Three review - fast, but basic

By Adrian Vincent - 19 Jan 2024, 21:39 Three review - fast, but basic
3 / 5
  • Fastest 5G network by a mile
  • Good coverage, despite the stereotype
  • Flexible phone plans
  • Three+ Rewards
  • Very basic plans, with little extras or benefits
  • SIM only deals are extremely uncompetitive
  • Price rises may sneak up on you
  • No free EU roaming with most plans
  • Average customer support

Three was once regarded as the network with the worst coverage from any other UK provider.

However, in 2024, this simply isn’t the case anymore. In many independent reports, Three often come out on top for the best coverage, particularly with 5G.

Furthermore, Three’s 5G speeds are blazingly fast, outpacing the competition by miles. Vodafone, the second best, delivered nearly half the speed.

Their phone plans are simple and straightforward, with reasonable prices compared to the 3 other major networks. However, don’t expect many extras and thrills - what you get is pretty basic.

But here’s where things start to turn slightly south. Three’s SIM only offerings are ridiculously expensive. So much so, we struggle to see why anyone would choose them, compared to cheaper alternatives like SMARTY and Lebara (of which the former is a subsidiary brand of Three).

In addition, you’re no longer going to get free EU roaming with most plans - you’ll have to pay £2 per day for the privilege, unless to pay up for a more expensive Value or Complete plan, as they’re called.

Customer support isn’t great either. While it’s not the worst we’ve seen, it leaves plenty to be desired. However, if customer service isn’t on your priority list, then it will suffice.

In conclusion, while Three does have the fastest 5G speeds with good coverage, they let themselves down in other areas. They simply aren’t competitive compared to other networks, particularly when it comes to benefits and extras. They’re quite basic, to put it bluntly. But maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for some?

Flexible phone plans, but basic benefits and extras

Three Your Way, also known as Three Custom Plans, are Three’s new phone contracts, which split the device and airtime plan into 2 separate agreements.

This means you’ll see 2 separate bills every month on your bank statement - one for the device, and one for the airtime plan. Each has its own direct debit.

With Three Your Way, you can customise your plan. You can set the upfront cost, starting from £30 for mid to high range phones, and from £0 for lower end phones.

You can also choose the device agreement length, from 12, 24 or 36 months. However, it’s not quite as flexible as O2 Refresh and Vodafone EVO plans, which let you choose a device agreement from as low as 3 months.

If you choose a 12 month contract for the device, you have the option to choose a 12 month or 24 month airtime plan. However, if you choose a longer device plan, you only have the option for a 24 month airtime plan.

There are 3 different plans to choose from: Lite, Value and Complete.

Plan Minutes and Texts Roaming passes Paramount+ Extended Warranty Screen Repair
Lite plan Unlimited No No No No
Value plan Unlimited 28 days Yes, for half your airtime plan Yes No
Complete plan Unlimited 56 days Yes, for 24 months Yes Yes

Unlimited minutes and texts are included with all plans.

Since Brexit, free EU roaming is no longer included with Three by default. However, if choosing a Value or Complete plan, you’ll get a set amount of 1 day roaming passes, which enables you to use your allowance within 71 worldwide destinations, including within the EU. You’ll get 28 day passes with Value plans, and 56 day passes with Complete plans - they will last for the duration of your airtime plan. If you use all your passes, or you’re on a Lite plan, you’ll need to pay for EU roaming, which costs £2 per day. We’ll discuss roaming in detail further down.

If you pick a Value or Complete plan, you’ll also get a free Paramount+ subscription included, for half your airtime plan with Value plans, and for 24 months with Complete plans.

As the name suggests, Extended Warranty will extend the manufacturer's warranty until you upgrade your plan or leave Three, for a maximum of 3 years.

Screen Repair is included with Complete plans. You can use it only once for the duration of your plan. Three will repair accidental damage to your screen, but you’ll need to pay a £25 fee when claiming. If you have an iPhone and there is also damage to the rear, you won’t be eligible for a screen repair.

Like most major networks, Three also have a trade-in scheme with Three Recycle. However, anyone is eligible to use the scheme, even if you don’t plan on becoming a customer. Three will pay you directly into your bank account for your old device. To get an instant quote, you simply need to answer a few questions, such as the model of your phone and its condition. If you’re happy with the quote, Three will send you a prepaid envelope to send your device in, and will process your payment within 1 working day.

Of the 4 major networks, Three is by far the cheapest when it comes to phone contracts. Airtime plans start from just £10 per month with 5GB data, which is very generous when compared to O2, Vodafone and EE. However, Three don’t look as cheap when compared to smaller networks such as iD Mobile, which give you far more data for less money. You also won’t get free EU roaming with Three, which is something you need to consider if you’re a frequent traveller.

Very uncompetitive SIM only deals

Three SIM only plans include 12 month and 24 month contracts. Interestingly, they no longer offer 1 month contracts.

Plans start from as little as £9 per month with 1GB data, all the way up to £35 per month with unlimited data.

To be frank, this is expensive. Three previously built a reputation for having the cheapest SIM only deals in the UK. However, this clearly is no longer the case. £9 per month for a measly 1GB of data almost sounds like a joke. Furthermore, you don’t even get free EU roaming at this price.

What’s interesting is that Three’s SIM only deals are actually more expensive compared to the airtime plans offered with their phone contracts.

There are a ton of networks which are not only cheaper than Three for SIM only deals, but also give you a lot more data and benefits. Many of these networks are powered by Three, including SMARTY, which is actually a subsidiary of Three itself. For example, SMARTY offer a £7 rolling plan with 15GB data and free EU roaming, beating Three on every metric. It’s therefore difficult to understand why someone would choose Three for a SIM only contract over a cheaper alternative.

Just like their phone airtime plans, Three’s SIM only deals include Lite, Value and Complete plans, with identical benefits.

Plan Minutes and Texts Roaming passes Paramount+
Lite plan Unlimited No No
Value plan Unlimited 28 days Yes, for half your airtime plan
Complete plan Unlimited 56 days Yes, for 24 months

You’ll need to get a Value or Complete plan for free EU roaming, and even then it’s limited to a set amount of days for the duration of your contract. In fact, the cheapest deal to include roaming passes is a 24 month Value plan for £14 per month, which only includes 1GB data.

In conclusion, look the other way if you’re considering Three for a SIM only deal. Smaller networks, including Three’s subsidiary brand, SMARTY, offer far better value.

Look out for price rises, as they may sneak up on you

For phone contracts (airtime plan only) and SIM only contracts, Three will increase the monthly amount of your contract annually every 1st April, using the December CPI rate of the previous year, plus a 3.9% premium.

This current increase for this year will be 7.9%, using December 2023’s CPI rate of 4%, plus the 3.9% premium.

So if you take out a contract with Three today, your monthly bill will increase by 7.9% from 1st April 2024, with consecutive increases every 1st April.

This is inline with the other 3 major networks, who have similar price increases. EE recently announced that they will move away from inflation based increases, and instead increase prices using fixed pounds and pence at the time of signing your contract. We expect other networks, including Three, to announce similar plans later this year, following Ofcom’s proposal to ban inflation based price rises altogether.

Good network coverage, despite its outdated reputation

There was once a time where Three was considered the worst network for UK coverage.

However, in 2024, this simply is no longer the case.

In OpenSignal’s latest report for ​​Mobile Network Experience, Three came out on top with 99.1% for coverage availability. EE came in second place at 98.5%, with Vodafone at 97.5% and O2 at 97.3%, for third and last place, respectively.

These figures show how Three have been silently building and investing in their network over several years, debunking the myth that they are the worst network for coverage.

In addition, Three claims their 4G network can reach 99% of the UK population, in regards to outdoor coverage.

As the name suggests, Three started out as a network with focus on 3G. However, in 2022, Three announced its plans to completely shut off its 3G network by the end of 2024, following similar announcements from EE, Vodafone and O2. Three says this will enable them to upgrade existing infrastructure to improve 4G and 5G coverage and performance.

Rapidly expanding 5G coverage

Three includes 5G with all plans at no extra cost, including with pay as you go. As of writing, Three claims to have 5G coverage in over 500 cities and towns, with over 3,200 sites, reaching 56% of the UK population.

Furthermore, Three has been one of the biggest buyers of 5G spectrum auctioned by Ofcom, growing their 5G network by 26.4% in the early half of 2023.

In a recent OpenSignal report, Three came in second place for 5G availability, at 10.3%. They were just beaten by EE in first place with 10.6% availability. O2 came in third place with 10.1%, followed by Vodafone with 10%.

The fastest 5G download speeds by a mile

In recent years, Three has positioned itself as the fastest 5G network, beating rivals by almost double speeds in many metrics.

Independent researchers Ookla have named Three the fastest 5G network for 3 years in a row. Towards the end of 2023, Three achieved median download speeds of 226.27 Mbps and median upload speeds of 13.14 Mbps. Vodafone came in second place with 39.35% slower speeds, at 121.81 Mbps. EE came in third place with 84.64 Mbps, followed by O2 in last place with 65.81 Mbps. This means Three is more than 3 times faster than O2 for 5G speeds - quite an impressive number.

In fact, Three are so confident with their 5G download speeds, they even offer 5G routers and packages as a primary home broadband connection.

However, when also considering 4G connectivity, Three came in second place for median download speeds, according to a recent RootMetrics report.

EE reported 65.1 Mbps median download speeds, followed by Three with 34.7 Mbps. Vodafone came in third place with 29.4 Mbps, followed by O2 in last place with 15.5 Mbps.

In conclusion, Three is by far the fastest 5G network in the UK. They also have the best UK 5G coverage, according to several independent reports. However, when looking at download speeds as a whole, including 4G connectivity, they are beaten by EE in 1st place. Regardless, Three are still a fast network in their own right, with impressive speeds across the UK, particularly if you live in a major town or city and have a 5G compatible phone.

Free EU roaming is no longer included with most plans

Since mid-2022, free EU roaming with Three pay monthly plans is no longer included. Instead, you will have to pay £2 per day for the privilege.

Pay as you go plans still include free EU roaming however, including select international destinations.

However, with pay monthly Value and Complete plans, you get a set amount of roaming passes, which allows you to use your allowance for 1 day, within the EU and select international countries, for a total of 71 destinations.

Value plans include 28 1 day roaming passes, and Complete plans include 56 1 day roaming passes. They last for the entire duration of your airtime plan. If you use them all up, you must pay the £2 rate to continue EU roaming, or £5 to continue roaming in 71 destinations.

For more information, see our article on roaming with Three.

Three+ Rewards is an enticing reward scheme, but not the best

Similar to O2 Priority and Vodafone VeryMe, Three+ Rewards is a rewards scheme available for Three pay monthly and pay as you go customers.

Current offers include:

  • NERO coffee for £1 per week
  • 10% off at Krispy Kreme
  • 10% off at Nike
  • £3 cinema tickets at Cineworld

You can also get access to presale tickets for various gigs, festivals and shows.

Furthermore, Three add new rewards every week.

While there are several commendable rewards schemes, O2 Priority emerges as the leading option among UK networks. This is not to diminish the value of Three+ Rewards, which is an excellent program in its own right. In fact, its attractive perks, such as the weekly £1 coffee deal from NERO, might alone be a compelling reason for many to choose Three as their network provider.

Standard pay as you go is still available, as well as Data Packs

Three are one of the few networks to still offer pay as you go SIMs in the traditional sense. You can get a free SIM, top up with credit, and pay as you use minutes, texts and data.

However, they also offer Data Packs, which gives you a set amount for 1 month, with no commitment required. If you set up auto renew, Three will give you bonus data for each consecutive month you renew. All Data Packs also include unlimited minutes and texts.

Data Packs can be purchased via My3 or the Three app.

We recommended Data Packs if you plan on using Three with pay as you go, as they can often work out cheaper compared to paying the standard rate.

Unlike with their pay monthly plans, Three includes free EU roaming for all pay as you go SIMs, up to 12GB per month. You can even roam in several international countries, for a total of 71 destinations (Go Roam).

Furthermore, 5G is included at no additional cost. You’ll also be eligible for the same Three+ Rewards scheme as pay monthly customers, as long as your SIM is being actively used.

Lack of family plans is bizarre

Unusually, Three is the only major network to not offer some sort of family plan or multi plan discount scheme.

In fact, there is no mention on their website of any discount or benefits when signing up for additional contracts under your account.

However, according to a few reports we’ve seen scattered throughout the community forums, you may be able to haggle and get some sort of discount when taking out an additional contract by calling Three directly. Of course, this isn’t guaranteed, but it’s the closest thing available to a family plan scheme.

SMARTY, a subsidiary of Three, actually have their own family plan scheme with Group plans. For each additional SIM you add, you can get a 10% discount, for up to 8 SIMs. So it’s a bit confusing as to why Three do not offer a similar plan directly with their own contracts.

Average customer service with majority of call centres in India

According to Three, 90% of calls and web chats for customer support are directed to call centres in India. The remaining 10% of queries will be sent to call centres in Scotland.

Three’s call centres are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, and weekend from 9am to 6pm.

A live chat service is also available online, open from 8am to 10pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 8pm on weekends.

There’s also a community forum, for additional help and discussions from other Three customers.

In Ofcom’s latest complaints data, Three received 4 complaints per 100,000 customers, which is bang in the middle for the industry average.

With over 25,000 reviews, Three has a 1.3 rating on Trustpilot, with 1 and a half stars. This is officially rated as “bad”. In fact, this is the lowest rating we’ve seen for the 4 major networks - not a good look at all.

While Three’s customer service isn’t great, we wouldn’t necessarily rank it poorly either. However, a tiny amount of UK call centres may be considered a bad sign for some. So if customer support is a priority, perhaps you’re better off looking elsewhere.