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Three review 2023: a massively improved score for the network

Three logo, phone and SIM cardVisit Three.co.uk

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Here's what we think about Three's mobile coverage, data speeds and customer experience after joining them for real. Last updated: 17th October 2023.

Overall rating

SIM Sherpa rates Three as an excellent network
 (4/5, excellent)

“Three’s massive investment in expanding their network has paid off. We’ve noticed a vast improvement in 4G coverage since our last test, with signal in places you used to drop down to 3G in.

Their 5G is being recognised as the fastest in the UK by independent speed testers too. 4G speeds are second only to EE. And Three have our joint-favourite WiFi calling technology in place too.

We’re a bit disappointed to see Three bin their added value benefits over the years. There’s no inclusive EU/worldwide roaming, as standard any more. Perks like free streaming data are gone as well.

But that has been reflected in the prices on Three. They’re practically always the cheapest of the main four UK networks on SIM only. If you’ve ruled out Three before, we think it’s time to reconsider.”

The 3 best bits

1) UK's cheapest main network
2) Fastest 5G in the country
3) Excellent WiFi calling

The 3 worst bits

1) No more inclusive EU or worldwide roaming
2) 4G lacking in some rural areas
3) True blackspots for calls in the country

How fast is 4G on Three?

It’s in the mid-range of speeds for mobile networks. Independent testers put it at 25 Mbps - enough to stream 4K videos even.

Does the Three network have 5G?

Yes it does. And it’s even measured up as the fastest by independent network testers. You’ll get it on all pay monthly and pay as you go plans.

Can I keep my number on Three?

Yes. Just get a PAC from your old provider by texting them on 65075 from your current SIM, then give this to Three when you sign up or at any point in your contract.

Which network does Three use?

Three is its own mobile network. It doesn’t piggyback on other network.

Does Three have WiFi calling?

Yes. In fact it’s our joint-favourite scheme. It supports loads of phones and even works with SMS text messages.

Information symbol We're a professional reviews website but we bought our Three SIM card as a regular consumer, to test what it's actually like for real life paying customers. The contents of this review are a combination of our expert industry knowledge and what we experienced during our test.

Is Three’s network any good?

Coverage has drastically improved on Three

Three 4G and 3G signal coverage

Check signal in your local areaCheck Three's signal

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

Three own and operate their own mobile network. They don’t rely on anyone else for signal. It’s the newest network, so historically they had lagged behind other providers for calls and data coverage.

But we’re pleased to say they’ve been massively investing in improving their 4G coverage (see 5G further below). And in our most recent tests, it’s definitely paid off in improved signal where it previously lacked:

We popped our Three SIM into a test phone and went to the countryside, to the suburbs and to the city centre to check how good signal is in different areas and how well coverage lines up with their map.

In urban areas we got consistent 4G signal (see 5G below). Three are also investing a lot into expanding rural 4G. The effects of this are clear as we got 4G more often in the sticks than in our previous test.

Three are also in the process of switching over their 3G masts to 4G, which will be completed by 2024. This is also improving their 4G coverage in rural areas and offering much faster data speeds to more users.

But this change could negatively impact indoor call signal during the switchover, and could leave users without WiFi/4G calling compatible devices in the dark. Read our guide to the 2G/3G switch off here to learn more.

For 4G data, Three are now as good as any network in large towns and cities. Even in smaller towns, they mostly match other providers. It’s only in rural villages, on roads and rails where they lack now really.

So even if you’ve previously written off Three, it’s a good time to use their coverage map to check everywhere you’ll expect to use your phone, not just at home. And you can see all the providers on Three’s network here.

Useful link: Three’s Big Network Build project

Our overall coverage rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
4th out of 4

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2

Same as:
iD Mobile and SMARTY

4G data speeds are decent and consistent

Three's data speed estimates

Three publish expected speeds per technologySee the page

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

We’ve found 4G data certainly isn’t as explosive on Three as some networks but on the whole it is more reliable than most. Where others dip from very high to very low, Three are more consistent in the mid-range.

We’re unable to test speeds in every inch of the UK’s landmass, but we were able to do some speed tests in different locations around us. We tested in the city centre, in the suburbs and in more rural areas.

In rural areas we got speeds as low as 7 Mbps (which is still decent compared to other networks). But even in a small village we got a steady 40 Mbps, so there’s a big variation in rural 4G speeds on Three.

When we tested speeds in the suburbs we went down to 9 Mbps, while we got 4G speeds as high as 70 Mbps in the city centre. We didn’t get speeds much faster or slower than that while in the centre.

Overall, we can see how these speeds average out to get the independent network testers results.

Looking at independent network testers Opensignal’s latest report, you’ll find typical 4G data speeds of 35.4 Mbps. That’s like a decent home connection and would comfortably support HD video streaming.

It’s also an improving score. Just because we’ve got 5G nowadays, it doesn’t mean Three are done with 4G. They’re rolling out more high-speed 4G constantly too as part of their network upgrades.

Our overall experience with Three’s 4G has been positive. They don’t have the fastest 4G of all networks but it’s rare you’ll crawl down to unusably slow data either.

Useful link: Latest cities to get Three's 5G rollout

5G on Three is arguably the best in the country

5G logo and Three branded map of the UK

5G in loads of different locationsSee latest locations

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

In our guide to the best networks for 5G, we’ve stuck our neck out and said Three are doing the best job of it in the country. That’s thanks to what we see as the best combination of speeds and coverage.

Three provide 5G data signal in a massive 484+ UK towns and cities. It’s the second largest number of 5G live locations and we’ve found coverage in those places is typically reasonably widespread.

In the latest reports from Speedtest by Ookla and Opensignal, Three’s typical 5G speeds sat between 237.7 Mbps - 286.27 Mbps with peak speeds up to a blistering 696.73 Mbps. They’re by far the fastest 5G network.

We’ve been able to get out and about to a few of Three’s 5G locations. What we’ve found is pretty typical to most networks.

Sometimes you can be on a 5G connection and find absolutely no speed benefit whatsoever compared to the 4G in the area. This probably happens less on Three than other networks but is still a thing.

But more frequently, we’d hit some nice patches in big cities where you’d get speeds in the late 100s or early 200s, even residential areas.

We even took our SIM to a football match among 30,000 people and there Three’s 5G came into its own with capacity. Where 4G would basically be unusable, over 5G we got a stable connection of 10 - 20 Mbps.

Three offer 5G access on every pay monthly SIM and phone contract and even on Pay As You Go. All you need is a 5G-ready phone, no extra payments or hurdles to jump over. It’s as easy as that.

Useful link: Our guide to the best 5G networks

Our 5G/4G data speed rating:
★★★★☆ (very good)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE

Better than:
O2

WiFi calling and 4G calling work brilliantly

Three inTouch WiFi calling

Make/take calls with WiFi/4G signalRead their guide

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

Three have one of the best WiFi calling features in our eyes. Most devices are supported, so it’s easy to get it working. And you can send texts over WiFi/4G and move from WiFi to 4G on a call without it dropping.

We tested it in real life and found that even devices Three don’t claim to support still actually worked for WiFi calling (read FAQs here). So even if your phone’s not listed it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work.

We tested Three’s WiFi calling using an Android and an iPhone device. Both were listed in Three’s supported devices and WiFi calling worked right out of the box, despite them not being bought from Three directly.

WiFi calling kicked in very easily when we tried indoors and when we moved from WiFi to 4G signal our WiFi call transferred over without dropping (but you can’t transfer from WiFi to 3G).

We then tested to see if we could send an SMS text over WiFi and it worked just as well as sending a text over regular call signal.

4G calling did seem a bit “reluctant” to work outside, as the network prefers using 3G signal to connect to calls (maybe due to the fact that call signal is stronger outdoors than indoors).

The quality of the calls themselves and the speed with which we were connected to them wasn’t much different to making calls over conventional call signal, which is absolutely a good thing.

It’s incredibly handy if you’re unable to get call signal indoors at home or work. And it comes on every Three plan at no extra cost, no matter if you’re on a pay monthly phone or SIM contract or on Pay As You Go.

You also get 4G calling (VoLTE) on every Three plan. Since Three’s 4G signal is usually better at getting into buildings than their 3G, this makes total indoor blackspots less common. And this improves call quality.

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

Our WiFi calling rating:
★★★★★ (joint best choice)

Rank:
1st

Not as good as:
N/A

Better than:
O2, Vodafone

Other network features: we like what Three have to offer

Tethering on Three

Tether other devices to data signalRead the rules

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

Three offer some handy extra features, including free WiFi hotspots on the Underground on all plans. These help you stay connected where you’d otherwise get no signal.

You can also tether non-data devices to your phone’s data signal on any Three plan. If you want to you can use up your entire data allowance for this, and there are no caps on it if you have an unlimited data plan.

Call forwarding is also offered on every plan, letting you divert incoming calls to a different number if you want to leave a specific number free from calls.

Three still don’t support visual voicemail, which shows you your voicemails individually and sort through them as you like. The other main networks and a few smaller networks offer it, so it’s odd that Three don’t.

Finally, you can get an eSIM on Three. It’s a lot easier to do this than it used to be, as you can now take an eSIM directly from Three rather than having to take a physical SIM first.

Useful link: Read all tethering conditions

Our tethering rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

As good as:
Practically every network

Better than:
N/A

Reviewing perks and extras on Three

We’re not that keen on Three’s premium options

Complete plan benefits list

Premium plans with premium benefitsRead Three's guide

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

Most people should just join Three on their ‘Lite’ plans. Don’t let the name knock your confidence, these are just their regular deals. They’ve not been made worse through speed caps or removing network features.

Lite plans offer no inclusive roaming though. So regular travellers can invest an extra £5 or £10 a month to join on a ‘Value’ or ‘Complete’ plan, which include a fixed number of daily worldwide roaming passes.

These also include a few extra benefits to sweeten the deal, such as a subscription to Paramount+ and a free screen repair on phone contracts (not SIM only). But we’re not really that enthused generally.

Value plans:

Complete plans:

If you’re motivated by Paramount+ go for it. But otherwise, we think it’s a bundle of entertainment and roaming no-one was really after. People just want roaming included anyway, like you get on SMARTY.

Useful link: Our guide to Three’s different tiers of plans

Three’s rewards app is good for a bit of added value

Banner that reads 'The Three rewards app'

Get money off dining, drinks and moreHow to get it

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

You get access to Three’s rewards app on all of their plans. It’s called Three+ and gives you exclusive discounts on high street restaurants, shopping and experiences. You get new offers every now and again.

That means there’s always something to look forward to. There are even some more unique offers such as pre-sale tickets to big UK festivals. You can see all the services you can get special offers on here.

There are now more services covered on this app than ever before, so most users will be able to get some extra value out of it. And if you’re a concert goer the pre-sale tickets can be a genuine game changer.

Three+ just isn’t quite as good as O2's Priority or Vodafone’s VeryMe yet, but it’s still a great added benefit of being a Three customer. We just don’t think it’s a big selling point for most people.

Useful link: Our guide to Three’s rewards app

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
3rd

Not as good as:
Vodafone, O2

Better than:
Everyone else

Inclusive roaming is quite good but costs extra

Feel at home update

Some plans include daily roaming passesSee what changed

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

Like most other main networks, Three don’t offer inclusive EU or worldwide roaming as standard. There are a few ways to use your allowance abroad, but you will end up paying extra either way.

On Lite plans (or Pay As You Go) you have to pay £2 a day to use your UK plan in the EU and £5 beyond the EU. You can use up to 12GB of your data there per month. Some ultra-heavy users might not like that.

Or you can take a Value or Complete plan which include a different number of daily roaming passes. This limits the amount of days a year you can roam, but at least there’s some inclusive roaming.

The best thing about these roaming passes is that they let you roam in a massive 71 worldwide and EU destinations. That makes Three a decent choice for going beyond the EU, but otherwise there are better options.

Useful links: Other roaming costs on Three

Our EU roaming rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
9th

Worse than:
All others

Family plans aren’t particularly great on Three

Existing customer deals

Discounts on added plansSee the offers

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

If you want to set up your family or friend group on the same network then you can do this on Three. But they’re not exactly the strongest option for this (read our guide to the best family plans here).

Three have unique offers for existing Three customers. These take the form of phone contracts with no upfront costs or £1 - £2 discounts on some SIM only deals. But you can get better value with their hidden deals:

Their scheme is also missing the convenience other schemes offer. You can’t add each deal on the same account, each deal is on a separate one. Each deal is billed separately and there’s no data gifting benefits.

Funnily enough, Three’s sub-brand SMARTY have our favourite family plan scheme of all networks as they give you 10% off what are already great value plans when you add them onto your account.

Useful link: Our guide to the best family plans

Our rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
4th

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2

Better than:
Tesco, Sky

There a couple of smaller benefits you might like on Three

Call Abroad bundles

Add international calls to your planWhere you can call

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

Three offer a few other benefits that can come in handy now and again. The first are their Call Abroad bundles of international minutes that you buy outside of your plan. You can get 100 or unlimited calls for a month.

With one of these packs you can make calls to these 55 countries. These are much better value than topping up with credit and paying their international rates if you call abroad quite often.

And if you run out of data before the end of the month you can take one of Three’s decent value data add-ons here (1GB for £5). But these renew themselves, so be sure to cancel if you don’t want to keep paying.

Finally, Three automatically block 18+ content from being accessed over data. So if you want to put your kids on a plan you can be sure they’re protected (but you’ll have to set up separate controls for WiFi).

Useful link: Our guide to the best networks for international calling

You might prefer the benefits that other networks offer

Three Big Build Network Expansion

5G expansion is their main focusWhat they’re doing

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

Three have put most of their focus on expanding their 4G and 5G networks. And while this has massively improved their coverage, it has come at the expense of a lot of their better benefits:

New Three customers no longer get inclusive EU roaming on all plans, unlimited streaming data or smaller things like upgrades on easyJet. Those benefits are a thing of the past on Three.

If you’re looking for free streaming data you’re best off looking at Sky Mobile and VOXI. They offer benefits that are very similar to what Three used to offer with Go Binge.

They tend to offer the best value SIM only deals of the four main UK networks (Three, O2, Vodafone and EE) even on their premium plans. And you can find even better value deals below than you would on their website:

Useful links: Compare SIM only plans

Three's deals and offers

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Three's latest special offers

A quick look at what Three are promoting this month

SIM only plans on Three

We compare Three's SIMs with the competition

SIM only deals from Three – key facts

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Three's phone contracts

What Three’s phone contracts and prices look like

Three’s phone contracts offer great flexibility

Screenshot of Three's pay monthly phone range

Compare phone deals

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Three now offer their phone contracts on split credit agreements (essentially loans) where the cost of your phone and your usage plans (mins, texts, data) are on separate bills that make up your monthly payment.

The benefits of this are that you can set the length of your phone contract to either 12 months, 24 months or 36 months and set an upfront cost to reduce the monthly cost of your device.

Since it’s basically a loan you can pay off the cost of your device and upgrade whenever you want. And, again, your bills are combined into one monthly payment so you don’t have to worry about different bill dates.

You can find the best possible deal using our hidden phone contract comparison tool on our page here. You’ll still be buying from Three directly but you’ll find better offers than what they advertise on their site.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts

See phones filtered for Three

These are all the phone contracts that Three has to offer

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Three Pay As You Go

We cover Three’s Pay As You Go rates and monthly bundles

Three aren’t a good choice for traditional Pay As You Go

Three cheapest PAYG rates

Get a free SIM

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

Three’s Pay As You Go rates are a lot higher than they used to be, to the point where we wouldn’t consider them a good option for topping up with credit and paying per min, text and data:

Pay As You Go customers on Three now have to pay twice as much as they used to for their data and almost three times as much to make calls. We’d say customers looking for traditional PAYG should look elsewhere.

If you want to join on a traditional Pay As You Go scheme, 1pMobile are your best choice in our eyes. They have the lowest PAYG rates of all networks:

There are a few other choices for Pay As You Go that you can see in our guide here. But if you want to join Three but don’t want to be stuck on a contract, we’d look at their monthly bundles (see below).

Useful link: See all PAYG rates and costs on Three

Monthly PAYG plans are great if you failed a credit check

Three monthly PAYG add-ons

See add-on prices

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

If you often find yourself eating through a lot of credit each month on PAYG (such as over £10) then you’ll probably be better off on one of Three’s monthly bundles of mins, texts and data.

Three call them add-ons, but you can take one as your main plan whether you’re a Three user or not. Your bundle lasts 30 days and after that you can leave if you wish, just make sure your plan doesn’t auto-renew.

They’re usually worse value per GB than their SIM only contracts, but you can join these without passing a credit check. And they’re much better value than paying as you go at Three’s rates.

If you’re looking for a great value deal without having to pass a credit check then SMARTY are worth a look. They offer the same network experience as being on Three but offer very flexible 1-month deals.

Useful link: How Add-ons work | Latest prices

Three customer service reviews

Customer service is pretty standard on Three

Ofcom complaints data

An average number of complaintsRead more

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

We use the complaints record from government regulators Ofcom to gauge how good a network are at resolving their customers' issues. If a customer complains to them it means their network didn’t solve their problem.

The amount of complaints Ofcom receive about all networks has gone up in their most recent report, with the industry average now at 3 complaints per 100,000 customers. Three’s number of complaints has stayed the same at 3 per 100,000.

According to Ofcom, "Three’s main complaint drivers related to billings, pricing, and charges (28%); complaints handling (25%); and faults, service, and provisioning (16%)".

Once we were done testing out our Three SIM we called up their customer service to cancel it. We wanted to see how easy it was to do so.

We got through quickly to an agent and instead of them trying to get us to stay they only asked why we wished to leave them and left it at that.

And they even offered to let us leave immediately while they’d settle up what we had left for the rest of the month. It was a generous offer that left the door open to join them again later.

Managing your account is a lot easier using Three’s app, which is handy. And you can always contact their chat agents with any problem you’ve got. It’s a nice way of getting your issues resolved.

In all, in the short time we were on Three we had a good experience with their customer service.

But Three offer lots of ways to get help. You can visit them at a Three store, call them up using these details or chat with an online agent. So there’s always another way to get help if one fails.

Useful link: How to get help on Three

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