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EE vs Three: which network's best for 4G/5G coverage & speeds?

We compare Three with EE

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

We compare EE and Three's networks head-to-head to see which offers the better speeds, UK coverage, inclusive roaming and deals. Last updated: 5th October 2022

Special offer news

Comparing Three and EE's networks

Do EE or Three offer better coverage?

Comparing signal on Three vs EE

EE and Three's network coverage

EE have the more widespread overall network

Countryside with 4G markers

See expansion plans

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Looking at coverage for call signal (2G/3G) between EE and Three, you’ll see that they both have a similar percentage of the UK’s geographical landmass covered. And both networks’ signal can suffer indoors.

But when it comes to 4G data coverage, it’s advantage EE (see 5G here). In big cities, Three can more than match EE. It’s just when you’re in smaller towns, villages and country that the difference becomes noticeable.

Three have expanded their 4G network quite rapidly, but they’re still behind EE. These days Three’s focus seems to be on expanding their 5G. But we recommend checking either networks’ coverage checker before buying.

Don’t just check at home. Look around at all the places you’re likely to take your phone, whether that be at school, on your commute, your workplace or anywhere else you go day to day.

Useful link: Our full Three network review

For 5G coverage it’s difficult to say which network wins

Three 5G network locations map

Next rollout places

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

EE might have come out on top for 4G and call signal, but the race is still neck and neck between the two networks when it comes to rolling out their 5G networks. It’s difficult to say which is the outright winner.

We’re still talking about 5G on a city-by-city basis though. And sometimes within those locations, it’s a street-by-street basis. 5G is nowhere near as widespread as the other technologies yet.

Looking at sheer numbers, Three are far ahead with 5G live in 300+ UK towns and cities vs EE’s over 160. Both networks offer 5G access on all plans at no added cost:

All SIM only plans on either network get you 5G access. Here’s what we think are the best value deals:

Numbers don’t tell the whole story. EE only declare a location as covered when 5G covers 50% of the location's area. Three declare theirs much earlier. In any case the best thing to do is use either networks’ coverage checkers below.

Useful link: See both networks' 5G maps

EE and Three's coverage maps

See what sort of signal coverage you can expect near you

Three coverage checker

Three coverage checker

Check Three coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

EE coverage checker

EE coverage checker

Check EE coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

A win for EE

"If you’re an urban dweller then there won’t be many noticeable differences between the networks. But EE are typically better at getting you good coverage while you move around. You should check beforehand in any case."

Compare pricing and deals

Do Three or EE have faster 5G/4G speeds?

Both networks market themselves on their super-fast speeds, but which one is better?

EE and Three's logos with a speedometer

EE have much faster typical 4G speeds than Three

EE 5G locations

Read EE 5G latest

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If speeds are a big concern for you, then you’ll want to take a look at the average 4G data speeds collected by independent network testers Opensignal. These show that EE offer by far the fastest speeds over 4G (see 5G here).

Three come second place for average speeds in their tests, but there’s a wide gulf between theirs and EE’s. Average 4G download speeds on EE were measured around 44.0 Mbps and 25.2 Mbps on Three.

Both scores are enough to support things like HD streaming on your phone without buffering. But if you’re a massive downloader, you might be better off on EE. Basic users should be happy on either.

Despite the launch of 5G, Three are also working on improving their 4G speeds alongside the rollout. We could slowly start to see them close the gaps on their rivals for the more-widely used technology.

Useful link: EE's guide to the differences 5G will make

Three tend to offer faster 5G speeds than EE

Three's fastest 5G network banner

Read why

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If you’ve got a 5G-ready phone and live somewhere covered with the new technology, then Three’s impressive 5G speeds could chip away at EE’s overall speed advantage.

Looking at results from testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, we can predict typical 5G speeds on Three between 103.9 Mbps - 246.65 Mbps and 131.9 Mbps - 158.30 Mbps on EE.

The big variation in results from Three might be due to users being connected to 5G on the fringes of signal coverage. Three have reserved more of their higher signal frequencies into 5G, which means faster speeds at the cost of shorter range.

We’d say that so long as you’re somewhere with strong 5G signal, you should get much faster speeds on Three than on EE. But Three’s speeds tend to suffer more the further away from the 5G mast you go.

Useful link: Read more about 5G's benefits

Our verdict on 4G/5G speeds:

A win for EE

"Most people will still use 4G much more often than 5G, so EE’s much faster 4G speeds gives them a win here. Three’s 5G speeds can be impressive, but their 4G speeds can hardly touch EE’s."

Compare pricing and deals

Do Three or EE offer a better WiFi calling scheme?

EE brought out WiFi calling before any other network, so how does Three’s WiFi calling compare?

WiFi calling symbol with EE and Three logos

The two networks have brilliant WiFi calling

Three's WiFi calling scheme called InTouch

Check device support

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

It’s important for networks to offer a good WiFi calling feature as standard. This makes it so your phone can connect to calls via WiFi signal if you’re somewhere with poor signal, without needing a separate app.

Both EE and Three’s WiFi calling technology is excellent. They support loads of phones, it kicks in easily when you need it, you can switch to a 4G call without it dropping and you can send/receive SMS.

Check either networks’ list of supported phone models beforehand. Three don’t tend to list all the models that actually worked in our testing. And EE support a massive list of devices.

You’ll now get the feature as standard on every plan on both networks, including pay monthly, on pay as you go and on their monthly bundles. So that’s another good step in the right direction.

Useful link: Our favourite WiFi calling schemes

Our verdict on WiFi calling:

Basically a draw

"Each network have similar WiFi calling in terms of functionality and offer it on their plans as standard. It’s hard to say which is the clear winner, but you should check that your device is supported on either network."

Compare pricing and deals

WiFi hotspots: Three vs EE

Which gets you better access to free WiFi?

WiFi calling symbol with EE and Three logos

Both networks offer free WiFi hotspots

A map with hotspot locations

Read our guide

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Getting free WiFi on the go is helpful for holding onto your data and staying connected in places you wouldn’t otherwise get signal. Both networks offer free WiFi hotspots, but their schemes are quite different from each other.

EE have recently introduced their WiFi Coverage Boost, giving all customers access to 150,000+ WiFi hotspots (provided by BT) up and down the country, including a few at London Underground stations and ticket barriers.

Three also offer free WiFi on the Underground, but they don’t offer any overground hotspots whatsoever. That means the scheme only really benefits those commuting in London, where EE’s does the same while also helping customers all over the country.

It’s good that both networks offer some free WiFi, but ultimately more is better and more customers are likely to benefit from EE’s scheme. EE are the clear winner here.

Useful link: Our EE’s guide to their WiFi Coverage Boost

Our verdict on WiFi hotspot schemes:

A win for EE

"At the end of the day, EE’s WiFi hotspot scheme does what Three’s does while also offering customers free WiFi up and down the country. This is an easy win for EE.”

Compare pricing and deals

Perks and benefits on EE and Three

Comparing roaming schemes on Three and EE

Do either network offer inclusive roaming abroad?

A globe with Three and EE logos

EE no longer include free EU roaming

EE plans with free EU roaming

Read what’s changed

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

More and more networks are getting rid of their EU roaming schemes, and EE are one of them. You used to be able to use your regular UK allowance while in the EU, but that’s no longer the case for new customers.

If you want to have this, have a look at BT Mobile who still offer it and use EE’s full 5G network. There’s also low-cost provider Plusnet that still include it on EE’s 4G network.

While you’re in the EU you’ll have to pay £2 a day to roam to access your regular UK allowance. You can take a roaming pass that covers these destinations and a few extra non-EU ones on any of EE’s Smart Plans:

You can get a roaming pass with one of these Smart Plans:

While you’re actually abroad, we find the roaming on EE really slick. You get 4G wherever it’s available, the speeds are fast and everything just works as you’d expect, in our experience.

Useful link: EE's full guide to roaming on their network

 

Three also no longer offer free EU roaming

Roaming on Three compared with EE

Read statement

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Three used to have the best roaming scheme of all networks. With their Go Roam scheme you could roam in more destinations than on any other network, on most of their plans at no extra cost.

That’s all been scrapped for new customers joining from 1st October 2021 and replaced with a system of £2 daily charges in the EU to use your allowances and £5 outside the EU.

For now this means that Three’s smaller sub-brand SMARTY are actually a better choice for going abroad. They give you a similar network experience while letting you roam in the EU at no added cost.

It’s a bit disappointing. We suspect that Three concentrating investment on improving the quality of their network means they’re removing some of their nice value-add benefits like Go Roam.

Useful link: Three's replacement for Go Roam

Our verdict on inclusive roaming:

Minor win for EE

"The two networks are basically the same for EU roaming. EE only win because of their roaming passes for roaming in the EU and beyond. Otherwise, neither network is a great choice for roaming."

Compare pricing and deals

Shared and family plans on Three vs EE

If you want to take multiple deals on your account, which network is better?

A family with EE and Three logos

EE offer some great benefits with a nice discount

EE data gifting

Share your data

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

A lot more people are thinking about combining their family’s mobile plans into one single deal (we’ve got a whole guide about it here). And it’s something EE do well.

You get up to a 20% discount on any additional plan you put onto your main EE account, whether on a SIM only, phone or mobile broadband contract. You don’t have to add them all at the same time, you can add each when you need.

And you can share data with EE’s Data Gifting. This lets you share data from one user on your account to another if one user is running out of data and another has some to spare.

This is handy for avoiding extra charges for data. And it helps you avoid the inefficiency of losing unused data you've paid for, if you can pass it to someone who needs it (our data rollover guide has more about this).

Useful link: EE's guide to all their family plan benefits

Three offer existing customer discounts, but no benefits

Three's existing customer discounts

See latest prices

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Three don’t offer anything like EE’s Data Gifting benefit. But there are some exclusive offers for existing Three customers that are typically a bit better value.

There’s no consistent discount across their whole range of plans, but existing Three customers can usually expect:

£1 - £3 off the monthly cost of phone contracts, plus the upfront costs waived on mid-range and cheaper models.

£1 - £3 off the most popular SIM only plans (a smaller range of 12-month contracts)

And similar discounts on tablets and mobile broadband devices too.

While the savings aren’t massive, Three’s plans tend to be quite a bit cheaper than EE’s across most of their plans. So you will end up saving more overall with Three, even though you’re not getting much of a discount.

If you want a provider on the Three network with excellent family plans, also take a look at Three’s sub-brand SMARTY who offer a 10% saving on their Group plans, against already-low prices.

Useful link: All prices for existing customers

Our verdict on shared / family plans:

Win for EE

"You might get a cheaper overall package with Three, but we think EE offer enough to make creating a family plan worth it. Their Data Gifting is brilliant and the discount makes their pricier plans seem a bit more appealing."

Compare pricing and deals

Added benefits on Three vs EE

Which network throws in more added value extras?

Three are pretty thin on the ground in terms of benefits

Three Plus banner

See example offers

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

We used to really like a benefit you got on Three called Go Binge. But it's now been removed. It was basically unlimited streaming data, when you use some selected apps (see alternatives here).

Three’s popular Wuntu app is also long gone, but it has been replaced with their new Three+ app. There are quite as many special offers as there were on Wuntu, but it does give a bit of extra value with your deal.

So they're now looking a little light when it comes to nice extras that make your overall deal a bit sweeter. It's a good job Three have got the lowest prices of a main network to fall back on.

It seems for now they’ve put more effort into expanding their 5G network rather than offering many impressive benefits. We hope they’ll bring out something new soon. For now they’re essentially a no-frills network.

Useful link: Read Three's statement on Go Binge

EE offer some nice extras that come at a premium

Free Apple Music data

See free trials

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

When you join EE on any pay monthly phone or SIM only contract you’ll get some free trials to a few entertainment services that give you extra value on your deal. Trials include Apple Music, Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade.

That’s a nice bit of extra value on top of your plan. And the data you use for Apple Music during your trial won’t come out of your allowance. But if you don’t want to start paying for these after the trial then you’ll have to cancel them manually.

On top of that, some EE pay monthly plans are designated as Smart plans. These include a choice of extra benefits, like streaming data passes, more roaming or an entertainment subscription (see all options here).

These plans get you at least one Smart Benefit:

These aren’t freebies. Smart plans come at a higher cost than their regular range. If you don’t mind that and you like the sound of the extra benefits, then going with an EE Smart Plan might be the right choice for you.

Useful link: How to get claim your free trial subscriptions

Our verdict on added extras:

Win for EE

“ While EE don’t offer much on their regular plans, their Smart Plans do offer some nice benefits for customers willing to splash out a little extra. Three just don’t offer anything except their new app."

Compare pricing and deals

Deals and pricing on EE and Three

Comparing phone contracts on EE vs Three

Here we’ll go over which network is better to join a phone contract on

Comparing EE and Three SIM only plans

Networks

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1p Mobile logo
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BT Mobile logo
Coop Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
Honest logo
ID logo
IQ logo
Lebara logo
Lycamobile logo
O2 logo
Plusnet logo
SMARTY logoSky logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

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Added features

Latest Three and EE offers compared

We look at the promotional plans on EE and Three this month

EE and Three logos with a special offer ribbon

Phone contracts on EE and Three compared

We look at both networks' smartphone deals to find any differences

Both Three and EE offer similar phone contracts

EE annual upgrade programme

How it works

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

EE and Three both offer phone plans on what we call traditional phone contracts:

These are 24-month contracts (neither network offer shorter options) which combine the cost of your phone and usage (mins, texts, data) plan into one monthly payment. There’s no finance or loans involved, just a monthly payment.

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 don’t typically rate this sort of scheme because you can typically get a better price for your phone by selling it somewhere else. And there are quite a few hoops to jump through in terms of the condition your old phone has to be in.

Useful link: How EE annual upgrade works

Only Three let you buy via a reseller

Screenshot of phone contracts comparison

Compare phone contracts

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

You used to be able to join both EE and Three via third party resellers, but now there aren’t any resellers that offer EE phone contracts. But there are a few still offering Three phone contracts, and we’ll go over which ones here.

Fonehouse, buymobiles.net and mobilephonesdirect.co.uk all offer Three phone contracts for cheaper than buying with Three directly. And Samsung also let you buy a Three phone contract for their models if you buy with them.

All of these work by providing the phone themselves (rather than it coming from EE or Three). They buy more phones, so get better prices from manufacturers, so can offer cheaper deals to you.

It's definitely something to think about for both networks and our comparison tool on the link below includes all those third party retailers as well as joining the networks direct, so definitely use it to compare.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts

Our verdict on phone contract pricing

Slight win for Three

"Three and EE offer very similar phone contracts, but Three offer a bit better value. This is especially true if you go via a third party reseller, which you simply can’t do with EE. But Three just don’t offer anything particularly special, so it’s not a massive win."

Compare phone contracts

Choosing between Three and EE

Key differences between EE and Three

Here are the key points of difference between the networks to help you make your mind up:

EE could be best for you if...

Their 5G/4G/3G signal is better near you (check here)

You want the network with the fastest 4G speeds

You want an included BT Sport app and Apple Music trial

Their WiFi calling supports your phone and Three don't (check EE here and Three here)

Three could be best for you if...

Their coverage is better near you (check here)

Their WiFi calling supports your phone and EE don't (check Three here and EE here)

Their plans are better priced for what you need

Which is better EE or Three?

It depends what you value. EE are generally better for 4G coverage and speeds but are more expensive. Three are cheaper and offer faster 5G speeds than EE. Our full guide reveals all the differences.

Is EE owned by Three?

No. They’re wholly separate companies. EE are owned by BT. Three are owned by a company called Hutchinson 3G.

How do I switch from EE to Three?

If you’re out of contract, the simplest way to cancel EE is to text PAC to 65075 from your EE number. Then join Three on the product of your choice and give them the PAC. They’ll bring your number over and cancel with EE.

Are EE and Three the same network?

No. They’re on separate networks with their own pros and cons. Three’s network is best for 5G speeds. EE’s better for general coverage and 4G speeds. They do co-own some sites where masts are located but have separate transmitters.

Our other guides to Three

Other articles about EE

Individual network reviews