By Dan Howdle | Wednesday, February 19th 2020
Three Broadband (formerly Relish) is a wireless broadband provider that aims to offer 4G and 5G connectivity as your main home broadband connection. It is, as you might expect, owned and run by Three – that's the same Three of mobile network fame. It's a relatively new enterprise as at the start of 2020 and as such hard to judge. Still, it's definitely worth taking a look to see what's available thus far.
One of the key selling points with broadband delivered via a 4G or 5G signal is you can be anywhere within range of a mast. Installation times are much shorter too, since there are no landlines to connect or engineering work to undertake. But how fast is it, where can you get it, and is Three Broadband as reliable as good, old-fashioned cables?
|Average download speed||20Mbps|
|Contract length||1 month or 12 months|
|Prices from||£22 per month|
Hold onto your hats, because Three Broadband's current offering at the time of writing – thanks to its recent takeover of Relish and the fact it is in the process of rolling out 5G – is pretty confusing.
If you're outside London, then right now you're going to be offered 4G home broadband from Three Mobile if you go to the Three Broadband website. Though this is technically the same thing, now offered under the Three Broadband name, it is the same home 4G offering Three has been offering for years and has nothing to do with the technologies and infrastructure it has inherited from Relish.
This is why if 4G home broadband is all you can currently get (not 5G), you will be offered a choice of two home 4G routers that differ from those offered if you can get 5G. More on that in the routers section below, but know this: If you can get 5G, but only want a 4G package, the router you will get will be different from any that are offered if you can only get 4G. It's unnecessarily confusing and something we hope to see Three Broadband sort out soon.
In terms of availability you can already get 5G Three Broadband in the London, and by the end of February 2020 will be able to get it in the following locations: Aberdeen, Abingdon-on-Thames, Aldershot, Balloch, Barrow-in-Furness, Basildon, Bath, Bedford, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Blackpool, Borehamwood, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Brookmans Park, Cannock, Cardiff / Caerdydd, Chatham, Clayton-le-Woods, Coventry, Crawley, Cullingworth, Doncaster, Dundee, Glasgow, Gorebridge, Grimsby, Guildford, Heanor, Hedge End, Hemel Hempstead, Huddersfield, Inchinnan, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Leyland, Liverpool, London, Lower Stondon, Luton, Maidstone, Manchester, Motherwell, Neston, Newquay, Nottingham, Nuneaton, Peterborough, Plymouth, Preston, Reading, Redcar, Royston, Sheffield, Shelly Green, Slough, St Albans, Sunderland, Swadlincote, Swansea / Abertawe, Swindon, Westhoughton, Wickford, and Wigan.
If you're lucky enough to get 5G home broadband from Three Broadband, Three is promising speeds averaging around 100Mbps. It's not fast compared to the promises of 5G, but these are early days and things will undoubtedly get a lot quicker in the not too distant future. 100Mbps is plenty for any busy household, even if there are a lot of users streaming, gaming and so on.
If you can only get 4G home broadband for now, while coverage is superb you'll be getting on average 21.6Mbps according to OpenSignal. It's a bit faster than your typical standard ADSL home broadband connection and is plenty for smaller households. Ultimately, though, if you're looking into choosing a mobile network for your home broadband you probably get awful speeds from fixed-line providers. 21.6Mbps to a household that can only get 3Mbps by any other means is going to seem rather quick.
One of the great advantages of broadband that arrives over the airwaves rather than under the ground is there is almost nothing to say when it comes to installation.
You'll get your receiver/router and a SIM in the post. Plug it in and away you go. No waiting around for engineers, no additional costs for new line installation or set-up. Order, plug in, go.
This is where things get a little bit confusing. You see, Three (mobile) already offered home broadband deals on 4G. They have been for years, and as such have honed down the equipment they offer to two excellent mobile broadband routers, both by Huawei. They both deliver the same connectivity, but the Huawei HomeFi Plus is just a router and nothing more. If that's what you need, then get it as it will save you money.
If you want to spend a bit more for a few more integrated features, you also have the option of including the Huawei AI Cube instead. As well as being a router, this is also a smart speaker with Alexa voice assistant. It'll cost you a few more quid a month and to be honest, you're probably better off just buying an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot outright as you'll only need to pay for that once to get the same functionality.
But here's the confusing bit. If you are somewhere you can get 5G, but you only want a 4G package, you won't have the choice of either of the above routers. Instead you get to choose from the Three 5G Hub, and the Three Home Hub. Both completely different from the Huawei units above. Yes, we know. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but these things happen when one company takes over another.
It's difficult to know where to start talking about customer service here. Do we talk about Relish – much of its customer service structure still applies since it hasn't been very long since the takeover. Or do we talk about Three's customer service exclusively which, when it comes to broadband, hasn't had much of a customer base in the past on which to judge it. The best we can really do in this situation is to look at Three's customer service record as a mobile provider.
As for a general customer service rating, as in most business cases, the bad news travels faster than the good. Reviews of Three on Trustpilot are the typical mix of those complaining about poor service, and those who are reasonably happy. Take all that with a pinch of salt, however, since people with an axe to grind are always the most vocal and telecoms is an odd industry in that regard. We want things to just work, and when they don't we complain, but when they do there's no reason to go online to sing a company's praises. It's just doing what it should be doing.
That said, Three scores an ‘average’ rating on Trustpilot, which is solid enough when looking at the network’s competition. In the grans scheme of mobile and broadband providers, Three does okay.
It's not expensive. And if you're considering Three Broadband as a provider, it's more than likely you're seeking an alternative to a truly horrible fixed-line broadband deal. That you can't get good broadband where you live by regular means. In that context, Three Broadband's prices are very reasonable. The equipment you get is good, the contracts not too long, and prices are comparable to fixed line solutions.
Even if you are able to get, and opt for, the 5G version and you're getting an average 100Mbps, you'll be paying less than you would for the same speeds from anyone else. Value for money? Certainly then.
If you live in central London or in any of the locations listed above that Three Broadband 5G is claiming to be available by the end of February 2020 (this month at the time of writing), Three Broadband 5G with its average speed of 100Mbps is actually great value.
Even if you can't get 5G for now, Three Broadband's 4G offering, which is available almost everywhere, will serve well if you are getting dire speeds from other providers. It should be noted, though, that you will have less choice as to where to put the router in your home. Generally by a window facing the signal source is recommended. Something to bear in mind.
Sure, Three Broadband can’t compete with the likes of Virgin Media in terms of absolute speed, but it’s certainly succeeding in doing things differently. And, who knows, some way down the line speeds could even overtake those offered by fixed-line broadband. The 5G technology itself is certainly capable of it.