We compare EE and Three's networks head-to-head to see which offers the better 4G speeds, UK coverage, inclusive roaming and deals in 2018. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 16th May 2018
✔ UK coverage on 4G & 3G
✔ 4G download speeds
✔ WiFi calling and hotspots
✔ Inclusive roaming
✔ Unlimited streaming schemes
✔ Freebie subscriptions
✔ SIM only plans
✔ Phone contracts
✔ Special offers
We compare the size of Three and EE's mobile networks to who offers better 4G/3G signal
In terms of how much of the UK population each network reaches with 4G, it's EE who can boast the best coverage statistics out of the two:
99% of households can get EE's 4G, compared to 91% on Three. Three's network has doubled in size over 8 years but it's still a little smaller.
Use their coverage checkers below to see which is best near you.
3G is still used on both networks for data in places where there's no 4G, and also for carrying calls and SMS text messages. So we think it's still important.
There's not a huge difference between EE and Three for 3G. Three have 98%. EE have 98% .
There are still regional variations in coverage so be sure to check Three and EE's 3G signal with their official maps below.
Reception in the places you actually use your phone is more important than general coverage statistics.
using their official map
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using their official map
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Remember, EE and Three use only computer models to predict coverage. You might want double check their coverage using free-to-use independent services like Ofcom (government telcoms regulator), Rootmetrics (independent network performance testers) and OpenSignal (crowd-sourced network monitoring).
"EE still have the edge over Three in terms of 4G coverage but it's still worth double-checking what signal each has in your area as there may be some local differences."
EE market their network around speed but is the gap between them and Three that big?
When it comes to top-possible speeds EE's 4G+ service up to 90Mbps can't be beaten by any network but it only comes on select phone contracts and in certain limited locations (see map here).
But across the country, the gap between the 4G download speeds EE and Three customers receive is clear but not as vast as might be expected:
EE's speeds were independently measured at 28.99 - 32.99 Mbps on average, compared to 20.39 - 22.31 Mbps on Three. Both results will support smooth video streaming but EE would be more consistently buffer-free.
You might think 3G is old hat but you'll still use it on EE and Three in places where there are no 4G masts yet.
If you do, tests show you'll get a similar speed on Three and EE. Three's 3G was measured at 6.12 Mbps , compared to EE's slightly faster 6.24 Mbps .
These speeds will loads most internet pages in just over a second, allow you to stream music, but videos will buffer and take time to load.
EE have traditionally been seen as the leader when it comes to 4G speed and coverage because they were first to launch it way back in 2012.
Their marketing since has often billed themselves as "the UK's fastest network".
But are EE definitely faster than Three? And how big is the 4G speed difference between EE and Three?
There are a few research companies that have investigated speeds on all networks across the UK. Let's look at the two main two, Ookla and OpenSignal:
To put together their results, Ookla uses data from people performing a speed check in their current location using the Ookla Speed Test app or online checker.
In their latest report on UK mobile network speeds, EE came out on top over Three and all other networks but by a lower margin than in previous periods.
They found EE's average speed across the UK on 4G to be 32.99 Mbps, beating Three in third place, whose average speed was 20.39 Mbps .
As mobile coverage and network performance varies by location, you can also filter their results according to major UK's cities, where the results are similar to UK-wide average, with EE almost universally coming out as fastest.
OpenSignal's method of measuring average speeds is similar but slightly different. Their app measures speed more constantly in the background, rather than just when a user requests a speed check.
This is probably why the results in OpenSignal's Q3 2017 'State Of The UK Mobile Network' report come out different to Ookla's awards:
OpenSignal's report puts EE slightly in front with an average 28.99 Mbps 4G download speed with Three behind on 22.31 Mbps (a difference likely to be barely noticeable in practice).
Interestingly, though when you blend total average download speed performance (over 3G and 4G), it's EE who win. This is likely because Three's 4G network is smaller so customers spend more time on 3G.
"Test results confirm that EE are the faster of the two but the margin isn't huge. Choosing between the two could depend on how much you value that bit of extra speed, which generally comes with a higher cost on EE."
EE were the first network to launch WiFi calling, so we see if Three's scheme compares
We actually rate Three's InTouch as the best WiFi calling scheme of any UK mobile network, including EE.
It's identical to EE in terms of what it does: it lets you use a WiFi signal instead of a mobile one to make and take calls as well as send/receive SMS text messages (useful for indoor blackspots).
Where Three's InTouch WiFi Calling has the edge over EE is that you don't need to have bought your phone from them in the first place (important if you're joining on SIM only).
Three's software can be installed on more phones (see latest supported device list here) and there's an app as a backup if you've got an older, unsupported device.
Useful link: The full guide to InTouch WiFi calling at Three.co.uk
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Using EE's WiFi calling is in no way an inferior experience to Three's InTouch: it works in exactly the same way.
Where it does fall down is in the phones that are compatible with the scheme in the first place:
WiFi calling works through software installed on your phone. If you've bought from EE directly, newer phones will come with it pre-installed already (check supported devices in EE's help article here).
EE are less flexible than Three if you've bought your phone from elsewhere. They don't have a software update available to download, so are less confident about your phone working with it.
So if you're taking a phone on a contract from EE, you can be confident. If you're considering a SIM only deal, read their help guides first to avoid disappointment.
Useful link: Full EE WiFi calling features at EE.co.uk
"Even though the basic functionality of both networks' WiFi calling is the same, you've got a better chance of your phone being supported on Three's more-flexible scheme."
Can EE match Three's famous Feel At Home inclusive roaming scheme?
Even after making improvements to their inclusive roaming, EE still don't get close to Three's long-running favourite benefit Feel At Home, which we rate it as the UK's best roaming scheme.
Feel At Home Worldwide goes way beyond the standard free EU roaming you now get on every other network. You can use your minutes, texts and data in 23 additional non-EU countries too.
Not only is the ever-growing list of 71 free roaming countries on Three much bigger than EE's, but you get the benefit on a broader number of plans, at a much lower cost than EE too:
Even if you take Three's cheap no-frills Essential plans, you'll still get free EU roaming too.
Useful link: Three's full guide to free world roaming at Three.co.uk
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As we list in our review of Three's Feel At Home, one of the few snags is that you don't get 4G speeds while roaming, even if there's 4G in the country you're in.
On EE, it's the opposite. Wherever 4G is available while you're abroad, you'll get it. But at what cost?
All EE's deals come with at least free roaming within EU (the same as every network). But to extend that to 5 extra worldwide countries (see them here) including the USA, you have to pay for a more-premium 'Max' plan.
These are now only available with smartphone contracts, so if you're after an EE SIM only you're not going to get those extra countries. Here's how much EE's roaming costs when it's not included.
Useful link: EE's full guide to roaming on their network
"The choice is between loads more free roaming countries on Three at no real extra cost, or having 4G when you go abroad with EE and paying for a premium plan. We'd say Three's free roaming is more valuable as a benefit."
Three's Go Binge gives you unlimited streaming. Do EE have anything to match?
If you've not heard of Go Binge yet, take a look here on Three's site, because it's an excellent benefit that no other network has matched for scale (we've ranked similar schemes here).
What Three are basically doing is saying if you stream with particular apps on your phone, they'll not charge you for the data it uses. It's basically unlimited data for streaming.
To get it, all you needs is a Three pay monthly phone or SIM only plan with 12GB data or more (it needs to be an Advanced plan). Full Go Binge terms and restrictions can be read here.
Useful link: Read Three's FAQs and full guide to Go Binge at Three.co.uk
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After Three first launched Go Binge (read our review), EE responded pretty quickly by making the data for streaming Apple Music over their network free for pay monthly customers who opt in.
It's a decent perk but it is limited to 6 months only, after which you'll pay for all the data it uses. Also it's only one music streaming provider, compared to 3 on Three, plus even more video streaming.
One positive point of difference in EE's favour (which we detail below too) is that they'll give you the subscription to Apple Music free of charge too for that 6 months (on Three, you have to pay for the actual subscriptions).
Useful link: How to get free Apple Music and data on EE from their guide
"If getting free data for streaming your favourite videos and music is something you'd like, getting it free your whole contract on Three vs just 6 months on EE is what EE would probably call a 'no-brainer'"
Ok, Three's Go Binge gives you data free but what about the subscriptions?
EE might not give away as much free data for streaming as Three do but their pay monthly customers do get more when it comes to free subscriptions:
Whether you take that up or not, you're also entitled to a free 6-month Apple Music subscription too on EE. And as we mention in the section above, the data used for Apple Music is free for 6 months too.
Together, they add decent value to your overall EE deal but it's worth noting that both services become chargeable if you don't cancel them after the initial free trial. So be careful if you don't want to spend extra.
Useful link: How to get free Apple Music and BT Sport from EE's help section
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While you do get free data for streaming all these apps with Three's Go Binge plans, you don't get the actual subscriptions to each of the services included.
It's something their competitors do offer (Vodafone have Spotify Premium, Sky Sports Mobile TV or a NOW TV pass on selected plans, while you can see what EE have in the section above).
But realistically, because Three's plans tend to be a fair amount cheaper than both of these, we don't think there's enough profit margin for free to start giving out free subscriptions.
A nice bonus you do get on any Three plan, including pay as you go, is their daily offers and rewards app called Wuntu (think O2 Priority but on Three).
Useful link: See types of offers and rewards on Three's Wuntu app at Three.co.uk
"This category is basically 2-0 to EE. They offer Apple Music and the BT Sport App, while Three offer absolutely nothing. If you're interested in getting these included in with yourmobile plan, EE are the only viable choice."
Are Three always cheaper than EE for SIM only deals?
At our last check, Three offer 12-month or 1-month rolling contracts, starting from £5 a month.
EE currently only offer 12-month contracts online from £11 a month with the option to go to one of their stores if you want a 30-day plan.
Use the filters below to find the best deal for the minutes, texts and data you’re looking for with EE or Three:
Choose what you want in your deal:
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As well as adding unlimited Snapchat to the other free streaming on Go Binge, Three are still focussing on offering the most value for money on SIM only:
They have discounted the following plans with loads of data:
12GB data for
£18 £15 a month (12‑month contract)
30GB data for
£22 £18 a month (12‑month contract)
Useful links: See all Three's offers
The offers this month on EE focus on SIM only plans with huge data allowances including:
All come with unlimited minutes and texts.
Meanwhile, if you're after a phone, there's very little in terms of strong offers on EE this month. Some Sony phones come with a free PS4 games console.
Useful link: See full list of EE offers > (opens in new tab)
We look at both networks' smartphone deals to find any differences
Both EE and Three offer their smartphone deals on what we'd call traditional mobile contracts:
That means you'll sign a 24-month contract (no shorter deals available) and there's no complicated loans or financing arrangements, just a straight-up bill each month for your phone and plan.
Neither network offer any strong early-upgrade deals, although EE do have a scheme where you can upgrade after 12 months on certain phones/plans (see here) but it involves handing in your old phone.
We're generally not fans of this type of arrangement, as you'll usually get a better price selling your phone elsewhere. And there are a fair amount of terms around the condition of your old phone.
Useful link: How EE annual upgrade works from their help section
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We've built a new tool for you to compare phone contract prices on Three, EE and other mobile networks.
Just select the phone you want, the minutes, texts and data, you need and it shows you how each mobile provider stacks up in terms of price.
Or look at our popular model example comparison further down the page to compare EE and Three's starting prices on some of the best selling phones.
Useful link: Compare mobile phone contracts at simsherpa.com
Here's how O2 and Three compare on entry-tariff prices for some leading phones
"EE and Three are closely matched but Three are probably slightly cheaper in general if you're willing to pay a higher upfront cost. Use our phone comparison tool to look up to compare specific phone/plans though."
Here are the key points of difference between the networks to help you make your mind up:
✔ Their 4G/3G signal is better near you (check here)
✔ You want the network with the fastest 4G speeds
✔ You're happy with mainly free roaming in the EU
Useful link: Read our full EE review
✔ Their coverage is better near you (check here)
✔ You want to roam for no extra cost in the most destinations of any network
✔ You want unlimited streaming on loads of apps
✔ You'd use the daily offers on their Wuntu app
Useful link: Read our full Three review