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Three review 2020: how we found their network as a real customer

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

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

We took out a SIM card from Three to check what their 4G coverage, speeds and benefits are like in real life. Here are the results. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: November 12th 2020.

Overall rating

SIM Sherpa rates Three as a very good mobile provider
 (3.5/5, very good)

"Three have always been smallest network of the UK's big four mobile providers but they used to make up for it by offering loads of extra value benefits on top of their already very reasonable prices. But this has changed.

The prices are still great. But they've got rid of key benefits like unlimited streaming, their rewards app and fun stuff like free easyJet upgrades, leaving them looking more like a no-frills provider than ever before.

The saving graces are their still unbeatable inclusive worldwide roaming, their decent data speeds, quality WiFi calling, 5G data and decent enough coverage for city dwellers. But Three no longer excite like they once did."

The 3 best bits

1) 5G at no extra cost
2) Generous free roaming scheme
3) WiFi calling / 4G calling on all plans

The 3 worst bits

1) Rural 4G needs improvement
2) No wow-factor extra benefits
3) Decline in customer service score

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.

In our Three review

Reviewing Three's mobile network

Coverage: Three's 4G signal is still a bit of a weakness

Three 4G and 3G signal coverage

Make sure you're covered up frontCheck Three's signal

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

Three own and operate their own mobile network, separate from Vodafone, O2 and EE. They don't rely on anyone else for signal (like virtual operators who piggyback on other networks do).

For basic calls and texts, Three are as good as any other network in the places people live, although they're more guilty of total blackspots in rural locations than any other network. And indoor call signal isn't perfect.

We took our Three SIM card out to lots of different types of places to get a feel for what their signal is like.

We found in big cities and towns, we were rarely without a 4G data connection. Although there were still pockets where you'd get bumped onto a 3G one.

The more you leave built-up areas though on Three, that's where the holes start to appear. Our phone was on 3G more often than other networks and because Three haven't got 2G, we still found some total blackspots on roads between places.

Their coverage map is honest about this. We found they haven't exaggerated signal strength in the areas where it's not good.

If you mainly stay in big cities, Three go toe-to-toe with every other network for 4G data signal. But in smaller towns and villages, you do find yourself on 3G more than with other providers (their 3G is very fast though).

So more than any other UK mobile network, it's really important to check your local Three coverage up front, to avoid disappointment - because it does vary. Check as many places as possible, not just at home.

Useful link: Check Three's coverage now

5G coverage on Three is being rolled out city by city still

5G logo and Three branded map of the UK

More locations added constantlySee latest locations

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

Three's 5G network is fully live and all their SIM only plans are sold with 5G data as standard and if you pick a 5G-ready phone contract, you'll get the faster technology included for no extra cost too.

At the moment, Three's 5G is only available in 68 of the UK's largest towns and cities (see latest list here). And even within those, it's still on a street-by-street basis. They've concentrated on the busiest places only.

So unless you live right in the middle of a city centre, it's pretty unlikely you'll be using Three's 5G on a daily basis. Only if you happen to be passing through one of the covered areas.

So far, it only seems to be EE who are actually going for mass coverage for 5G data, where they get a whole town or city covered at once (O2 get some of the way to this). Vodafone and Three seem more limited.

Useful link: Our guide to the best 5G networks

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (very good)

Rank:
4th out of 4

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2

Same as:
iD Mobile and SMARTY

Data speeds on Three are decent and now there's 5G too

Three's fastest 5G network

Get 5G speeds at no extra costRead 5G latest

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

From millions of measurements taken on people's smartphones, independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla put typical 4G downloads at around 21.60 Mbps, depending on who you ask.

That's like a mid-range range home broadband connection and puts Three mid-table above O2, tied with Vodafone but behind EE. It is an average though. In real-life we got 10 Mbps to 45 Mbps on Three.

We conducted our own speed tests in spread of different locations to spot check against what the independent network testers say. We see where their average comes from.

In built-up places like city centres and even in some rural 4G locations, we measured up to 44 Mbps on our test phone. But in more-suburban locations, it was more like 10 -11 Mbps (that still supported YouTube in HD buffer-free).

A good thing about Three is that their 3G is fast too in our experience, which is handy as 4G coverage is not universal.

We got 20 Mbps over 3G (H+) at one point, which would shame some networks' 4G. But most of the time, it was more like a workable 6 Mbps.

We think general users will be satisfied with Three's data speeds over 4G, even if you want to do more-demanding stuff like stream HD video. Hard-core gamers might not be so happy on Three.

Three say they're building the UK's fastest 5G network, which is now live in 68 places at no extra cost (you'll need a 5G-ready phone). 5G has the potential to smash even top-drawer home fibre broadband for speed.

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

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
3rd

Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone

Better than:
O2

Three have excellent 4G calling and WiFi calling

Three inTouch WiFi calling

Make calls over WiFi without mobile signalSee WiFi calling

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

Three don't use older GSM and 2G signal to carry their calls, which means better audio quality as standard. And their 3G call signal is broadcast on frequencies that can find it harder to get indoors.

To combat this, Three include WiFi calling with every pay monthly or pay as you go plan. It lets your phone use WiFi to make/take calls and send/receive SMS texts, wherever mobile signal is weak but you have WiFi.

We put our Three SIM card in Android and iPhone models that weren't bought from Three and both worked fine on WiFi calling and 4G calling.

Three's WiFi calling kicked in pretty easily indoors and we successfully moved between a WiFi call and a 4G call without the call dropping (WiFi to 3G does drop though).

We also successfully sent and received conventional SMS text messages over Three's WiFi calling.

We did find their 4G calling a little "reluctant" to kick in outside. The network seems to favour a 3G connection for calls (perhaps because the coverage is better if you're moving with your phone).

We found the audio quality and speed to connect totally satisfactory. We didn't notice a difference between this and a normal call, which is how it should be.

We rate Three's scheme as the best in the UK. It should work on most phones with the feature (check yours here). It worked on our test phones not bought from Three. Supporting SMS text messages is a bonus too.

You also get 4G calling (VoLTE) on every plan. This improves indoor coverage for calls on Three, as their 4G signal is better at getting through buildings than their 3G is and calls and gives HD sound quality too.

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

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st

Not as good as:
N/A

WiFi hotspot access: only on London Underground

WiFi hotspots on London Underground with Three

Three customers get free WiFi on the tubeHow to get it

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

Some mobile networks now include free access to a network of WiFi hotspots in handy public locations to help you save your mobile data allowance and get you internet connection where mobile signal can't reach.

Every Three pay monthly or pay as you go customer gets free WiFi on the London Underground with unlimited WiFi 250 stations across the capital's transport network (a service you otherwise pay for).

Other than that there's no national free WiFi network access like you'd get on Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile or O2. Some of which are really slick and automatically detect your phone and log you on when you're in range.

This isn't really a huge weakness for Three. There's loads of free WiFi about nowadays anyway. And data allowances are getting so big, people don't have to guard their usage so much.

But if you're on a small plan, it could be something you miss.

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 means 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.

Three allow 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.

We did quite a simple test. Turned on personal hotspot on our phone with the Three test SIM card in it and try and connect a laptop.

Everything worked fine without having to fiddle with anything in our Three account settings.

Like all tethering over a mobile network, there's a bit more lag than what you'd get over a home wired broadband connection.

But for occasional use when you're stuck somewhere out-and-about without WiFi, it's perfectly passable. We do think coverage could be a problem for tethering on the road or on train journeys though.

Data used for personal hotspot (tethering) just comes out of your regular data allowance or is charged at the normal data amount on pay as you go. Within the UK, you can use your whole plan's data for tethering. It's even unlimited on unlimited data plans.

The only limit is when you take your Three SIM abroad. In the EU you can only tether if you're on an unlimited data plan. Anywhere else or on other plans you can't tether abroad at all - without buying a Data Passport for a fixed daily cost.

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

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

As good as:
Practically every network

Better than:
N/A

Reviewing perks and extras on Three

Inclusive worldwide roaming is Three's best benefit

Three Feel At Home destinations

Go Roam now covers 71 destinationsSee all countries

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

If you regularly travel long-haul, you'll know how expensive roaming can get if you're somewhere outside the EU. Most networks only include EU roaming as standard but Three have been going further for years.

Every pay monthly phone or SIM only plan (plus their pay as you go Add-ons) gets you Three's Go Roam benefit, which gives you inclusive roaming in these 71 destinations (23 outside the EU) like the USA.

It means you can use data, plus make and send calls and texts back to the UK while you're in those countries, without it adding anything extra to your mobile bill.

It's not faultless. You'll only get 3G speeds while abroad. And there are some limits on the amount of data, minutes and texts you can use. But no other network has any roaming scheme as generous as Three's.

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

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st

Similar to:
Vodafone

Better than:
EE, O2 & others

Three have stripped out a lot of benefits recently

Go Binge unlimited streamingExpired stamp

New plans no longer include itRead Three's statement

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

One of the best things historically about joining Three has always been all the added-value stuff they've thrown in with your deal. On top of good pricing, this made Three a really appealing prospect.

The problem is, they've now gone about stripping all these benefits out. Their excellent Go Binge streaming benefit no longer comes on new plans (see alternatives to it here). So no more unlimited streaming data.

They canned their decent-enough Wuntu app, which was a rewards scheme that gave you freebies and discounts on high street and online shopping, plus food and drink. So you don't get that.

And they've also done away with the nice little perk of free easyJet upgrades with their Hands Free service. All-in-all, Three are pretty much becoming a low-frills network.

Useful links: Full Go Binge terms and FAQs | Our Go Binge review

Things you don't get on Three that other providers have

SMARTY data discount explained banner

Money back for unused data on SMARTYHow it works

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

We think it's worth knowing what you don't get when you join a particular network, so you know you're comfortable missing out on certain benefits. Here's a quick look at what other providers have over Three.

There's no kind of entertainment subscriptions included when you join Three like the other main networks EE, O2 or Vodafone have. And there's nothing clever do with sharing data with other people.

And compared to cheaper virtual operators that piggyback on the main networks, there's nothing innovative like data rollover on Three, where you keep unused data for later. There's no free streaming data any more either.

For more on how Three compare with other networks, take a look at our head-to-head guides here, which pit them against other providers to help you decide which is best.

Useful link: Three vs EE | Three vs O2 | Three vs Vodafone

Family plans on Three aren't really a proper thing

Existing customer deals

Discounts on additional plans for Three customersSee the offers

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

If you're looking to get your entire family or a group of friends signed up with the same network, Three are an option but they're not the most convenient one (read our family plan guide here).

There are discounts available to thank you for your loyalty and having multiple deals with Three. It's savings off upfront costs for phones and maybe £1 or £2 off extra SIM only plans. See existing customer offers here.

But there's none of the convenience you'd want. Each deal is on a separate account. You can't just log in and manage them all at once. You're billed separately for each. And there's no clever data sharing or similar.

Ironically, Three's sub-brand SMARTY do offer really good Group Plans, which discount already-cheap prices and offer the convenience of managing all the SIMs from one singular account if you want.

Useful link: Our guide to the best family plans

Our rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
5th

Better than:
Tesco, Sky

Three's deals and offers

What type of deal are you interested in?

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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

How we rate taking a phone contract from Three

Three's phone contracts are simple and fairly priced

Screenshot of Three's pay monthly phone range

Compare phone deals

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

There's nothing particularly innvovative about Three's phone contracts. They're on regular 24-month deals, with no financing or early upgrade systems like you get on some networks.

You get all the same pay monthly benefits you'd get in the benefits section of our review. Have a look at our hidden Three offers page here as they often provide us with 100GB plans at way better prices than even smaller ones.

You've got a choice with Three, whether to sign up directly for a phone contract with them at Three.co.uk or to join one of their licensed resellers like Fonehouse or Samsung, where you'll often get a better deal.

These types of retailers provide you the phone and put you on a Three plan for your minutes, texts and data. They buy a lot more phones themselves than Three, so can get better prices on handsets, which they pass onto you.

Our phone comparison tool on the link below compares these types of providers and joining Three directly, so give it a go.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts

Three Pay As You Go

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

Three's basic Pay As You Go rates are alright

Three cheapest PAYG rates

Get a free SIM

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

Three are no longer our favourite choice for pay as you go. They used to have the excellent 321 tariff, which cost 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per MB. For the very occasional user, it was ideal.

Like a lot of networks, Three have switched to selling monthly bundles instead of literally paying as you go. But you can still do it the old-fashioned way by ordering a free SIM, topping up and then paying at these rates:

Price-wise, it's alright. Although if you want the very cheapest, have a look at 1pMobile's tariff below:

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 around 20 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 1GB and 100GB 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's standards have slightly dipped

Three complaints data

Three now have above-average complaintsRead more

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

We monitor the number of complaints that the government regular Ofcom receives about each network. If you've had to complain to the Ombudsman, it means a provider's doing a bad job of resolving issues.

The amount of complaints Ofcom receive about Three has jumped in the last year from 3 per 100,000 subscribers to 5. That puts them above average for Ofcom complaints.

According to Ofcom, "Three’s main complaints drivers were complaints handling (29%), issues relating to faults, services and provision (23%) and issues relating to billing, pricing and charges (22%)".

Once we were done testing our Three SIM card, we rang customer services to cancel.

We got through quickly and the agent didn't give us the normal hard time and runaround when you try to cancel a mobile network. They asked why we were leaving and left it at.

They even offered to settle up what we had left for the rest of the month so we could leave immediately. This was a nice touch and left the door open to joining again in future.

Three's app is definitely worth downloading too. You can do lots of account managing in there and also talk to chat agents if you've got a problem.

Overall, we didn't have any problems in our short time on Three.

One benefit of joining one of the big four networks like Three is that you can physically walk into one of their stores if you've got a problem. You can also ring them using the details here. And they have 24/7 online chat.

Useful link: How to get help on Three

More articles about Three