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SMARTY vs Three: all the differences between the two networks

SMARTY mobile vs Three

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We look at the differences between joining Three or SMARTY on a SIM only plan, including coverage, speeds, WiFi calling, prices and benefits. Last updated: 15th June 2022.

Latest news on offers

SMARTY and Three mobile network differences

Is SMARTY’s coverage the same as Three’s?

Do you get the same sort of coverage on both networks?

Mobile signal bars with Three and SMARTY logos

Both networks operate on the same network

SMARTY powered by Three banner

What this means...

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SMARTY are a sub-brand of Three, one of the main four UK networks. As such they use Three’s network to provide call signal (2G/3G) and data signal (3G/4G/5G).

Three’s network is the smallest in the UK in terms of signal coverage, both call and 4G signal. When you’re outside the more urban areas you’ll find yourself on 3G quite often. Out in the sticks you may even find blackspots.

The best thing to do is to use either network’s coverage checker before buying. If you go with a network with good coverage in your area then the national picture won’t be as important, so check everywhere you’ll have to use your phone.

We've tested a SMARTY and Three SIM card in the same test phones at the same time. We didn’t see any differences in terms of signal, nor were SMARTY’s 3G or 4G/5G speeds worse than Three’s. But what about 5G?

Useful link:
Three's latest network developments

5G is live in over 300 towns and cities on both networks

Three 5G UK banner

See latest places

(opens in new window)

SMARTY have recently introduced 5G as a standard feature on their SIM only plans, meaning Three no longer have this advantage over them. Wherever you’d get 5G on Three, you’ll get it on SMARTY.

On both you’ll get 5G in 300 UK towns and cities. But just because a location is covered, that doesn’t mean you’ll get 5G everywhere in that location. Thankfully, coverage within declared locations is pretty good.

But it’s still a good idea to use either networks’ coverage checkers below to see how 5G coverage should be in your local area on a street by street basis.

Since neither network let you take out a test SIM, the best way to test their 5G is to take a cheap deal from SMARTY and if you’re not satisfied you can always return it within the 14 day returns period.

Useful link: Latest 5G rollout news on Three

Use one of their coverage checkers

Check everywhere you’re expecting to have to use your phone - not just at home

SMARTY network map

SMARTY reception map

Check SMARTY signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Three network map

Three's coverage map

Check Three signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:


"There are no differences between the two in terms of coverage. Your choice between them will come down to the other benefits that each network offer, as well as costs."

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds on Three vs SMARTY

Are 4G/5G speeds different between the two networks?

Speedometer with SMARTY and Three logos

5G and 4G speeds are exactly the same on both

Three fastest 5G banner

Latest 5G news

(opens in new window)

Looking at the findings of independent network testers Opensignal, we can see that average 4G speeds on Three are around 25.2 Mbps. That makes them the second fastest 4G network on average.

Those are the sorts of speeds you’d get on mid range broadband. However, in reality you can find yourself going as slow as 9 Mbps in rural areas or as high as 70 Mbps in more built-up areas.

We tested speeds on our SMARTY SIM vs our Three SIM and found no evidence of a built-in speed cap or any difference in signal strength. The speeds you get on Three are the speeds you get on SMARTY, and that also goes for 5G.

Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla put average 5G speeds on Three between 103.9 Mbps and a superfast 221.8 Mbps. With those speeds you can download a HD movie in seconds and they should be the same on SMARTY and Three.

Useful link:
SMARTY's policy on network throttling

Our verdict on data speeds:

Another draw

"Again, there’s just no difference between the two networks here. The differences between them lie in what sorts of benefits and deals they offer. We go into that below."

Compare pricing and deals

Network differences between Three and SMARTY

What other network features do either network offer?

SMARTY and Three logs with some cogs

Three and SMARTY both offer WiFi/4G calling

SMARTY WiFi calling banner

Read the blog

(opens in new window)

There’s nothing to separate the two in terms of WiFi calling and 4G calling as both offer it on all of their plans as standard now.

WiFi calling lets your phone connect to calls and texts over WiFi signal if you’re somewhere with poor conventional call (3G/2G) signal. The best thing about this is that it can eliminate indoor blackspots.

It’s a very helpful feature for both networks to offer. Each network also offer 4G calling (VoLTE) that lets your phone call via 4G instead of just 3G. That means coverage for calls is better and audio quality is also improved on 4G.

Three's list of supported devices is longer than SMARTY's. Yet we’ve tested phones that weren’t on SMARTY’s list that worked with SMARTY's WiFi calling. We can’t see why there’d be a difference between them.

We reckon SMARTY only claim to support devices that they have tested and confirmed. There are more compatible devices than are actually listed. We’re fairly sure the majority of phones that works with Three’s WiFi calling will work with SMARTY’s.

Useful link:
All UK mobile networks with WiFi calling

Both now offer free WiFi hotspots on the Underground

Three's WiFi on the Underground scheme banner

How to connect

(opens in new window)

Regular London commuters will have heard of the TFL network that lets you get WiFi from most platforms, which you can either pay to use or get included with your mobile / broadband deal.

All Three customers get free unlimited access to this service, both pay monthly and pay as you go (so long as you keep your SIM active) customers. You only need to sign in once and it will remember you in the future.

SMARTY have recently introduced this as a feature as well. Unfortunately, there’s no way for your phone to automatically connect to a hotspot yet (they say they will add this) but other than that we think their scheme is the same as Three’s.

Both networks offer it on all plans. It’s a great feature for staying connected to calls where you’d otherwise be stuck without signal. Bear in mind WiFi doesn’t work on the trains themselves, only at stations and ticket barriers.

Useful link:
Full details on Three's free WiFi on the Underground

Our verdict on extra network features:

Small win for Three

"The only real difference between them here is that Three let your phone automatically connect to their WiFi hotspots. That makes it a lot more convenient to stay connected, so we’ve given them the win here."

Compare pricing and deals

Differences in benefits between Three and SMARTY

How roaming compares on Three vs SMARTY

Do SMARTY or Three offer free inclusive roaming?

Globe with Three and SMARTY logos

You’ll have to pay a daily rate to roam on Three

Expired stampFlags of recently added Go Roam countries

See updated scheme

(opens in new window)

Roaming used to be an easy win for Three. But Three scrapped their inclusive EU and worldwide roaming scheme a while ago. These days they’re one of our least favourite networks for roaming.

Three used to offer roaming at no extra cost in most EU and some worldwide destinations (Three’s included countries list here). Now only customers who joined before 1 October 2021 will continue to benefit from this scheme.

You now have to pay £2 a day to use your regular UK allowance in the EU and £5 a day in their covered worldwide destinations. Even though you’re paying, you’re still limited to 12GB of your data allowance while abroad.

Add to that the fact you can’t use tethering and that some other networks still offer inclusive EU roaming (like SMARTY) and you’ll see why Three sits at the bottom of our EU roaming list.

Useful link:
Full roaming costs and terms on Three

SMARTY still let you roam in the EU at no added cost

SMARTY EU roaming banner

See full details

(opens in new window)

While more and more networks are getting rid of their free EU roaming, SMARTY still let you roam in these EU destinations at no added cost on all of their plans. It’s a pretty basic scheme, but it’s nice that it’s free.

You can use your normal minutes and texts while abroad still, but you’ll be limited to 12GB data use if you’re on their unlimited data plan. This is lower than it used to be, but is still a fair amount for a short trip.

One downside is that you’ll have to turn on roaming in your phone SIM settings before you leave as it’s turned off by default. If you don’t turn it on manually you could end up without a way of turning it on, so bear that in mind.

You can still travel outside of the EU with SMARTY, but you’ll have to pay as you go at these rates. It can get pretty expensive pretty fast, so we’d recommend sticking to the EU with SMARTY.

Useful link:
Full roaming costs on SMARTY and other important info

Our verdict on roaming:

Easy win for SMARTY

"Only SMARTY offer free EU roaming between the two these days. You’ll end up paying much more to roam in the EU on Three, which is surprising since SMARTY are supposed to be the budget sub-brand! Still a default win for SMARTY."

Compare pricing and deals

Other benefits of SMARTY vs Three

What do SMARTY offer that Three don’t?

SMARTY logo with greater than symbol and Three logo

SMARTY offer money back for unused data on some plans

Data discount explanation

How it works

(opens in new window)

An issue you’ll likely run into with pay monthly plans is that it’s frustrating to lose the data you paid for at the end of each month. Usually it’s gone and you can do nothing about it. But SMARTY offer a solution:

They offer special “Data Discount Plans” that get you money back on data you don’t use when the month is up. It’s done at a rate of £1 for 1GB of unused data.

All of these plans give you £1 money back for every 1GB of unused data at the end of each month:

SMARTY go the extra mile by giving you back every penny back down to the MB (1000th of 1GB) of unused data you have. It’s a pretty great system, and it’s a brilliant alternative to conventional data rollover schemes.

The biggest downside to this system is that it’s now only offered on certain plans that aren’t particularly well priced in the first place. You have to basically use no data to actually get your money’s worth.

So SMARTY’s focus seems to have gone towards offering super cheap SIM only plans. But these special plans can be a great option if you can make good use of it. Three don’t offer anything like this.

Useful link:
SMARTY's help guide to the data discount

There are no credit checks or contracts to join SMARTY

SMARTY no contract benefits

How billing works

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You pay for SMARTY’s plans similarly to how you’d top up on pay as you go. You just enter your card details and pay. You don’t have to join a contract and if you want to switch or cancel your plan you can do so at the end of the month.

Even Three’s 1-month SIM only contracts require you to give 30-days notice before letting you switch. Three' do offer 1-month pay as you go Add-ons, but they’re much pricier than SMARTY’s plans.

If you’ve struggled to get on a contract with other networks it may be because they’ve decided you don’t have a good enough credit history to join. But SMARTY don’t impose credit checks, so they’re a good option if you’ve been denied before.

The fact you’re paying for everything up front makes it impossible to accidentally overspend. To use premium features you need to manually top up with credit, rather than being charged in your monthly bill.

Useful link:
How to manage your SMARTY plan

Benefits you get on Three and not SMARTY

Here’s the benefits you get for joining Three over SMARTY

Three logo, greater than symbol and SMARTY logo

Three have got rid of most of their benefits

Three's Rewards app

See Three+ app

(opens in new window)

You would imagine that joining a main network would give you a lot of extra benefits that you wouldn’t get on a cheaper, low-frills network. But that just isn’t the case any more with Three.

Their Go Binge has been withdrawn, meaning there’s no more unlimited video or music streaming. There's no Wuntu rewards app any more. And Three’s Easyjet upgrades scheme is also gone.

With their Go Roam scheme basically gone, the only benefits that Three hold over SMARTY are customer service agents you can call (see below) and their new Three+ app (read our guide) that’s similar to their old Wuntu app.

We think Three have really dropped the ball here. Bigger networks need to give customers reasons to pay for more expensive deals.

Useful link:
How Go Binge worked

Customer service differences on Three and SMARTY

Which of the two offers the smoother customer service experience?

Person with headset with SMARTY and Three logos

Three offer loads of ways to get help

Ofcom complaints data

How to get help

(opens in new window)

The government telecoms regulator Ofcom collects complaints from customers about a mobile network when they fail to solve the customer’s problem. Most networks have a fairly low number and Three is among them.

Ofcom used to receive 5 complaints per 100,000 pay monthly customers on Three. This has gone down to 3 per 100,000 this year. That’s a big improvement, but they’re still below the industry average of 2 per 100,000.

There are loads of ways to contact Three if you have a problem. You can send messages on their app, or online, or you can phone them. You can also walk into a Three store if one is nearby.

Three are the only network between the two that let you chat with a “real person” on the other end of the line. If we continue seeing improvements in their record then that should mean good things for their customers.

Useful link:
All ways to get help on Three

SMARTY's customer service is online only

Online chat transcript

How to get help

(opens in new window)

One of the reasons SMARTY’s prices are so cheap is that they don’t pay for call centres. It’s a trade off between a better customer service experience and cheaper costs, and it means it’s harder to get an issue resolved on SMARTY.

They've got a decent help section on their website with answers to frequently asked questions. If you can’t find what you need there you’ll have to use their online chat or social media messaging services.

They’re open every day from 8AM to 8PM, but their agents can take a little while to respond which shows us they’re juggling multiple issues at once. If they can’t respond to you right away they’ll send you an email.

It’s sometimes nice to know you’re being listened to and it’s much quicker to get help either over the phone or in person. But if you prefer online service then this shouldn’t be an issue for you.

Useful link:
How to get help on SMARTY

Our verdict on customer service:

Win for Three

"Three offer more avenues for their customers to get help and are typically decent at helping them. If you’re not somewhat tech-savvy then you might struggle on SMARTY."

Compare pricing and deals

Plans and pricing on SMARTY vs Three

SIM only deals: how SMARTY and Three compare

Do Three or SMARTY have better prices on SIM only?

SIM card with Three and SMARTY logos



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How unlimited data compares on Three vs SMARTY

Are unlimited data deals on either network really unlimited?

Unlimited symbol between SMARTY and Three logos

SMARTY offer unlimited data on flexible 1-month plans

SMARTY unlimited plan

See the full deal

(opens in new window)

SMARTY are a much more flexible network to join than Three are. If you take an unlimited data plan on SMARTY and find it’s not for you, you can change it for your next month rather than continuing to pay more than you need.

You can also use the SIM directly in a tablet or iPad for unlimited mobile broadband, as well as using it for tethering (personal hotspot) on your phone.

The only real limit SMARTY impose on their unlimited data is their fair usage policy of 12GB while you’re roaming. That’s still a decent amount, but you might be paying for more than you can use if you’re abroad for a while.

Other than that, SMARTY’s unlimited data works just like any other. You can use it for whatever you want without going over your data allowance (so long as you’re in the UK).

Useful link:
Compare current prices

Three offer few benefits with their unlimited data plans

Three unlimited data SIM only plan

See Three's plans

(opens in new window)

Three do give you the option of choosing unlimited data on a 1-month contract, which is much more expensive. Or you can take a 12-month or 24-month contract on SIM only, both of which are close to SMARTY’s prices.

Now that their roaming is much worse, the best thing you get from Three’s unlimited data plan is 5G (which isn’t available on some much smaller plans.) All plans get you their new roaming scheme (mentioned above).

Here are all of Three’s current unlimited data SIM only contracts:

But Three don’t let you put your unlimited data SIM into a tablet (your SIM will be blocked if you try). You have to buy a specialised SIM for tablets if you want to do that.

Overall, Three’s list of benefits for unlimited data is barren. Almost everything you get on unlimited data you also get on some of their other plans and you’re not getting the flexibility of SMARTY’s plans.

Useful link:
Compare latest prices

Special offers on Three and SMARTY

Who's got the best promotions running currently?

Special offer label with SMARTY and Three logos

Phone contracts on Three vs SMARTY

Only Three offer phone contracts between the two, but SMARTY might offer them soon

Smartphone with Three and SMARTY logos

Three are the only one offering phone contracts

Screenshot of Three's phone range

See phone range

(opens in new window)

Three are usually one of our favourite networks for getting a phone contract on. They offer some very reasonable deals, especially if you get one of their hidden offers. And their contracts are easy to understand.

Three's phone contracts are all 24-month deals - you’re not able to pay lump sums to get your phone paid off or upgraded early.

They offer all of the high-end iPhone and Samsung models as the other main networks, while offering a decent range of other Android models. You can use our comparison tool below to see what sorts of deals you can expect on Three.

It’s impossible to compare Three’s phone contracts with SMARTY’s because SMARTY simply don’t offer any.

Useful link:
See Three's range of pay monthly phones

SMARTY might be bringing out phone contracts soon

Get your next phone from SMARTY banner

See blog post

(opens in new window)

As it stands, SMARTY only offer SIM only plans. But they’ve claimed that they’ll soon be bringing out phone contracts, so that’s something to look forward to.

We’d expect to see their deals work like Vodafone's sub-brand VOXI's, where the cost of your phone and your minutes, texts and data plan are paid for in separate contracts.

This would mean you could pay off your phone early by paying lump sum amounts, while also having the freedom to switch data plans before your phone is fully paid for. And you could just pay for your phone in full.

SMARTY seem to be a bit late on their quota for releasing their phone contracts (two years late!), but for now suffice it to say they will come when they come. We’ll update this page here when this changes.

Useful link:
Compare phone contracts from all networks

Phone contracts

Compare phone contracts pre filtered for Three

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Our verdict on phone contracts:

Three win by default

"You can currently only get a phone contract from Three, so they're your only choice for now, so win this category by default."

Compare pricing and deals

Making your mind up

How to decide between Three and SMARTY

SMARTY vs Three

Decide what you value most

For us, the key is working out what is important to you. Have a look at our summary a bit further down.

Use our deal finder above to look for deals with the number of mins, texts and data you want. Then see how the prices compare. It won't always be the case SMARTY are cheaper.

If Three are cheaper and you're happy with the contract length, you'll get a few more network extras with their plans. But if the SMARTY benefits are more important then that's who to go with.

SMARTY are generally better for...

If you want ties no longer than 30 days

You're not 100% sure how much data you need

You want a plan where you can't overspend

You've failed credit checks before (there are none)

Jump to

Three are generally better for...

5G data

Plans with larger data allowances

More human customer service

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More articles about Three

More SMARTY articles