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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 in 2022. Last updated: 11th November 2021

Special offer news

Comparing Three and EE's networks

Is coverage better on EE or Three?

How signal compares on Three vs EE

EE and Three's network coverage

Most of EE’s network is bigger than Three’s

Countryside with 4G markers

See expansion plans

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

If you look at just basic signal for making phone calls and SMS text messages, EE and Three have got similar amounts of the UK’s geography covered. Although neither’s strength is indoor calls coverage.

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 are setting about addressing this with their Big Network Build, which is expanding their 4G coverage to new places they’ve not reached before. We wouldn’t write either network off before checking their coverage.

Make sure not to just check at home. Check everywhere you can think that you will take our phone. That could be your route to work, school or anywhere you regularly travel.

Useful link: Our full Three network review

5G coverage is harder to declare a winner

Three 5G network locations map

Next rollout places

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

While EE are clearly winning on the older network technology vs Three, the two networks’ 5G rollout is happening quick enough on both that it's hard to declare an obvious 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.

That said, Three are winning on a numbers basis with 5G in these 300+ places, compare to EE’s 160. Three include 5G on all plans as standard, EE do not.

Here's our pick of the best 5G-ready plans on both networks:

We should say that EE are holding back from declaring a place as having 5G before around 50% of that area has 5G coverage. Three don’t wait so long. So again, check both networks’ maps below.

Useful link: See both networks' 5G maps

Three and EE's coverage maps

Check EE and Three’s predicted signal 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 live in a big city, you probably wouldn't notice a difference between the two. But when you're travelling round the country, EE have signal in more places. Check in advance with both and you'll know for sure."

Compare pricing and deals

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

EE market their network around speed but is the gap between them and Three that big?

EE and Three's logos with a speedometer

EE's 4G data speeds are faster than Three's

EE 5G locations

Read EE 5G latest

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

If you’re sensitive to speeds on your phone, independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla have long been clear that EE have the best download speeds over 4G (see 5G below).

But they do tend to put Three in joint second place alongside Vodafone for speed. Typical users on EE experienced 4G downloads between 44 Mbps- 32.99 Mbps, while on Three it was 25.2 Mbps- 20.39 Mbps.

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’s 5G is testing faster than EE’s

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.

According to early testing on both providers, you can expect typical 5G downloads on Three around 191.50, compared to 140.16 on EE. Both are excellent home-fibre broadband beating scores.

Three say they’ve achieved this by investing in more 5G spectrum than any other provider in the same range (better for bandwidth) and improved Cloud-based infrastructure.

As more usage switches to 5G as coverage improves, Three will chip away at EE’s dominance as the UK’s fastest network overall.

Useful link: Read more about 5G's benefits at Three.co.uk

Our verdict on 4G speeds:

A win for EE

"As more-and-more usage switches to EE and Three’s 5G networks, we could see EE’s superiority for speed melt away but for the time-being, there’s no denying EE win on 4G speeds."

Compare pricing and deals

Is WiFi calling better on Three or EE?

EE were the first network to launch WiFi calling, so we see if Three's scheme compares

WiFi calling symbol with EE and Three logos

Both have our favourite WiFi calling schemes

Three's WiFi calling scheme called InTouch

Check device support

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

We basically think every network should have WiFi calling as standard. It lets you make and take calls, where there’s bad mobile signal, over WiFi instead - without using separate apps.

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.

Do check each network’s supported device list first. We think Three’s list here is a little defensive. We’ve tested unlisted phones not bought from Three and they worked fine. EE’s list is massive too.

You’ll now get the feature as standard on every plan on both networks, including pay monthly and pay as you go (and EE’s Flex). 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

"The basic functionality of each network’s WiFi calling is the same, we can’t say one is better or worse. And you’ll now get it on all their plans as standard too."

Compare pricing and deals

Perks and benefits on EE and Three

Free roaming compared on EE vs Three

Which network offers better inclusive roaming abroad?

A globe with Three and EE logos

EE have dropped free EU roaming

EE plans with free EU roaming

Read what’s changed

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

Until recently, EE included EU roaming in all their plans. You could use your regular minutes, texts and data there, without being charged extra. They’ve now scrapped that 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.

On EE, you’ll now pay a daily charge of £2 while in the EU to use your plan’s normal allowances. Or you can choose a roaming pass that also covers some non-EU countries with any Smart plan:

Choose a roaming pass with any 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 have axed their popular Go Roam scheme

Roaming on Three compared with EE

Read statement

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

Roaming was long Three's trump card over every other network. Their Go Roam scheme offered the most included countries at no extra cost, and it came on the largest number of plans (we rated it the UK's best).

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.

It means for the time being, you might actually want to consider joining Three’s low-cost brand SMARTY on SIM only if you want to continue getting inclusive EU roaming with your deal.

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

"This used to be a slam dunk victory for Three but now both networks are basically the same. The one minor advantage to EE is being able to add EU/worldwide roaming as a premium extra on a monthly basis"

Compare pricing and deals

Shared and family plans on EE vs Three

If you're getting deals for multiple people, are Three or EE the better choice?

A family with EE and Three logos

EE’s family accounts pack in lots of benefits

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.

First you’ll get a straight-up 10% discount off every additional pay monthly phone, SIM or mobile broadband you add to your main account. You don’t have to sign up to all at once, just add when you need.

Second is EE’s really innovative Data Gifting. It lets you move around data from person to person on your account if someone ever runs low and someone else has 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 give you discounts but no other family perks

Three's existing customer discounts

See latest prices

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

On Three, there's less of the additional facilities like EE's Data Gifting but do still reward you with discounts on extra products you add to your account.

The rule isn't as simple as a straightforward percentage off but typically existing Three customers can 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.

Considering Three's starting prices generally start from a lower place than EE, getting these discounts on top will likely still end up in a lower overall package, even if the individual savings themselves aren't so large.

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 at Three.co.uk

Our verdict on shared / family plans:

Win for EE

"Even though we think the overall cost of all your deals added together will probably be cheaper on Three, EE's Data Gifting benefit will come in handy for many people and the discounts are more straightforward."

Compare pricing and deals

Added benefits on Three vs EE

Which network throws in more added value extras?

Three have stripped out many of their best bits

Expired stampThree's Go Binge promotional banner

Read statement

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 have also got rid of their Wuntu app, which was a loyalty programme that gave you exclusive offers to use online and on the high street for things like shopping and food and drink.

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.

We hope they've got something new in the pipeline for 2022, else they're in danger of basically becoming a no-frills provider.

Useful link: Read Three's statement on Go Binge

EE have decent extras but tend to cost more on top

Free Apple Music data

See free trials

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

Join on any EE pay monthly product, phone or SIM and they'll throw in some free time-limited trials to a few services you might find useful. The full current list includes BT Sport via the app, Apple Music and Britbox.

As well as being worth around £200 according to EE, you'll also get the data the apps use for free during the trial (a bit like Three's old Go Binge scheme). But watch out, the apps are chargeable after the trial.

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).

All of these include at least one Smart benefit:

They're not freebies. Smart plans cost more than standard ones. But if you're looking for a premium experience and don't mind the extra outlay, EE's Smart benefits help you get more out of your mobile and their network.

Useful link: How to get claim your free trial subscriptions

Our verdict on added extras:

Win for EE

"While Three have stripped out most their extra perks, EE have got some decent options you can take if you're interested, or leave if you're not fussed."

Compare pricing and deals

Deals and pricing on EE and Three

Comparing EE and Three's SIM only plans

Are Three always cheaper than EE for SIM only deals?

Comparing EE and Three SIM only plans

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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

EE and Three's phone contracts work similarly

EE annual upgrade programme

How it works

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

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

Both providers also sell via other retailers

Screenshot of phone contracts comparison

Compare phone contracts

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

There's two ways to join both EE and Three on a phone contract. You can sign up with them directly via their own official websites, or they also sell via franchised resellers (Carphone Warehouse was an example but don't sell EE or Three any more).

Now there's Fonehouse, who sell both EE and Three. And the manufacturer Samsung themselves can sell you a contract on Three for their models.

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

Three slightly cheaper on the whole

"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."

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