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Three 4G Coverage and Network Review

17th April 2018

Three Network Coverage

Three was the last major UK network to launch a 4G service, but despite that it has over 91% population coverage and that figure is growing all the time.

Three is aiming for at least 98% UK population coverage ultimately, and already stands out for its 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

Less 4G coverage than rivals

Unlimited data plans

Not the fastest network

Competitive prices

Not all plans allow tethering or global roaming

Our Rating

Coverage

Three Coverage

Network Type

Coverage by population

4G 

91%

3G

98%

2G

N/A

Unlike the other UK networks Three don't offer 2G, but instead only offer 3G and 4G services with coverage reaching 98% and 91% of the UK population respectively. That puts them slightly behind their rivals, but Three are investing heavily in their network and launching new innovations such as 4G Super-Voice.

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

EE

99%

Vodafone

98%

O2

97%

Three

91%

Three’s coverage puts it in last place out of the major UK networks, but not by much. EE has maintained the lead it’s had since the launch of 4G, as it now offers 99% coverage, but Three, Vodafone and O2 are all catching up.

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.

Network Speeds and Frequencies

OpenSignal – Mobile Networks Update, September 2017

Network

4G download speeds

4G latency (ms)

EE

28.99Mbps

43.75ms

Three

22.31Mbps

50.38ms

Vodafone

18.94Mbps

43.64ms

O2

15.06Mbps

45.38ms

While Three’s 4G coverage isn’t the best, its speeds very nearly are. According to OpenSignal it offers average 4G download speeds of 22.31Mbps, beaten only by EE. Though note that its average latency of 50.38ms is worse than 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 a little different, 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 not 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.

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.

Network Frequencies

Frequency

Frequency Band

Network

800MHz

Band 20

4G

1800MHz

Band 3

4G

2100MHz

Band 1

3G

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.

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.

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 certain amount of bandwidth to Pay As You Go tethering between 8pm and 11pm, but this isn’t something you should notice.

When using your phone abroad in Feel At Home locations, video may be delivered in standard definition, and the speed of P2P and VPN service 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

 

Compare deals

Compare deals

Compare deals

Three’s Pay Monthly Plans are split into Essential and Advanced Plans, with Advanced Plans giving you access to Three’s Feel at Home 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.

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 or 12-month contracts (or 24 months if you get a plan with a tablet) 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 opt for an Advanced plan). There are also numerous other benefits, all of which are highlighted in the chart below.

Pay Monthly Plan Benefits

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 and mobile broadband customers with an allowance of at least 4GB 'Go Binge'. That means they can stream as much as they want on Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer, TVPlayer and SoundCloud without it coming out of their 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 up to 30GB. That means even if you have a plan with 100GB or unlimited data you can only use 30GB for tethering.

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 over 84% 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.

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 30 days

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 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, but you can use your allowances with Three’s Feel at Home Around the World roaming service.

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. The full service is called Feel at Home 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 Feel At Home locations and that on Essential Plans you only have access to Feel at Home in Europe. This lets you roam in 48 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.

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 has less 4G coverage than EE, Vodafone or O2, but it’s increasing all the time 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 ahead of 4G coverage.

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