Dan Howdle | January 12th, 2024
Three is one of the leading mobile providers in the UK – and an award winning one at that. And when it comes to its mobile broadband deals, it offers extremely good value. It's well established, having operated its own network since it first launched in the UK back in 2003, making it one of the 'big four' (the others being EE, O2 and Vodafone). And it can provide some interesting alternatives to more conventional fixed-line broadband.
While Three doesn't do fixed-line broadband, it does offer broadband via its mobile network. Three's broadband solutions can be a credible alternative for those who can't get access a quick or reliable fixed-line connection, and even now in 2024, that's unfortunately still the case for many people. For some, a Three Mobile Broadband connection can be the speedier (and often cheaper) choice. It's also a great option for those wanting a back-up network in the event of problems with their main connection.
|Average download speed
|99% (4G), Over 60% (5G)
|Monthly, 12 months or 24 months
|£20 per month
Three was the first provider to bring a 3G mobile network to the UK (hence the name), over 20 years ago. Fun fact – it can boast being a network called 'Three' which launched 3G on the 3/3/03. Very neat. Initially the services weren't that great and the coverage was quite limited, but it's now expanded to the point where it can offer upgraded 4G services to over 99% of the population. Naturally, it's opted to stick with the Three branding.
Their move to 5G started in early 2020, with services introduced in 66 towns and cities, but since then they've invested in a rapid expansion and can now offer 5G availability to over 60% of the UK population, making it the country's largest, fastest 5G provider. You can check if you're in that fortunate majority by entering your address on the Three website.
Not for nothing has Three recently been named the UK's fastest 5G network by the speed monitoring website Speedtest.net. Theoretically, 5G is capable of delivering speeds of up to 20Gbps (note, that's gigabits per second!), although no provider is offering anything like that. Lab speeds will never bear any resemblance to real-world ones. On the optimistic side, Three states an estimated maximum speed of 597Mbps, with upload speeds topping out at around 50Mbps. Those are still pretty amazing numbers, and certainly faster than the vast majority of fixed-line broadband connections in the country right now. And there have been reports of speeds higher even than that. However, in the real world, it's unlikely you'll see the same, unless you're very lucky and live close to a recently upgraded (and relatively uncontested) mast.
So what are you likely to really get? Three advertise 5G download speeds of 150Mbps delivered to at least half of their customers receiving 5G signal between peak hours (8am to 10pm). This is based on tests run back in August of 2022, so relatively recently. They further point out that this may be an underestimate. However, they go on to raise an important point to bear in mind – wireless broadband speeds are always subject to the quirks of the property they're being received in. Everything from nearby hills and trees to the thickness of your walls and even interference from other devices can impact on the speeds you actually experience on your device. And, of course, how many others in your household are using the same hub at the same time.
So, while it's not yet as fast as 5G can potentially offer, it's still early days and we've no doubt that all those numbers will continue to tick upwards. And, in our view, they're still very much adequate for most average households – with perhaps one small exception. The gamers amongst you may be slightly wary of the higher latency that mobile broadband inevitably brings. There are simply more points the signal has to route through, and that means latency will always be somewhat higher. Although 5G represents a huge leap forward from previous 4G technology in this regard.
Once the bane of fixed-line broadband users, traffic management is still employed widely to mobile broadband. In some regards this can be taken as a positive. Three employs a system they call 'TrafficSense', which (again, in theory) smooths out peaks and troughs of demand by 'seamlessly' rerouting bandwidth from low-traffic areas to where it's more needed. So it's less of an individual penalty and more a way of dynamically sharing the available resources where they're needed. It may result in slower speeds from time to tine, but taken as part of the wider mix of other factors, you shouldn't even notice it working. You can learn more about traffic management with our guide.
This is where the choice of mobile broadband for a home connection really shines. And particularly in the case of Three Mobile Broadband. It's incredibly simple. Once you've checked that there's an adequate signal where you live using Three's availability checker, you can select which package is available and best fits you needs. And as long as you order before 8pm, you'll receive your hub or router the following business day. Then you just plug in to the mains, use the wifii network name and password provided and you're done. There's no waiting for a visit from an engineer (or paying for one), no need to take time out, no drilling through walls or, indeed, any cables whatsoever. It's just plug and play. We've used it ourselves and can confirm, it really is that quick and simple.
Slightly more complex is the selection of equipment, although Three often limit your choices dependent on your address and the network availability in your area.
If you live in an area still mostly served by 4G, you're likely to be offered a choice of two units. The first is a portable Huawei Wi-Fi hub which is a small, almost palm-sized mobile hub and as suitable for use at home plugged into the mains as it is on the go. In our experience, battery life can reach about 8 hours (although we'd expect that to vary widely depending on use). It's quite nifty and certainly won't add much in the way of clutter.
Next, there's the 4G Home Broadband Hub, which, as the name suggests, is solely for home use. It's a fairly standard looking white plastic unit to which you'll be able to connect up to 64 separate devices. And there are 4 ethernet ports which will please serious gamers.
Finally, we have the 5G Three Home Broadband Hub, again designed for home use only. This is capable of handling far greater speeds (Three quote a theoretical maximum of 4.7Gbps, but clearly that's way past anything you'll see in real life), plus two ethernet ports and one USB – again, great for gamers. It also offers next-generation WiFi 6 technology that gives better speed, reliability and lower latency. It also offers excellent wireless coverage around your home but interestingly only handles 30 wireless devices at once – although that's stil enough for most households.
As is always the case, it's usually the bad news you'll hear of the most. Trustpilot reviews of Three are generally on the low side, to say the least. Often with the complaints centred around experiences of poor customer service. As always, we'd recommend you take this with a small pinch of salt as it's usually customers with an axe to grind who draw the most attention. When things go well, you don't often hear about it. That said, Three have been quite ground breaking in many ways (first to offer 3G, and the first to offer truly unlimited data at an affordable price), so it may also be that there's a perception of over promising and sometimes being seen to under deliver.
One area where Three do excel is in offering customers a no-quibble 30 day money-back return service. Again, this is something we've experience ourselves and, whilst Three will quite likely attempt to fix any issues first (which we don't think is unreasonable), once it's established that you do have an issue (most likely regarding signal strength at your specific location), you'll find a complimentary returns envelope winging its way to you. So, just in case, we would recommend you hang on to the original packaging, as they will expect that to be returned too.
Customers can get in touch with Three regarding by phone on 0333 300 0500. Alternatively, you can use the Three’s Live Chat service or drop a line on Twitter at @Threeuksupport.
Bottom line – it's very good value. And that might have been Three's unique selling point since it's inception. Their packages have always been extremely competitive. While not a direct comparison, when you consider that some SIM-only providers still don't even offer unlimited downloads, the fact that all Three Mobile Broadband's packages are unlimited, and at prices very few other providers can match, it's difficult to argue otherwise. And when considered as a viable alternative to fixed-line broadband, it's very reasonable indeed. Plus they frequently run offers which provide three or even six months half price on some of their longer contract lengths. If you've got the signal strength where you live, then Three makes a very compelling case for itself value-wise.
We've given Three broadband 3.5 stars out of 5. Three's service offers value for money with plenty of flexibility. If you live in an area with a strong Three Mobile signal (preferably a 5G one!), if you need broadband in a hurry, if you don't want the inconvenience of a possible engineer's visit, and particularly if you think you may move home frequently (or just want a back-up connection), then Three might just be what you're looking for.
Three Home Broadband can’t compete with the likes of the higher end conventional services from Virgin Media or any of the newer FTTP (Fibre to the Property) packages available from other providers. Especially when it comes to latency. But in terms of simple bang-for-your-buck and convenience, we think it's a great alternative to consider. Just keep in mind that signal strength is everything, so if you do choose Three, but sure to keep testing and take advantage of their returns policy if you don't think the speeds are what you expected.