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Three 4G Coverage and Network Review

27th June 2019

Three Network Coverage

Three has widespread 4G coverage and will very shortly be launching a 5G network too – one which could have some advantages over rivals.

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 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.

5G coverage

Three has revealed that it will be launching its 5G service at some point in August, likely making it the third UK network to do so (behind EE and Vodafone).

At launch it will only offer 5G in parts of London and only for 5G home broadband, but it will start offering it on mobile and in numerous other places soon. In fact, Three has said that parts of Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Slough, Sunderland and Wolverhampton will get 5G by the end of 2019.

That’s more places than any other UK network has committed to, 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.

Of course, you’ll need a 5G phone and plan to take advantage. So far on the 5G phone front Three has only said that it will stock the Huawei Mate X, but more are sure to land alongside or soon after it.

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 Network Experience, April 2019

Network

4G download/upload speeds

4G latency (ms)

EE

32.5/10.4Mbps

37.9ms

Three

21.6/8.3Mbps

48.7ms

Vodafone

24.3/8.5Mbps

41.2ms

O2

15.8/7.2Mbps

39.2ms

While Three’s 4G coverage is superb, its speeds aren’t quite as impressive. According to OpenSignal it offers average 4G download speeds of 21.6Mbps, beaten by EE and Vodafone. Its average 4G upload speed of 8.3Mbps is also third, and its average latency of 48.7ms 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. 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.

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 3.6-4GHz 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 has announced that it will spend over £2 billion on network upgrades in preparation for 5G, a service which it has confirmed will launch in August 2019. Related upgrades include a new cloud-ready core network.

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 “in the event of network or equipment failure, or heavy congestion, we may have to deploy technology to ensure that our network runs smoothly, supporting time-critical traffic and minimising disruption.”

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

SIM Only Deals
Three

12 Month Contract

8 GB data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£9.00 a month

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Three

24 Month Contract

Unlimited data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£10.00 a month

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Three

24 Month Contract

4 GB data

UNLIMITED mins

UNLIMITED texts

£10.00 a month

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View All Three Sim Only Deals

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

40GB

Contract lengths

24 months

1, 12 or 24 months

1, 12 or 24 months

VoLTE

-

WiFi Calling

-

Data Rollover

Spending Caps

 

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View deals

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Three’s Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans all currently come with access to Three’s Go Roam Around the World roaming service (detailed below), and 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 roam for free outside Europe, or tether, but new plans all come with these features.

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 12 or 24-month contracts (or just 1-month if you get them with a device) and come with up to 40GB of data.

The plans at their core stand out from most rivals through having potentially unlimited allowances and widespread roaming, but there’s more to them than that, with the other key extras detailed below.

Wuntu

Wuntu is an app available on Android and iOS which is packed full of exclusive offers, discounts, competitions and rewards. The content is refreshed every week and it’s available to all Three customers.

Go Binge

Three now lets Pay Monthly and SIM Only 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 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.

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.

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 Pay Monthly 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 or 90 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.

Most of these bundles (other than data-only ones) last 30 days, though there is also a 90-day one, and while they don’t automatically renew you can queue them. Three allows you to tether on Pay As You Go, and you can use your allowances with Three’s Go Roam roaming service (up to a cap of 15GB of data or 12GB outside Europe).

Three also offers a Pay As You Go Rewards scheme which lets you collect points whenever you purchase a bundle. These points can be saved up and ultimately exchanged for vouchers, as well as free subscriptions to various services, such as Xbox Game Pass and Headspace.

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 available on all new plans at the time of writing. 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 on older Essential Plans (which are no longer sold) 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 19GB in Go Roam in Europe locations (or 15GB on Pay As You Go), and for all plans it's 12GB for Go Roam Around the World.

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

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 2018, which found that Three has 4 complaints for every 100,000 subscribers. The industry average is apparently 4, so Three is average there, but tops many networks.

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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