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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. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: March 20th 2020.

Latest news on offers

Three's hidden £18 unlimited SIM

Three's hidden unlimited data deal

Pay only £18 a month for unlimited everything with Three's hidden £18 a month unlimited data SIM only offer (12 month contract).

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SMARTY and Three mobile network differences

Is coverage identical on SMARTY and Three?

We see if you'll get the same signal on both networks

Mobile signal bars with Three and SMARTY logos

Three and SMARTY are on the same network

SMARTY powered by Three banner

What this means...

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

If you didn't know, SMARTY uses the Three mobile network. In fact, it's actually owned directly by Three themselves. Three is a mobile network in its own right, distinct from EE, Vodafone and O2.

Three is the smallest UK network in terms of coverage for calls and 4G data for the whole country. Outside built-up places, you may find yourself on 3G more often. And in the country, you can get blackspots.

On paper, that doesn't sound great. But it's worth using coverage checkers below, because if their network is good in the places you use your phone, the rest of the country is irrelevant.

We've tested a SMARTY and Three SIM card in the same test phones simulataneously. There's no difference in signal. You don't get an inferior 4G or 3G experience on SMARTY to Three. 5G is different (see below).

Useful link:
Three's latest network developments

Only Three has their 5G network live in 68 places

See latest places

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

Now that Three have switched on their 5G network, there is technically a difference in coverage between them and SMARTY, if you're an early adopter and have a 5G-ready phone.

5G is live on Three in parts of these 68 locations with more to come. We're still talking about a street-by-street basis, with coverage focussing on busy places like train stations, high streets and event venues.

SMARTY say they do have plans to add 5G but don't have a confirmed date, so currently only offer 4G and 3G. Three have included the faster 5G technology on all their plans at no extra cost, including pay as you go.

If you're toying between the two, you could take a 1-month deal on either and either wait it out.

Useful link: Latest 5G rollout news on Three

Use one of their coverage checkers

Don't just check at home - look at everywhere you'll use your phone

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:

Technically a win for Three

"For most people with a 4G/3G capable phone, there's no difference in coverage between SMARTY and Three. It's the same network. But early adopters can only get 5G on Three, so there is technically now a difference."

Compare pricing and deals

4G data speeds on SMARTY vs Three

Are there any differences in download speeds?

Speedometer with SMARTY and Three logos

Expect typical downloads around 20 Mbps on both

Three fastest 5G banner

Latest 5G news

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

We'd say the Three network is one of the better choices when it comes to download speeds over a 4G data connection. They normally come in joint-second place in speed tests by independent testers.

Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla take millions of measurements on people's smartphones with each network. On average they found Three customers get downloads around21.60 Mbps.

That's like a decent mid-range home broadband speed. And will comfortably support things like HD videos without buffering. Our own testing suggests minimum speeds around 9 Mbps and a max around 43 Mbps.

We've taken a SMARTY and Three SIM card out in identical test phones and conducted simultaneous speed tests in different types of locations. We found no baked-in speed difference between SMARTY and Three.

Useful link:
SMARTY's policy on network throttling

Our verdict on data speeds:

Draw

"We haven't managed to find a speed difference between Three and SMARTY, so it's not something to consider currently. If Three launch 5G before SMARTY, then things could change."

Compare pricing and deals

Network differences between SMARTY and Three

Here are some network features you don't get on SMARTY but do on Three

SMARTY and Three logs with some cogs

You get WiFi calling on Three but not on SMARTY

Three inTouch WiFi calling banner

See supported phones

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

Three are one of the UK's main four networks and SMARTY are a cheaper no-frills brand, so there were bound to be some premium touches that you don't get. And WiFi calling / 4G calling are two examples.

WiFi calling is a feature that lets your phone tap into the Three network via a WiFi signal, if you're somewhere where conventional mobile signal struggles to reach. And we actually rate Three's as the best in the UK.

It lets you make and take calls as usual. And even send/receive SMS text messages too. Three's 4G VoLTE service lets your phone use 4G instead of just 3G for calls, so improves coverage and audio quality.

Without WiFi calling on SMARTY, you may find you have worse indoor reception for calls, because the Three network's signal finds it harder to get through building materials than other networks.

Useful link:
More details about Three's WiFi calling and supported phones

Three get you free WiFi on the Underground, SMARTY don't

Three's WiFi on the Underground scheme banner

How to connect

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

If you're a regular in London, you'll know that most stations on the TFL network now have WiFi on the platforms, which you can either pay to use or get included with your mobile / broadband deal.

All Three customers can use the service for free, whether you're pay monthly or pay as you go (as long as you've used your phone in the last 30 days). Just sign in once and it'll remember you in future.

The service is a useful way to save data, although it'd be better if the trains themselves had WiFi too. It combines well with WiFi calling to make calls underground where signal would never reach.

Even though SMARTY do hint this is something that could be added in future, they don't offer it today. It's one of the other differences between SMARTY and Three worth knowing.

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

Our verdict on extra network features:

Clear win for Three

"It's the extra features like WiFi calling, 4G calling and free WiFi hotspots that are the main difference between joining a main network like Three and a no-frills provider like SMARTY. You'll have to decide if you'll miss them all."

Compare pricing and deals

Differences in benefits between Three and SMARTY

How roaming compares on SMARTY vs Three

Is SMARTY as good for going abroad as Three?

Globe with Three and SMARTY logos

Three's worldwide roaming massively trumps SMARTY's

Flags of recently added Go Roam countries

See full country list

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

Roaming is one area where Three have a built-in advantage over SMARTY, thanks to their well-known inclusive worldwide roaming scheme Go Roam, formerly known as Feel At Home.

While every network has to offer roaming at no extra cost in the EU, Three extend this to a total of 71 worldwide countries, including the USA and Australia (Three list all the included countries here).

Anyone's who's used their phone in these types of places knows the cost is often eye-watering on many networks. So if you travel long-haul regularly, the scheme is worth its weight in gold.

And we like the fact you get it on every pay monthly plan (phone or SIM) and even on pay as you go, when you buy a monthly Add-on (bundle). Three certainly beat what you get with SMARTY for long-haul.

Useful link:
Full roaming costs and terms on Three

SMARTY's roaming will suit anyone who stays in Europe

SMARTY EU roaming banner

See full details

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

If you're someone who mostly takes their holidays in EU countries, then SMARTY will probably comfortably cover your needs. They offer roaming at no extra cost in all these EU countries.

That means you can use all your normal minutes, texts and data while you're away, without paying extra. Although if you're on SMARTY's unlimited plan, you can only use a frankly huge 19GB data per month.

One word of warning if you are joining SMARTY: follow these instructions to activate roaming in your account before you go away. It's set to "off" automatically, so you could end up abroad without a way of turning it on.

If you do want to travel outside Europe, it's still possible, you just don't get any inclusive roaming there like on Three. Instead, you have to top up with credit and then pay as you go at these rates.

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

Our verdict on roaming:

A win for Three

"Roaming's one of the areas where Three's status as one of the UK's main network outclasses no-frills SMARTY. Although infrequent travellers and European-only holidaymakers will be fine on either network."

Compare pricing and deals

Benefits where SMARTY are better than Three

What do you get with SMARTY that you don't on Three?

SMARTY logo with greater than symbol and Three logo

SMARTY will pay you back for unused data on some plans

Data discount explanation

How it works

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

If you've had a pay monthly plan before, you'll know the feeling that you've wasted money, when you don't use all the data that your monthly plan gives you. Normally it's just too bad. But SMARTY have a nice solution:

On their "Data Discount Plans", they'll pay you back what all your unused data cost to buy in the first place, via a discount on next month's plan. So if you have 2GB left and that cost £2, that's what they'll pay you back.

Each of these plans pays you back £1 per GB of unused data each month:

SMARTY even calculate the cost down to the nearest MB (basically 1000th of 1GB), so you'll get back every penny and never overpay. We think this is the fairest such system in the UK today (better than data rollover).

This is SMARTY's main unique selling point. And is one of the advantages of joining SMARTY over Three, who don't offer anything like this on pay monthly or pay as you go.

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

SMARTY's plans have no credit check and no contract

SMARTY no contract benefits

How billing works

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

All SMARTY's plans are paid for up front and last just one month. There's no contract - meaning if you get fed up, you don't have to give any notice, you just stop paying and your plan ends once your month's up.

You can't get that flexibility even on Three's 1-month SIM only contracts, where you still have to give 30 days' notice. Three's 1-month pay as you go Add-ons do work like SMARTY but are more expensive.

The other benefit of paying up front on SMARTY means that there's no credit check to join them (Three's pay monthly plans do need you to pass one). That's good if you have bad/no credit history or are new to the UK.

It's also impossible to spend more than your plan's basic cost, unless you top up with credit in advance. That helps you know what you're paying, although could be a chore if you have to top up to use a feature in a hurry.

Useful link:
How to manage your SMARTY plan

Three's benefits you don't get on SMARTY

Here's what you'd miss out on if you joined SMARTY instead of Three

Three logo, greater than symbol and SMARTY logo

Unlimited streaming data with Go Binge

Three's Go Binge banner

See all benefits

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

If you like the idea of streaming as much video and music as you like without having to get an unlimited data plan, Three's Go Binge benefit is definitely worth a look.

On pay monthly plans with 12GB or more, you'll get a separate unlimited data allowance to stream these selected video and music apps including Netflix. Here's the current cheapest deal with Go Binge:

We think it's an excellent benefit that means you can start getting more out of your phone, without being conscious of data usage at all (read our full Go Binge review here). SMARTY have nothing similar.

Useful link:
Full Go Binge details and terms and conditions

Customer service differences on Three and SMARTY

Which network is easier to deal with if you have a problem?

Person with headset with SMARTY and Three logos

Three are among the least-complained-about networks

Ofcom complaints data

How to get help

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

People complain to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, when a mobile network hasn't sorted their problem. So having a low number of Ofcom complaints, like Three, is a sign that they have effective customer services.

Per 100,000 pay monthly Three customers, Ofcom only receive 3 complaints, which is about the industry average. And is better than some of Three's competitors (SMARTY don't have enough customers to appear in this data).

There are loads of ways to contact Three if you have a problem. You can chat within their app, in your online account, or phone them. Also underrated is the ability to walk into a Three store on the high street.

If you're the sort of person who likes "to speak to a real person" when they've got a problem with a product, then Three definitely have more options than SMARTY.

Useful link:
All ways to get help on Three

SMARTY's customer service is online-only

Online chat transcript

How to get help

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

Here's another clear difference between SMARTY and Three. SMARTY are set up as a no-frills brand, which means they've cut costs by only offering online-based customer service.

They've got a pretty decent help section on their website with answers to common questions. But if that doesn't help, you'll need to use their online chat or social media messaging services.

They're open 7 days a week, 8AM to 8PM. But the pace of conversations with them can be quite slow, especially getting the first message through. They will email you if they can't immediately reply.

People who like the re-assurance of talking to someone on the phone, or even going in to a store to get face-to-face help, aren't going to like SMARTY if they ever need anything. Others will be content with online-only.

Useful link:
How to get help on SMARTY

Our verdict on customer service:

Win for Three

"If you like a helping hand off real people, Three are probably your best bet for customer service. On SMARTY, you'll need to be better at helping yourself."

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
Deal options >
Mins, texts and data >
Data speed (4G or 5G) >
Max contract length >

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Choose which networks you'd consider:

Three logo
BT Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
ID logo
Lebara logo
O2 logo
Plusnet Mobile logo
Sky logo
SMARTY logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

How unlimited data compares on SMARTY and Three

Are both their deals truly unlimited?

Unlimited symbol between SMARTY and Three logos

SMARTY's unlimited plan is on a short 1-month contract

SMARTY unlimited plan

See the full deal

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

The main advantage of SMARTY's unlimited data plan (ignoring price) over Three's is that it's on a flexible 1-month contract. It means you're free to change plan or leave at short notice if you decide it's not for you.

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

The main limitation is on roaming. If you're within the EU, you can only use 19GB a month while you're out of the country. This is currently the same on Three too.

Otherwise the principle is essentially the same: even if you used your phone for every minute of the whole month, there'd still be no charges for going over any data limits.

Useful link:
Compare current prices

Three's unlimited plans come with added benefits

Three unlimited data SIM only plan

See Three's plans

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

On Three you can choose between a 1-month contract that will normally work out more expensive than SMARTY, or a longer 12-month or 24-month deal, which are more similar in price.

The main advantage other than any price variations of Three's deals over SMARTY is that you get a few extras like inclusive roaming in 71 countries (not just EU ones), where you can use 19GB data.

Here are all the pay monthly options to get unlimited data on your phone with Three:

Unlike SMARTY though, you can't put Three's phone unlimited data SIMs in a tablet (the network detects it and blocks it). You have to buy a specific tablet SIM to do this.

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

Hidden £18 unlimited data deal on Three

Three's hidden unlimited data deal

See full offer

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

Pay just £18 a month for Three's hidden unlimited data SIM only deal:

This deal is better value than the 24‑month plan currently being advertised with six months at half price, which averages out to £19.25 a month over the course of the contract.

Or if you don't need that much data, it's worth looking at Three's hidden 8GB for £8 offer or 12GB for £10 deal.

If it's a phone contract you're after, be sure to check you can't get a better deal with our hidden phone offer page here.

Useful link: See all latest Three offers

Phone contracts on Three vs SMARTY

You can currently only get a phone with Three but SMARTY could offer them in future

Smartphone with Three and SMARTY logos

Only Three currently offer smartphone contracts

Screenshot of Three's phone range

See phone range

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

We rate Three as an excellent place to take out a phone contract. You get everything we've talked about in our network and benefits sections above, and reasonable prices, especially with their hidden deals.

Three's phone contracts are straight-up 24-month deals - there's no financing like you get with some networks, which also means there's no real early upgrade offers either.

They've got all the iPhone and Samsung models you'd expect from a mobile network, and quite a few other Android handsets too. Use our price comparison tool below to see how Three compare for each model.

Until SMARTY start offering phone contracts, we can't really compare Three with them.

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

Phone contracts on SMARTY could be coming down the line

Get your next phone from SMARTY banner

See blog post

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

Today, SMARTY are only set up as a SIM only provider. But this blog post suggests that they're working on offering phone contracts in the future.

We'd expect SMARTY's phone contracts to work a lot like Vodafone's sub-brand VOXI's, where you take out a separate agreement for the cost of your phone and your minutes, texts and data plan.

The advantage of this way of doing phone contracts is that you get flexibility from having a phone plan you can pay off more quickly or slowly. And it lets you upgrade early by paying off the phone in full.

The blog post originally said, SMARTY would be offering phone contracts in 2019. That now seems to be running late. But we'll update this section when anything changes.

Useful link:
Compare phone contracts from all networks

Choose a manufacturer

Which make of phone do you want?

Find a plan for your phone

Choose what you want from your deal

Deal options >
Mins, texts and data >
Data speed (3G or 4G) >
Max contract length >
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0+

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0MB+

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12 months
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Choose which networks you'd consider:

Three logo
BT Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
ID logo
O2 logo
Sky logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo

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 mobile

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 lot more extras with most 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 SMARTY.co.uk

Three are generally better for...

Inclusive roaming

Extras like unlimited streaming or WiFi calling

Plans with larger data allowances

More flexible 30-day SIM only contracts

Jump to Three.co.uk

Compare Three with other networks

Comparing Three and EE

Three vs EE

Read Three vs EE guide

Comparing Three and O2

Three vs O2

Read Three vs O2 guide

Comparing Three and Vodafone

Three vs Vodafone

Read our Three vs Vodafone guide

Comparing Three and BT Mobile

Three vs BT Mobile

Read Three vs BT Mobile

Comparing Three and giffgaff

Three vs giffgaff

Read Three vs giffgaff guide

Comparing Three and Virgin Mobile

Three vs Virgin Mobile

Read our Three vs Virgin Mobile guide

Compare SMARTY with other networks

Comparing SMARTY and giffgaff

Three vs EE

Read SMARTY vs giffgaff guide

Comparing SMARTY and Plusnet Mobile

SMARTY vs Plusnet Mobile

Read SMARTY vs Plusnet guide

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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