Dan Howdle | October 23rd, 2023
Three is one of the four major networks in the UK, offering decent network coverage and a good array of SIM-only deals, as well as pay monthly handset contracts. But is it any good?
With a host of 5G-ready tariffs available – including some well-priced unlimited data packs – and a range of phones that includes some of the more niche interest handsets as well as the premium brands, Three has plenty to offer. We take a look at the details.
In previous years, one of Three's main selling points has been its unlimited data plans. However, unlimited data is no longer unique for Three. Three had this market to itself for a few years, but almost all other providers have caught on and you'll find unlimited data from a number of other providers now. It's not even particularly expensive, and Three has a real fight on its hands where once it had the boxing ring to itself.
If you want a pay monthly deal, Three has a number to choose from, with a good selection of data options ranging from 1GB to unlimited, with contract lengths of one month, 12 months or 24 months.
All are 5G-ready at no extra cost, the option to create a personal hotspot and Three’s Go Roam, which allows you to use your allowances like you’re at home for up to 28 days during your minimum contract term, with inclusive roaming passes valid in at least 71 worldwide Go Roam destinations.. This is available to those who are looking for a new device, as well as to those customers who want a SIM-only deal. Most pay monthly deals with a handset are subject to the usual two-year contract, while one-month contract options also exist for SIM-only.
If you’re looking at a pay-as-you-go deal, then Three offers both handset deals and SIM-only deals for you to choose from. Its Pay-as-you-go option involves either topping up your SIM card with credit or buying a data pack. The data packs last for one month and come with unlimited texts and minutes as standard.
Data packs are either auto-renew where the same amount of data is provided every month automatically, and one-time data packs where you buy a specific amount of data and use it till it runs out. Auto-renew data packas are available in 12GB, 40GB, 80GB and Unlimited sizes, while one-offs are available in chunks of 10GB, 30GB, 60Gb and Unlimited.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Three manages its data traffic with a system called TrafficSense, which means you could see some throttling (slower download speeds) when you’re trying to use its network at peak times – typically between 3pm and midnight.
Three has recognised that the majority of customers are looking for a new Apple or Samsung phone, so the company’s shopfront reflects that, as it does with most providers. However, that isn’t the whole story – there is more to choose from, should you be in the market for an alternative. Away from the usual choices, you'll find phones from Alcatel, Doro and Google.
There are also a number tablets available on 24-month contracts with unlimited data thrown in as standard. You will find a selection of iPads on offer, Samsung tablets and laptops, alongside tablets from Alcatel. Tablets can be bought 24 or 36 month contracts or bought outright. Similarly, you'll also find a range of smartwatches, but to be honest, in our opinion, these aren't usually expensive enough to warrant a contract where you'll pay more for them in terms of the interest accumulated over the contract period. Buy these outright if you can.
Like most companies, Three has a comprehensive online support system. It has a very efficient Live Chat, which is how Three would prefer you to get in touch. If you would rather pick up the phone, Three does have staff waiting to take your call. The customer service number is 0333 338 1001 (333 from your Three handset) and is available 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 6pm at the weekend. You can also get in touch via social media by sending a message on Twitter or Facebook.
As for a general customer service rating,in industry regulator Ofcom’s most recent survey in customer satisfaction, Three came bottom out of the other ranked providers (including EE, Giffgaff, O2, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone) with a score of 83%, compared to the sector average of 87%. Of more concern, only 75% of customers were satisfied with the signal they received, 6% below the sector average of 81%.
Three’s information on how to resolve complaints, or indeed take them to an independent adjudicator, is refreshingly straightforward, and it has a dedicated page where you can get all the information you need.
When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, Three is reasonably consistent with its peers. There are good deals to be had, but you can certainly find cheaper options elsewhere. One of the major savings to be had with Three is through the unlimited data bundles since they are some of the cheapest around. If you lead a data-hungry life, then Three’s tariffs could be ideal for you.
When it comes to PAYG, Three offers excellent value with its Data Packs, some of which offer even better value for money per GB than the comparable one-month SIM-only options. However, if you choose to just top up your data and rely on data Add-ons when you need them, it will soon get expensive.
Three's coverage covers 99.8% of the UK population with 2G, 3G and 4G. Three is slowly rolling out its 5G network and claims that it will be the fastest in the UK. All Three's SIMs are 5G-ready and pretty much any new phone you fancy will also now be 5G-ready. However, Three claims its 5G network is the fastest and covers 56% of the UK population (most recent figure we could find, but probably a little out of date, so coverage likely a bit better), which would place them ahead of the previous leader EE. Use the coverage checker to see what it’s like in your area before you get your hopes up.
Like all mobile networks, the way coverage is calculated can only measure so much. It takes into account things like the reception you get within a radius around a masts, as well as the surrounding natural terrain. However, if you live in a house with thick stone walls in the middle of a mountain range, your signal could be worse than stated. However, these issues can be found with all providers – not just Three.
We are with Three. That is, the writer of this review is a Three customer. For us it's because we get particularly good coverage where we live with Three, and at the end of the day that should be the most defining factor when anyone is choosing which network to sign up with.
We also feel that for a premium, primary network provider, Three offers the best bang for buck, including extremely low interest rates on handset contracts, and cheap data bundles on PAYG SIMs. There are perks and extras on Three is you want or need them, and you'll find its customer service easier to reach than many of the budget providers. We have no qualms about recommending Three to just about everybody.