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SMARTY vs Three: all 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: 17th July 2023.

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SMARTY and Three mobile network differences

Do SMARTY provide identical coverage to Three?

We go over 3G/4G/5G signal on both networks

Mobile signal bars with Three and SMARTY logos

SMARTY get full access to Three’s network

SMARTY powered by Three banner

What this means...

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

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 (3G) and data signal (3G/4G/5G).

Historically, Three have been the smallest network for 4G/3G coverage but they’ve rapidly improved their 4G data coverage of late, and we’d say there’s little to split them from O2/Vodafone for 4G data now.

But it’s still worth using either network’s coverage checker before buying. If you live very rurally or travel around a lot, they can still be a bit of a liability for 3G calls / texts.

When we tested our SMARTY and Three SIM in the same test phone, in the same areas, we found no differences between them for signal and 3G/4G/5G speeds were also the same. But what about 5G coverage?

Useful link:
Three's latest network developments

5G is live in loads of locations on Three and SMARTY

Three 5G UK banner

See latest places

at Three.co.uk
(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.

You’ll currently get 5G in 484+ UK towns and cities on both networks. But that says nothing about how well they actually cover their locations. Our own analysis finds 5G coverage in their declared locations to be widespread.

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.

You can’t take a test SIM on either network, so the best way to test 5G would be to buy a low cost plan from SMARTY:

If you’re not satisfied you can get a full refund if you return your SIM within 14 days.

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:


"Coverage is identical between the two networks. The main differences between them are the extra benefits they offer and the costs of their deals and that’s what should sway your decision between them."

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds on Three vs SMARTY

Do you get identical speeds on SMARTY and Three?

Speedometer with SMARTY and Three logos

5G/4G data speeds are the same on both networks

Three fastest 5G banner

Latest 5G news

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

We use results from independent network testers Opensignal to see what typical 4G speeds look like on each network. Three are typically the second fastest 4G network, with speeds around 30.7 Mbps.

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.

Typical 5G speeds on Three sit between 228.4 Mbps - 248.16 Mbps according to Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla. And peak speeds can get up to a blistering 687.13 Mbps. We experienced these kind of results on SMARTY too.

Useful link:
SMARTY's policy on network throttling

Our verdict on data speeds:

Another draw

"Like with coverage, SMARTY provide identical 3G/4G/5G speeds to their host network. Your choice between them will come down to the benefits and costs they offer."

Compare pricing and deals

Network differences between Three and SMARTY

What extra network features do either provider offer?

SMARTY and Three logs with some cogs

Three and SMARTY have similar WiFi/4G calling schemes

SMARTY WiFi calling banner

Read the blog

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

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.

You get this and get 4G calling (VoLTE) on both networks and you can switch from a WiFi call to a 4G call without it dropping. And both networks also let you send text messages over WiFi and 4G signal as well.

Three’s list of supported devices is shorter than SMARTY’s, but Three’s list is out of date. And we’ve tested phones not on either networks’ list and found they still worked just fine for WiFi calling.

Overall we’re fairly sure the majority of phones that work with Three’s WiFi calling will work with SMARTY’s.

Useful link:
All UK mobile networks with WiFi calling

WiFi hotspots on the Underground on both networks

Three's WiFi on the Underground scheme banner

How to connect

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

If you regularly commute in London you will know you can get WiFi on most Underground platforms. Both Three and SMARTY offer free access to WiFi on the Underground on all their deals.

Three offer unlimited access to these WiFi hotspots on every pay monthly plan and on Pay As You Go (if you keep your SIM active). After signing in for the first time you’ll be automatically logged in next time.

SMARTY offer access to this feature. But, 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 get no signal. You don’t get WiFi 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 tangible difference between these networks’ extra features is that Three let you automatically log in to their WiFi hotspots, while SMARTY don’t. Other than that the two networks are basically identical for extra network features."

Compare pricing and deals

Differences in benefits between Three and SMARTY

How roaming compares on Three vs SMARTY

Which network is better for taking your SIM abroad?

Globe with Three and SMARTY logos

Three offer roaming passes as a premium benefit

Roaming built in banner

Where you can go

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

Three now offer roaming passes that let you roam in these 71 EU and worldwide destinations. However these only come with their Premium or Plus plans that are more expensive than their regular range.

On Plus plans you get 14 daily roaming passes a year on a 12-month contract and 28 a year on a 24-month contract.

On higher end Premium plans you get 28 a year on 12-month contracts and 56 on 24-month contracts.

But with their regular plans it’s £2 a day to use your UK allowance in the EU and £5 a day in their covered worldwide destinations. And 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 include EU roaming at no extra cost

SMARTY EU roaming banner

See full details

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

While 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.

They let you use all your UK minutes and texts abroad, but they do limit data usage abroad to 12GB even if you’re on an unlimited data deal. This will be enough for most users on a temporary trip, however.

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 you could end up without a way of turning it on, so bear that in mind.

You can use your SIM beyond the EU on SMARTY, but you’ll have to pay for your usage at these rates. That adds up fairly quickly, so we’d stick to roaming in the EU on SMARTY.

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

Our verdict on roaming:

Easy win for SMARTY

"We think most users will care about EU roaming and for that SMARTY are the better network. You can roam for a longer time and don’t have to buy a premium plan to do so. Three are a better option for going beyond the EU, however."

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

No credit checks to pass or contracts to join on SMARTY

SMARTY no contract benefits

How billing works

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

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

Even if you’re on a 1-month SIM only contract on Three you’ll technically have to give 30-days notice before you’re allowed to leave. You can take a 1-month PAYG data add-on, but these are worse value than SMARTY’s deals.

If you’ve struggled to join a contract on other networks it may be because they decided you don’t have a good enough credit score. But SMARTY don’t impose credit checks, which is great if you’ve been denied before.

Another upside is that you can’t accidentally overspend on extras, as you have to top up with credit to use them in the first place. So you won’t end up with a nasty shock on your bill at the end of the month.

Useful link:
How to manage your SMARTY plan

SMARTY give you 10% off all additional plans

Group plans on SMARTY

How it works

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

While SMARTY already offer excellent value on their plans in the first place, you can get even better value when you add friends or family members on SIM only plans together in a group.

You get 10% off every plan you add and you can add up to 7 extra plans into a group. The savings aren’t huge, but it makes SMARTY one of the best value choices for setting up a family plan.

It’s made even better by the fact that the account holder can manage all the SIMs in the same place. So parents can set restrictions on what their kids can access and keep on top of extra costs.

The only real downside is that your plans will be billed on the same day you took them out. You can’t get them billed all at the same time. But other than that it’s a fantastic scheme for saving a bit of money.

Useful link: Our guide to the best family plan schemes

Benefits you get on Three and not SMARTY

Here’s what Three offer that SMARTY don’t

Three logo, greater than symbol and SMARTY logo

Three offer a few smaller benefits

Three's Rewards app

See Three+ app

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

All Three customers get access to their rewards app Three+ that gets you special offers on high street shopping and restaurants and even some freebies. And you can get presale tickets to Three hosted events.

It’s come a long way since it was introduced and can genuinely get you some nice extra value out of your plan. Take a look at the sorts of offers you can get here and see if there’s something you would use often.

Also, Three offer some extra benefits on their higher-end Premium and Plus plans, such as an extended warranty on your phone or a subscription to Paramount+ (see all benefits in our guide here).

Overall, Three offer enough to give their customers a bit more value out of what are already some good value plans. There’s nothing huge here, but these benefits are nothing to sniff at either.

Useful link:
Our guide to the Three+ app

Customer service differences on Three and SMARTY

Which network provides the better customer service experience?

Person with headset with SMARTY and Three logos

Three provide a lot of avenues to get help

Ofcom complaints data

How to get help

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

When a network is unable to resolve a customer’s issue they can turn to government regulators Ofcom to make a complaint. The amount of complaints they received has gone down, but Three get an above average number.

In Ofcom’s last report they got 3 complaints per 100,000 customers and that has stayed consistent in their latest report. However, they’re still below the industry average of 2 per 100,000.

Three offer lots of ways to contact them if you have an issue. You can message their agents online or in their app, or you can call them up. Or you can even walk into a Three store if you’d like.

Three are the only network between the two that let you chat with a “real person” on the phone. 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 only offer online customer service

Online chat transcript

How to get help

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

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

They do have a nice online help section where they list frequently asked questions with answers to them. But if you can’t find the answer you need, you can use their online chat or message them via social media.

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.

Sometimes it’s preferable to talk to someone directly, as you know you’re being listened to and it’s usually a faster way to get help. But SMARTY are an alright choice for those who prefer online customer service.

Useful link:
How to get help on SMARTY

Our verdict on customer service:

Win for Three

"Three have more ways of getting help. While their customer service record hasn’t improved, there are still more avenues of resolving your issue than on SMARTY. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to resolve your issues on Three."

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

Which network is better for offering truly unlimited data deals?

Unlimited symbol between SMARTY and Three logos

SMARTY offer flexible 1-month unlimited data plans

SMARTY unlimited plan

See the full deal

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

SMARTY are a more flexible network to join than Three. 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.

And you can use a SMARTY SIM in a tablet or iPad directly for unlimited mobile broadband. You can also tether (personal hotspot) to other devices, such as tablets or other phones.

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.

Overall, SMARTY let you use as much data as you like without imposing any restrictions on it, that is as long as you’re using your SIM in the UK.

Useful link:
Compare current prices

Three don’t offer many benefits on unlimited data plans

Three unlimited data SIM only plan

See Three's plans

at three.co.uk
(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.

You can take a Premium or a Plus unlimited data contract, which are higher in price but do get you a different number of roaming passes depending on the length of your contract you choose.

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.

In all, Three don’t offer many benefits on their unlimited data deals, and there’s nothing exclusive for unlimited data users. On top of that you don’t get the same amount of flexibility you do on SMARTY.

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

SMARTY don’t offer phone contracts yet, so what are Three’s phone contracts like?

Smartphone with Three and SMARTY logos

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Three are the only one between them to offer phone deals

Screenshot of Three's phone range

See phone range

at Three.co.uk
(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.

They offer their phone contracts on finance agreements (loans) that split the cost of your usage plan (mins, texts and data) and your device into different payments that make up your monthly bill.

The benefits of this are that you can pay lump sums to reduce your monthly bill, choose a contract length of 12, 24 or 36 months, set an upfront cost how you like or pay off the cost of your phone entirely whenever.

SMARTY don’t offer any phone contracts yet, so there’s nothing to compare the networks on here. But we like the new level of flexibility that Three offer with their phone contracts.

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

SMARTY could bring out phone contracts in the future

Get your next phone from SMARTY banner

See blog post

at SMARTY.co.uk
(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 imagine their phone contracts will look similar to Three’s, by splitting the cost of your device and usage plan into separate payments.

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.

They’ve been saying they’d start offering phone contracts for more than two years now, but we have no reason to doubt that they will be brought out at some point. We’ll update this page when they do.

Useful link:
Compare phone contracts from all networks

Our verdict on phone contracts:

Three win by default

"Three are a great choice for phone contracts now, while SMARTY still don’t offer any. So Three have to take this one 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 SMARTY.co.uk

Three are generally better for...

5G data

Plans with larger data allowances

More human customer service

Jump to Three.co.uk

More articles about Three

More SMARTY articles