hands Free

Hands Free is another perk for Three customers, one which allows you to put your hand luggage in the hold on easyJet flights at no cost.

This means you won’t have limits on liquids and should be able to get through security faster. Then at the other end your bag will be one of the first to come off the plane. Other perks of Hands Free include being able to board the plane faster and getting a free tote bag, so you can still take essentials on board.

Pay As You Go

Pay As You Go Plans

 

Mobile Phones

Data Only

Plans Available

Add-ons available

Max Data Allowance

Unlimited

24GB

Add-on expiry 

30 days Up to 24 months

Top Up Expiry

180 days inactivity 180 days inactivity

Tethering

EU Roaming

Global Roaming

Wuntu Rewards

View Plans

Three also offers a range of Pay As You Go bundles, most of which give you an allowance of minutes, texts and data, but some of which are designed just to boost one of those three things.

All of these bundles (other than data-only ones) last 30 days, and while they don’t automatically renew you can queue them. Three doesn’t allow you to tether on Pay As You Go (without an add-on), but you can use your allowances with Three’s Go Roam Around the World roaming service (up to a cap of 12GB of data).

If you don’t buy a bundle, or you use up your allowances, you’ll be charged 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per megabyte.

Roaming Destinations

Three also offers services abroad, allowing you to continue to use your data, minutes and texts at no extra cost. Previously known as Feel At Home, the full service is called Go Roam Around the World and is only available on Advanced Plans. This lets you roam at no extra cost in the following 71 locations:

Aland Islands, Australia, Austria, Azores, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Réunion, Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, USA, Vatican City and Vietnam.

However, be aware that currently only 3G is offered by Three in Go Roam locations and that on Essential Plans you only have access to Go Roam in Europe. This lets you roam in 49 of the above destinations, but only those in Europe, so on an Essential Plan you won't be able to roam in:

Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Macau, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, USA, US Virgin Islands or Vietnam.

Note that on Pay Monthly or SIM Only data use is only inclusive up to 15GB in Go Roam in Europe locations (or 12GB on Pay As You Go), and for all plans it's 12GB for Go Roam Around the World.

Customer service

Customer service can be hard to judge, but based on the evidence available it seems that Three may well be above average in the area.

First, we have the Which? H1 2017 UK Mobile Network Survey, in which Three was ranked seventh overall, which might not sound great, but does put it ahead of the three other main UK networks, namely EE, Vodafone and O2.

The survey quizzed 4,026 members of the public in February 2017, who between them scored Three as 3/5 for customer service, ease/speed of contacting and value for money, and 1/5 for incentives, giving the network an overall customer score of 64%.

There’s also an Ofcom complaints report from 2017, which found that Three has just 3 complaints for every 100,000 subscribers. The industry average is apparently 5, so Three is better than average there, tying with EE and O2, and bettered by Tesco Mobile.

Conclusion

Three's 4G coverage is now comparable to rivals and the network has plenty of other benefits including higher data limits than any of its main rivals, free roaming in a large number of places, high speeds when on 4G, solid customer service and competitively low prices.

It's the network to choose if you’re a heavy data user or put value for money first.

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