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Three mobile review: why we rate them as 2018's best all-round network

Three review

It's not just Three's low-cost SIM only deals and phone contracts we like: their all-round coverage, 4G speeds and perks put them top of our league. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: October 2nd 2018.

Overall rating

Three Mobile

SIM Sherpa rates Three as the UK's best all-round provider
 (4.5/5)

"Three have made huge strides in improving their 4G coverage in the UK, with impressive download speeds. Plus added benefits like worldwide roaming and unlimited streaming, plus their reasonable plan prices, make Three our best all-round package today."

Our guide below shows they've got capable 4G and 3G coverage with good speeds, the best inclusive roaming and data-saving schemes around, all backed up by being the cheapest major network.

The 3 best bits

1) Hugely improved 4G coverage / speeds
2) Our best-rated roaming
3) Unlimited data for streaming / Snapchat

The 3 worst bits

1) No free WiFi hotspots included
2) No free subscriptions
3) No data rollover scheme

What's covered in our Three review?

Overall rating

Our verdict

Overall rating

Network review

Network

4G/3G coverage
Data speeds
Call quality
WiFi calling
Free WiFi hotspots
Tethering

Perks review

Perks & extras

Inclusive roaming
Data-saving schemes
Rewards/incentives
Multibuy discounts
Freebies with your deal
Data rollover

Deal review

Deals

Special offers
SIM only plans
Phone contracts
Pay As You Go
Mobile broadband

Customer service review

Customer service

Ofcom data

Reviewing Three's mobile network

Coverage: Three provide excellent 4G and 3G signal to most residences in the UK

Three 4G and 3G signal coverage

Use Three's network map to find your local signalCheck Three's signal

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

There's sometimes confusion that Three use other providers' networks to bring their customers signal. So the first thing to say is this isn’t true. Three operates its own network separately from Vodafone, O2 or EE.

They're still technically the smallest of the four mobile networks in the UK but in terms of the population they cover, Three have reach 99% of households with 4G and 98% with 3G. They don't have 2G at all.

It's important to understand these statistics are talking about getting 4G/3G to places where people live. They're not talking about how much of the UK's landmass a network reaches (geographical coverage).

For that reason, we'd definitely use Three's coverage checker under the link below, to check their signal everywhere you use your phone: your commute to work, places you drive a lot etc. Not just at home.

Useful link: Check Three's coverage now using their official network map.

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
4th out of 4

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2

Same as:
iD, TPO, SMARTY

Data speeds: Three offer joint-second fastest 4G speeds

Three 4G download speeds
20.39 Mbps
22.55 Mbps

You rarely see mobile networks make hard and fast promises when it comes to speed. That's because it varies so much from place to place. So SIM Sherpa always look to independent network testers for real results.

We’ve taken the results from OpenSignal and Ookla’s Speedtest who both use free-to-download apps to measure average speeds customers of each network are actually getting.

For Three, it's good news: the results generally put them as the second fastest network, behind EE. Although they're now facing stiff competition from Vodafone for that second-fastest spot.

From the latest reports, Three’s average 4G download speeds were measured at 20.39 - 22.55 Mbps, usually ahead of Vodafone, and always way ahead of O2. These speeds will comfortably handle HD video streaming.

Useful link: Check Three have 4G near you with their official map.

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE

Better than:
Vodafone (generally but not always), O2

Call quality: Three offer HD calling as standard

HD call quality on Three

Three use new technology to improve quality4G Super-Voice details

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

Though a lot of focus nowadays is on data, it’s still important how calling works on a mobile network. Really and truly, the two most important things are sound clarity of calls and how long it takes to set one up.

As Three operate only a 3G and 4G network (not the older 2G and GSM ones), they offer HD call quality as standard. And now make use of 4G too for calls with their 4G Super-Voice technology.

For how long it takes to connect a call, Three claim to have “the quickest call set up time out of any network for 3G” and receive a “good” rating from network testers P3 in their most recent report.

Overall, it would be hard to say Three really offer anything above and beyond other networks but at the same time don’t fall behind anyone else either for calls. That makes Three an all-round safe bet.

Useful link: Read more about call quality on Three’s network

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Joint 3rd

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone

Better than:
O2

WiFi calling: We rate Three’s scheme as the UK's best

Three inTouch WiFi calling

Use WiFi for calls and texts when there's no signalSee WiFi calling

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

WiFi calling lets you use the call and text functions on your phone over WiFi instead of regular mobile phone signal. It means you can make and take calls in places where phone signal doesn’t reach.

Three’s WiFi calling scheme is called Three inTouch and we rate it as the best out of any network, because it’s compatible with so many modern phones and works on pay monthly and pay as you go.

Depending on your phone model, inTouch either works seamlessly via software in the background or with a separate app. Seamlessly means you don’t need run the app to call and text over WiFi.

The great thing is, there are no restrictions on where you bought your phone from with inTouch. You either download a software update from Three or an app if your phone isn’t ready for the software.

This compares favourably with other networks’ WiFi calling such as O2, who require you to have bought your Android phone from them in the first place.

Useful link: How WiFi calling works on Three

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st

Not as good as:
N/A

WiFi hotspot access: Three don’t offer very much at all

WiFi hotspots on London Underground with Three

Three customers get free WiFi on the tubeRead full details

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

Many of the big providers now offer you free access to a network of WiFi hotspots in handy locations such as shopping areas, public transport hubs, bars, restaurants and cafes.

The benefit of this is that it saves you on consuming your monthly mobile data allowance and lets you carry on using your phone in areas where there might not be any signal, like indoors or underground.

Unfortunately Three’s offering is generally lacking in this area:

They do have free WiFi on the London Underground for all their customers, which lets you tap into free unlimited WiFi at 250 stations across the network. But otherwise there’s nothing.

This is some way short of other networks, particularly ones that also do broadband like BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile, so Three only get an average rating from us for WiFi.

Useful link: How free London Underground WiFi works on Three

Our rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
Joint 4th

Same as or better than:
EE, Vodafone, Sky and all others

Tethering: It's allowed on all new Three plans

Tethering on Three

Use your phone as a WiFi hotspotRead the rules

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

Tethering is the process of using the mobile data received on your phone to create a mini WiFi hotspot around you, which you connect other devices like laptops or tablets to.

Each network have different policies to tethering but Three allows it on all their new pay monthly plans, with any phone or SIM. And also now with any Pay As You Go monthly add-on.

If you take a deal with ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ data (unlimited) or more than 30GB, you’ll be able to tether for up to 30GB data each month before the service stops.

This is to stop abuse and hogging of Three’s network.

It’s worth saying you can’t tether abroad with Three’s Go Roam (formerly Feel At Home) either.

Useful link: Read all tethering conditions in Three's guide.

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

As good as:
Practically every network

Better than:
iD Mobile

Reviewing perks and extras on Three

Inclusive roaming: Three still have the best scheme there is

Three Feel At Home destinations

Free roaming in 71(!) destinationsSee all countries

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

One of the most famous things about Three is their Go Roam free roaming in selected countries (formerly Feel At Home). But how does it compare now all other networks offer EU roaming as standard too?

We'd say no other network still quite gets close to Three's inclusive roaming , which lets you use your regular UK allowances in the 23 extra worldwide destinations listed here, as well as in 48 EU countries.

You get it on all their new pay monthly phone contracts and SIM only plans. You can even get it on Pay As You Go, if you've bought a monthly add-on. No other network has inclusive roaming on so many plans.

It's worth noting that Go Roam isn't a blank cheque to use your phone permanently abroad, and there are some limitations on the amount of data you can use a month (12GB in most places) and the number of minutes and texts. But for regular travellers, it'll be indispensable.

Useful links: All Go Roam terms and conditions | Other roaming costs on Three

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st

Not as good as:
N/A

Cost-free data: ‘Go Binge’ gives you unlimited streaming and now Snapchat too

Go Binge unlimited streaming

Watch Netflix and more as much as you likeSee all benefits

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

We’re always looking for networks with free streaming data or social media and Three's scheme is the best:

It’s called ‘Go Binge’ and it’s all about letting you stream as much video and audio/music as you like, without it eating into your monthly data allowance - ideal as streaming is usually heavy on data.

Go Binge comes on any of Three’s new pay monthly plans (SIM or phone) with 12GB data or above. It gives you unlimited data for streaming Netflix, TV Player, Deezer and Soundcloud.

And now you can use the Snapchat messaging app all you like too, without it eating into your data.

You don’t get the subscriptions themselves free but you do get the data to use them. There are some other conditions which you can read here but generally this is as generous as it sounds.

No other network offers anything close to this. So Three get top marks for Go Binge.

Useful links: Read more about it at Three.co.uk | Read our guide to Go Binge streaming

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st

Way better than:
Everyone else

Rewards or incentives: Three’s Wuntu app is worth a look

Wuntu rewards app

Daily deals and offers with Three's Wuntu appSee what you get

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

Some networks offer their customers exclusive perks and discounts on things other than their actual mobile deal. The best known example of this is O2’s popular Priority Scheme.

Three now offer something similar called Wuntu. It’s essentially an app that all pay monthly and pay as you go customers can access, giving them exclusive online and high street deals and offers.

The reviews of Wuntu so far are mixed and the scheme is relatively new. Some complain that the deals aren’t particularly unique and compare poorly against the quality of O2’s Priority scheme.

We say it’s a decent attempt that offers customers something extra for being part of Three. Even if it doesn’t challenge O2’s dominance, it’s still better than getting nothing with other networks.

Useful link: See the types of offers available with Wuntu in Three's guide

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
6th

Not as good as:
O2, Tesco, giffgaff, Plusnet, BT Mobile

Better than:
All others

Multi-buy discounts: Three have decent offers on extra plans

Existing customer deals

Discounts on additional plans for Three customersSee the offers

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

In this category, we look for how networks reward their existing customers for taking out extra plans and contracts with them. This is mostly through family plan discounts and data-sharing schemes.

Three offer existing customer discounts on extra plans as well as bonus Three to Three minutes.

On phones, you can save around £1-£3 a month vs new customer price. But more importantly, the upfront costs are typically heavily discounted or waived altogether (see phone deals here).

On SIM only, there are a select number of plans with a £2 monthly saving vs full-price new customer deals (see them here). It’s worth checking these are better value than other special offers though.

We don’t rate these as well as BT Mobile’s Family SIM plans or giffgaff’s recruiter scheme but they are good option if other friends and family are keen to join Three.

Useful link: See all latest existing customer offers

Free extras: Travel Upgrades on easyJet flights from the UK

Three's free easyJet upgrades banner

easyJet's Hands-Free service freeGet full details

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

In this category, we're normally looking for things like free subscriptions to apps and services that add more value to mobile deal. But Three being Three, their entry is completely unprecedented:

Join on any new pay monthly phone contract or SIM only deal and you'll qualify for free upgrades to easyJet's Hands-Free service, any time you fly from a UK airport with the airline.

Worth £5 a flight, the upgrade is all about speeding up your journey through the airport, onto the plane and out the other end. It lets you check your priority-marked cabin bag for free and it comes out first once you arrive.

Added with Three's leading inclusive roaming scheme, the easyJet offer is supposed to make going abroad on the network even more enjoyable. We think it's a nice quirky little benefit that regular travellers will like.

Useful link: How to get free upgrades on easyJet

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

Not as good as:
TBC

Better than:
TBC

Data rollover: nothing on Three but have a look at SMARTY

SMARTY unused data buy back

SMARTY pay you back for unused dataSee how it works

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

Quite a few networks have started to offer data rollover schemes, which let you keep any data you don't use for future months. But this isn't something that you'll get on the main Three network.

If you're after a short 1-month SIM only plan, and you like the sound of this kind of arrangement, you could take a look at Three's sub-network, SMARTY, who offer something really clever (read our full SMARTY review here).

Instead of letting you pile up data you're not using, SMARTY will actually pay you back the money it cost to buy that data in the first place. They do this by discounting your next month's bill (read more here).

For us, this is a much fairer scheme even than other networks like iD Mobile, who use the Three network too. If you're comfortable knowing data you use, it's less of an issue to fret about, because you can just pick the right plan in the first place on Three.

Useful link: Read our guide to Data Rollover plans

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Equal to:
All others

Three's deals and offers

What type of deal are you interested in?

Choose an option to skip to the right section:

Three's latest special offers

A quick look at what Three are promoting this month

Discounted SIMs and a huge iPhone XS offer

If you're after the brand new iPhone XS, it's definitely worth looking at Three's £59 a month unlimited data deal (with £99 up front), which trounces most their pricing on plans with less data.

Three have also heavily discounted many of their SIM only deals this month.

Here are the best-selling reduced plans:

30GB data for £18 £17 a month (save £12 a year)

100GB data for £31 £20 a month (save £132 a year)

Unlimited data for £34 £27 a month (save £84 a year)

Useful links: See all discounted SIMs

SIM only plans on Three

We compare Three's SIMs with the competition

SIM only deals from Three – key facts

Number of plans available:
Price range: £ - £ a month
Contract lengths:
SIM card sizes: Standard, Micro, Nano

Minutes allowances:
Texts allowances:
Data allowances:
Data speed: 4G on all plans

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Three's phone contracts

How we rate taking a phone contract from Three

Simple fairly-priced contracts with loads of benefits

Screenshot of Three's pay monthly phone range

Compare phone deals

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

Three offer what we'd call 'conventional' phone contracts. They last 24 months, and there's none of the complicated financing arrangements some of the other mobile companies have (like O2, Sky and Virgin).

Generally speaking, we'd say Three are the cheapest of the big four mobile networks (Three, EE, O2 and Vodafone) for the minutes, texts and data you get with your phone, although this varies per model and tariff.

On pay monthly, Three really do offer the most value in your overall deal too. You're getting a phone and a plan at a decent price, and you're getting all Three's added benefits we desrcibe in the perks and extras section.

If you've got a particular phone in mind, use our phone contract price comparison tool here to choose the contract length, minutes, texts and data you want, and we'll show you whether Three stack up as the best priced deal available.

Useful link: See Three's latest phone range

Three Pay As You Go

We look at pricing and benefits if you don't want to pay monthly

Three's basic PAYG rates are among the cheapest

Three cheapest PAYG rates

Get a free SIM

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

If you're someone who barely uses their phone and maybe sends the odd text or makes a call every now and then, it makes sense to go for a deal where you top up with credit, and your usage is charged out of that.

Three are among the cheapest networks to take this kind of deal from. Their PAYG rates are just 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per MB data that you use. And the SIM card is free to order.

Out of the other major networks, only O2 can match that with their Classic Pay As You Go tariff with the same rates. You can get lower rates of 1p per minute, text or MB data at 1pMobile who use EE's network though.

On Three, your credit will never expire, as long as you keep your SIM card active by making or taking a call every 6 months. So if you're an ultra-infrequent user, Three's 321 plan could be a good choice.

Useful link: See all PAYG rates and costs on Three

Buy monthly add-ons for extra benefits and no credit check

Three monthly PAYG add-ons

See add-on prices

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

If you're a slightly more frequent pay as you go user (spending £10 or more a month on credit), Three have some other options that can get you better value for money.

They're called Add-ons, and they're essentially a fixed cost bundle of minutes, texts and data that you can use over the course of 30 days. It's a lot like pay monthly but you won't need to pass a credit check to join.

Buying a monthly Add-on also lets you use those minutes, texts and data abroad in these 71 countries around the world with Three's famous Go Roam benefit.

Compared to straight-up pay monthly 1-month SIM only contracts, these do work out a tad more expensive.

But vs paying individually per min, text and MB, they pay for themselves once you're using around 200 minutes, 100 texts and 200MB data per month, or spending £10 a month on other combinations.

Useful link: How Add-ons work | Latest prices

Mobile broadband on Three

Are Three any good for data SIMs, dongles and mobile WiFi?

Reasonable prices and a good range of sensibly-priced options

Three mobile broadband options

See all options

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

99% 4G coverage and decent average download speeds between 20.39 - 22.55 Mbps make Three a viable network to join, if you're interested in just data-only mobile broadband SIMs and devices.

On data only SIMs, there's an impressive range of contract lengths (1, 12 and 24 months) with data allowances between 2GB and 40GB per month, which stack up very competitively vs other data-only SIMs.

Even though the overall price can work out less, don't be tempted to take out a Three phone SIM to put in a tablet or broadband device. Three can detect this and will block your service, wasting your money.

If you need a mobile broadband device, Three have one by Huawei that they waive the upfront fee on if you commit to a longer 24-month contract. It's a very standard device supporting 4G speeds and lets you connect 6 devices at once.

Useful link: See all mobile broadband options on Three

Three's pre-loaded data SIMs are an option for infrequent users

Three pre-loaded SIM

Choose a plan

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

For many, getting a data SIM for their tablet or iPad is more just for the odd occasion when you're somewhere with no WiFi but want to get online. And so committing to a monthly chunk of data isn't worth it.

There's a couple of solutions: either you just tether off your phone's SIM (but this uses up that data and battery) or take a look at Three's pre-loaded mobile broadband SIMs.

Instead of giving you a monthly data allowance you're forced to use up or lose, you get a big chunk of data that you can chip away at whenever you like and at the speed you like within a period up to 24 months.

Per GB, they don't work out as cheap as taking a monthly deal but you're paying extra for the flexibility to use it at your own pace.

Useful link: Three's pre-loaded data-only SIMs

Three customer service reviews

Customer service: Three receive among the fewest complaints

Three complaints data

Three among least-complained about networksRead more

at ofcom.org.uk
(opens in a new window)

Every 6 months the government telecoms regulator Ofcom publishes the number of complaints it receives about each major mobile provider in the UK.

As customers will only contact Ofcom when a network fails to resolve their problem, this number is a good measure of how effective each provider’s customer service and satisfaction really is.

We find that certain user review websites attract only people who've received a poor experience (who bothers logging in to say everything is fine?), so don't give a good read on overall customer service.

Per 100,000 customers, Ofcom receive just 3 complaints about Three. This is the joint-lowest out of the main providers (Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE) and is second lowest out of all recorded (after Tesco).

For this reason, we’re confident that Three customers are generally more satisfied than average or have their problems resolved by Three to a better standard than average.

Useful link: How to get help on Three

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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