Three: The UK’s best value mobile network?

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The risk with Three’s name is that it’s always associated with the 3G era, when the network seemed in sync with the transformations in mobile tech. Yet, as we enter the 5G era it’s still a serious contender, combining aggressive pricing with great features that add real value to your monthly plan. Whether you’re a keen traveller or a data-hungry user wanting Netflix on the move, Three has some interesting options.

READ NEXT: We help you choose the best mobile network for you

Three review: What do you get?

Like all mainstream mobile providers, Three offers a choice of phones on a pay-monthly contract, along with a range of SIM-only plans.

If you’re after a new handset, Three is a strong option. On the one hand, it has great deals on flagship phones. Buy a Samsung Galaxy S10 on a two-year contract and you’re looking at £48 a month (plus £79 upfront) with 12GB of data, unlimited texts and minutes, saving you over £200 on the equivalent EE 10GB deal over the same two-year period. However, EE comes in slightly cheaper on the iPhone XR. Still, you can also get great deals on budget and mid-range handsets, including phones from Xiaomi, Huawei, Honor and Google.

Browse Three’s mobile plans here

Three frequently changes its SIM-only plans, and a lot of its strong low-data packages seem to have gone the way of the Dodo. You can still get 4GB for £12 a month, but Three’s best value options are now further up the price range, with 12GB for £15 a month and 30GB for £20. It’s also one of the few providers with an all-you-can eat data package; fantastic value at just £22 a month on a 12-month contract, and £20 if you sign up for two years. While existing BT Broadband or Sky TV subscribers might do better with BT Mobile and Sky Mobile respectively, Three’s SIM-only plans are consistently good.

Monthly fee (1x SIM)

Data

Texts

Minutes

12 month Advanced 4GB

£10

4GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

12 month Advanced 12GB

£13

12GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

12 month Advanced 30GB

£18

30GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

12 month Advanced All-you-can-eat

£22

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

All Three Advanced plans allow personal hotspots and free roaming in Three’s Go Roam destinations, but the 12GB and upwards plans have an even better feature, Go Binge, which gives you unlimited data on top of your normal allowance when you stream content from specific Three partners.

The biggies are Netflix, Deezer, SoundCloud and Apple Music, although you can also stream a range of other UK TV channels through the TVplayer service. That’s great if you live, commute or generally hang out in an area where Three’s 4G coverage is rock-solid, but if you spend a lot of time travelling through, say, the rural West Country, you might want to carry on downloading TV to watch on the move.

Browse Three’s mobile plans here

Three review: Coverage and connection speeds

Three dropped to third overall in RootMetrics’ most recent UK mobile network performance tests (second half 2018), coming in above O2 but falling behind Vodafone and EE in the Speed and Data categories. However, Three still scores high for reliability, call and text performance.

EE delivers higher average speeds and maximum speeds, with LTE Advanced/4G+ coverage in some major cities, so if you’re looking for the fastest possible mobile data connection, it’s the one to go for. However, if you’re outside those areas or don’t need that much bandwidth, Three is generally more than fast enough. What’s more, Three’s coverage is also good, particularly in rural areas where some other networks struggle. You’ll still find yourself limited to a 3G connection in areas of Wales, Yorkshire and the Lake District, not to mention rural Scotland, but you’ll be in reach of 4G across most of the UK.

Three’s also betting big on 5G, having purchased more of the usable 5G spectrum than any other provider and promising the UK’s fastest 5G network. Services will start rolling out later this year with London the first to benefit.

Three review: Roaming

Three goes further with its “Go Roam” roaming than most other networks, covering not just 49 European destinations but a total of 71 countries, including a good chunk of Central and South America, the USA, Australia, Hong-Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia. While you’re in these destinations, you can use your monthly call and text allowances plus up to 15GB of your data for free (12GB outside of Europe). Go over that and you have to pay an additional 41p to 50p per MB, so it’s wise to stay below that level. Three doesn’t stitch you up too badly if you go over by a smaller allowance, charging just 1p per MB with a £42.50 cap. That gives you some peace of mind while you’re on your hols.

In non-Go Roam destinations, the charges can mount up, with £2 to make a call in Thailand or Kenya and between £3 and £6 per MB for data. It really pays to check that Go Roam covers where you’re travelling to before you leave, as outside the supported countries it could be cheaper to buy a local SIM.

Three review: Other services and spending caps

Three has its own Voice over LTE calling feature, although in typical Three style it’s called 4G Super-Voice. This uses the 4G data connection instead of a regular voice connection to give you better, more reliable calls in poor signal areas, while Three also has Wi-Fi calling on specific handsets so you can make or take calls even when you can’t get a mobile signal.

Three has now reinstated spending caps, so that you can choose a maximum amount you’re willing to pay each month – between £10 and £100 over your contract payment – and you won’t be allowed to make additional calls or use additional data above that.

Three review: Customer satisfaction

Three has dropped slightly in Ofcom’s customer satisfaction charts, with a slightly lower score than EE, Vodafone and Giffgaff. However, it does better than Vodafone, EE and O2 when it comes to customers’ satisfaction with value for money, and is way behind Vodafone on the volume of customer complaints, with just 14 per 100,000 customers against Vodafone’s 32.

Browse Three’s mobile plans here

Three review: Verdict

Three has a lot going for it, including cheap deals, high-data plans and the ability to stream Netflix without burning through your whole allowance in one disastrous binge. It’s arguably the best-value network if you want a lot of data on an affordable monthly plan. While there’s a sense that Three is playing catch-up on 4G speeds, the 5G future’s looking bright and it’s hard to quibble on a value front right now.

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