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Three Coverage and Network Review

17th March 2022

Three Network Coverage

Three has widespread 4G coverage and has now rolled out 5G in at least 303 locations – with a 5G network which could have some advantages over rivals.

Beyond that, Three really stands out through its competitive prices, which if anything tend to be lower than the UK’s other major networks.

Below you’ll find a full review and 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

Relatively good 5G coverage

Tests suggest 4G latency could be improved

Unlimited data plans

Top speeds aren't as high as some rivals

Competitive prices with 5G at no extra cost

Will soon charge for roaming

Our Rating

Table of Contents

Coverage

Three Coverage

Network Type

Coverage by population

5G

Now available in 300 locations

4G 

99.8%

3G

98.7%

2G

N/A

5G coverage

Three 5G is now available in at least 303 places. Three is offering 5G at no extra cost on all Pay Monthly contracts, SIM Only and Pay As You Go plans, although you will need a 5G ready device to access the service. The locations with Three 5G include (but are not limited to):

Aberdeen, Abingdon-on-Thames, Adlington, Aldershot, Aldridge, Ashford, Balloch, Barnsley, Barrow-in-Furness, Basildon, Bath, Bedford, Belfast City, Belfast International Airport (Aldergrove), Billericay, Billingham, Birdwell, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bishopthorpe, Blackburn, Blackpool, Borehamwood, Bournemouth, Bradford, Brentwood, Brighton, Brimington, Bristol, Bromsgrove, Brookmans Park, Broughton Astley, Burton upon Trent, Campton, Cannock, Cardiff,  Carlisle, Castlereagh, Chatham, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Chesham, Chorley,  Christleton, Clayton-le-Woods, Clifton, Coedkernew, Colchester, Copmanthorpe, Corringham, Coventry, Crawley, Crook, Cullingworth, Danderhall, Delph, Denholme, Derby, Dewsbury, Dinnington, Doncaster, Dundee, East Kilbride, East Midlands Airport, Edinburgh, Egginton, Ellesmere Port, Exmouth, Falkirk, Gateshead, Glasgow, Gorebridge, Grays, Greenock, Grimsby, Guildford, Hamilton, Hartley, Hatfield, Heanor, Heathcote, Hedge End, Hemel Hempstead, Hertford, Heswall, Heywood, Horley, Horwich, Huddersfield, Huntington, Inchinnan, Ingleby Barwick, Ipswich, Irlam, Isle of Grain, Iver Heath, Kings Hill, Kings Langley, Kingston upon Hull, Kinmel Bay, Kirkheaton, Kirknewton, Knowl Wall, Leeds, Leicester, Leyland, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Lower Stondon, Luton, Maidenhead, Maidstone, Manchester, Mansfield, Margate, Marlow Bottom, Marston Moretaine, Merthyr Tydfil, Metropolitan Newtownabbey, Middlesbrough, Milnrow, Milton Keynes, Motherwell, Neston, Newark-on-Trent, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newhall, Newport, Newquay, Newtonabbey, Newton Aycliffe, Newton-le-Willows, Normanton, Northampton, Nottingham, Nuneaton, Ottershaw, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Pontefract, Porthcawl, Portsmouth, Preston, Reading, Redcar, Redditch, Royston, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Shelly Green, Shrewsbury, Slough, South Heighton, South Kirkby, South Normanton, South Ockendon, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, Southport, St Albans, St Blazey, St Columb Road, Stafford, Stansted Airport, Stevenage, Stockton-on-Tees, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sunderland, Sunninghill, Sutton in Ashfield, Swadlincote, Swindon, Swinton, Tamworth, Telford, Thornaby-on-Tees, Ullesthorpe, Wakefield, Wallingford, Walton, Warrington, Washington, Westhoughton, Weybridge, Wickford, Wigan, Winterbourne, Worcester, Worksop, Writtle, and York.

That’s a lot of locations, and due to the amount of 5G-ready spectrum Three has it has also said that it’s the only UK network in a position to offer ‘true’ 5G at launch, which could allow for speeds up to twice as fast as rivals. Three hasn’t talked specific numbers, but given EE’s 5G speeds that could mean peak speeds of over 2Gbps – though initially it’s unlikely to be quite that fast. See further down for a bit more on speeds.

Of course, you’ll need a 5G phone and plan to take advantage, but Three stocks many such phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S21, Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 Mini, and others, with more sure to land soon.

4G coverage

Three has 99.8% population coverage with 4G, which is a competitive amount, roughly in line with rivals. 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.

3G coverage

Three has 98.7% population coverage with 3G, and as with 4G that’s competitive with rivals. Between the two technologies you should be able to get a signal almost anywhere in the UK – while faster 5G coverage is rapidly improving.

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

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 numerous extra features, full details of which you’ll find below.

Three Pay Monthly Plans

 

Mobile Phones

SIM Only

Data Only

Plans Available

Max Data

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Contract lengths

24 months

1, 12 or 24 months

1, 12 or 24 months

 

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SIM Only Deals
Three

12 Month Contract

20 GB data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£8.00 a month

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Three

12 Month Contract

30 GB data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£9.00 a month

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Three

12 Month Contract

100 GB data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£12.00 a month

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Three

24 Month Contract

Unlimited data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£16.00 a month

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Three

12 Month Contract

Unlimited data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£17.00 a month

View Deal

View All Three Sim Only Deals

Three’s Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans all give you the ability to use your data for tethering. Some also offer unlimited data.

Three did previously split its plans between Essential Plans and Advanced Plans, with Essential ones offering fewer perks, so if you’re on an older Essential Plan you won’t be able to tether, but new plans all come with this feature.

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 unlimited data.

Pay As You Go Plans

 

Mobile Phones

Data Only

Plans Available

Add-ons available

Max Data Allowance

Unlimited

Unlimited

Add-on expiry 

30 days Up to 24 months

Top Up Expiry

180 days inactivity 180 days inactivity

Tethering

View Plans

Three additionally offers a range of Pay As You Go bundles, most of which give you an allowance of data coupled with unlimited minutes and texts, but some of which are data-only.

Most of these bundles (other than some data-only ones) last 30 days, and renew automatically. Three also allows you to tether on Pay As You Go.

If you don’t buy a bundle, or you use up your allowances, you’ll be charged 10p per minute, 10p per text and 5p per megabyte.

Three policies and perks

 

Mobile Phones

SIM Only

Data Only SIM

5G

Roaming

Tethering

Wi-Fi Calling

VoLTE

Data Rollover

Spending Caps

Unlimited Data

Family Plans

Credit Check

Three+

Three’s plans come with 5G at no extra cost, and other than that, the plans at their core stand out from some rivals through having potentially unlimited allowances and competitive prices, but there’s more to them than that, with the other key extras detailed below.

5G

Three offers 5G as standard on all of its SIMs, whether you’re going Pay Monthly with a phone, SIM Only, or Data Only, so you won’t pay any extra for it. Though of course if you get a 4G phone on a Pay Monthly plan then you won’t be able to make use of 5G, but that’s true on every network.

Roaming Destinations

Three used to allow customers to roam for free in many locations, but now any customer (other than those on Pay As You Go) who signed up for a new contract or renewed their contract from October 1st, 2021, onwards will be charged £2 per day to use their allowances in EU countries from May 23rd, 2022. The charge goes up to £5 per day for countries outside the EU that used to offer free roaming on Three. The affected countries are as follows:

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, Israel, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, 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.

Free roaming will still be offered in the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland though.

Note that at the time of writing you can also only use up to 12GB of your data allowance when roaming.

Three also offers a Data Passport, which lets you use unlimited data in 89 destinations for £5 per day.

Ultimately, this change in May 2022 will bring Three from being one of the best networks for roaming to being a not particularly good one, since most rivals either offer free roaming as standard, or have some plans with free roaming.

Tethering

Tethering comes on all of Three’s current plans (but not on older 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.

Wi-Fi 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.

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 across Three’s entire 4G network, 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 only works with select handsets. iPhone users don’t have to have bought their phone from Three, you just need an iPhone SE or above.

Data rollover

Three doesn’t offer data rollover on any of its plans. If it did, you’d be able to roll over your unused data to a second month, giving you a second chance to use it. However, not many networks offer this.

Spending caps

Three lets you apply a spending cap to your plan, of between £0 and £100, in £10 increments.

Set it to £0 and you won’t be able to spend anything outside your normal monthly plan cost – meaning things like international numbers, or roaming in places where it’s not free.

Set it to another level, such as £100, and you’ll only be able to spend that much each month. You can also choose not to have a spend cap.

Note that things like add-ons, insurance, and using Three Pay aren’t included in the cap.

Unlimited data

Three provides the option of unlimited data across its plans, including on Pay Monthly, SIM Only, Data Only and Pay As You Go. So you can choose an unlimited data plan and never worry about allowances again.

Three has no real fair usage policy in the UK either, though you’re limited to 12GB per month when roaming.

Family plans

Three doesn’t offer family plans, though you can get an existing customer discount if you add a second line or device to your plan. This isn’t a set discount, and it doesn’t apply to all plans. Rather the network has a rotating line-up of offers for existing customers.

Credit checks

Three will credit check you if you’re signing up for any kind of contract (so basically anything other than Pay As You Go). This however is in line with most networks, and these checks aren’t usually hard to pass, but it’s something to bear in mind if you have a poor credit rating.

Unique perks

One perk offered by Three is the Three+ app. This gives customers access to discounts and freebies from various brands, along with pre-sale festival tickets. It’s very similar to O2 Priority, just with a different selection of offers.

The network has also 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.

But Three is going a step further, as it is also upgrading 6,000 sites (which in total carry 80% of its network traffic) with new antennas and spectrum, to offer 4G speeds that are up to 150% faster than current speeds. This work has begun already so you should now see the benefit in some places, but it won't be completed at all of these sites until 2023.

Awards

Three has won a large number of awards over the years, with recent examples including the uSwitch Best Network for Data Winner 2021, the Best Network for Roaming at the uSwitch Mobile Awards 2020, and both Best Network for Data and Best Value Network at the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2019.

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

Network

Network speeds

Opensignal – Mobile Network Experience, September 2021, and April 2020

Network

Download/upload speeds

4G latency (ms)

EE

44/9.7Mbps

36.0ms

Three

25.2/6.3Mbps

48.3ms

Vodafone

21.6/7.4Mbps

39.0ms

O2

17.1/5.4Mbps

38.1ms

While Three’s 4G coverage is superb and its 5G coverage seems better than many networks too, its speeds aren’t quite as impressive. According to Opensignal it offers average download speeds of 25.2Mbps, beaten by EE. Its average upload speed of 6.3Mbps meanwhile is third, and its average latency of 48.3ms 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.

Note that the latency figures in the chart above come from April 2020, while the others come from September 2021, as latency wasn’t included in the more recent reports. Note also that the speeds listed use a combination of all available network types (so 5G, 4G and 3G).

The good news is that if Three’s 5G service lives up to the network’s promises then it could soon be leading the pack in some places. Indeed, according to a RootMetrics report from late 2020, Three achieved 5G latency of just 17ms in central London, which is significantly better than any rival.

Three’s 5G download speeds meanwhile average 158.7Mbps UK-wide according to a September 2020 report from Point Topic, while a 2020 RootMetrics report found that Three’s highest 5G speed anywhere was 478.1Mbps, which compares well to rivals.

Ookla also found in the first half of 2021 that Three’s median 5G download speed was 231Mbps, which is better than any other rival in these tests.

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.

Three notes that “in times of high congestion or network issues, we might reroute bandwidth from quieter places to places with higher demand. This should never affect you, and it’s only to make sure things are running smoothly across our network.”

That said, 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.

Network frequencies

Network Frequencies

Frequency

Frequency Band

Network

700MHz

n29 4G & 5G

800MHz

Band 20

4G

1400MHz

Band 32 4G

1800MHz

Band 3

4G

2100MHz

Band 1

3G

3400MHz

n78 5G

3600-4000MHz

n77 5G

Three uses the 800MHz, 1400MHz 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. 1400MHz is of course in between those two in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

Three also has some other spectrum in the 3.4GHz and 3.6-4GHz bands, however this is only currently used for 5G. In 2021 it acquired some 700MHz spectrum too, which could be leveraged for 4G, 5G, or both.

For more in depth information, check out our 4G and 5G frequencies guide, or check out the table above for a breakdown of Three’s frequency usage.

Customer service

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

In an Ofcom report from 2021, it was claimed that 86% of customers were satisfied with the network, 13% had a reason to complain and 56% of those who did complain were satisfied with the handling of their complaint.

The report also found that 23 of every 100,000 Three subscribers complained to Ofcom, which is fairly average in relation to rivals - though overall satisfaction with the service is lower.

Conclusion

Three's 4G coverage is comparable to rivals and the network has plenty of other benefits including unlimited data, good 5G performance, solid customer service, and competitively low prices, along with 5G at no extra cost.

It's the network to choose if you’re a heavy data user or put value for money first, but it no longer leads for roaming, which is a shame as it once did.

Alternatives

If you’re looking for an alternative to Three with the same coverage, then Smarty is a good option. This network is actually run by Three, but it’s significantly cheaper, while still offering things like 5G and unlimited data. However, its selection of plan types is smaller, with only SIM Only available, and it doesn’t have all Three’s extras like Three+.

There’s also iD Mobile, which isn’t run by three but does offer the same coverage. This too is typically affordable, and offers 5G and unlimited data plans. It also offers data rollover.

If on the other hand you want to stick with a major network, then consider EE, Vodafone or O2, all of which have their own network infrastructure. That means their coverage differs to Three’s, but depending on where you are they might have better coverage where you need it. They also offer a wide range of plans and extras.

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