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3 Mobile Broadband review

Kat Orphanides
17 Aug 2011
Our Rating 

With improved performance and reliability, plus competitive prices, 3 is our favourite mobile broadband provider

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This review was updated in August 2011 to reflect the findings of our latest survey

3 gives you a choice of three devices to get you connected. The most impressive is the Premium dongle, which supports the new HSPA+ standard, also known as Evolved HSPA. While the more common HSDPA devices run at up to 7.2Mbit/s, Three rates its HSPA+ service at 21Mbit/s. Part of the speed boost relies on network upgrades, but part is down to the dongle's multiple antennas that allow greater data throughput. Even if your local 3 mast hasn't yet been upgraded to HSPA+, you should see a distinct performance improvement and improved connection reliability. 3 also offers a standard 7.2Mbit/s dongle (on the Everyday packages) or a 7.2Mbit/s MiFi wireless router.

All three are available on a choice of four packages: 1GB, 5GB and 15GB pay-monthly packages, plus a pay-as-you-go deal. PAYG credit is bought in 1GB, 3GB or 12GB top-ups, which expire after one, three and 12 months respectively, so in a sense they're not that different to a 1GB-per-month deal. However, having no fixed contract is an advantage, and if you buy 3GB or 12GB credit, there's no need to worry if your use varies from month to month – you won't be wasting credit in a slow month, nor will you be hit with 3's extortionate charges (equating to £100 per GB) for overuse in a busy month. As such, the PAYG packages beat the 1GB pay-monthly packages hands down.

The basic Everyday dongle on PAYG is essentially free – you just pay for the preloaded credit – while the Premium dongle adds around £50 to the initial price. The MiFi router adds £41. Further credit costs the same regardless of which hardware you choose. Our favourite bundle is the PAYG Premium dongle with 12GB of data allowance, which costs £136 up front and £82 for further 12GB credit.

For heavier use, it's better value to go for a contract with a 5GB or 15GB monthly allowance. Confusingly, these two allowances cost the same – £16 a month with the Everyday dongle, £18 for Premium or MiFi. The difference is that 5GB packages are 18-month contracts, while the 15GB ones are 24-month. We'd choose the latter, and happily spend the extra £2 per month for a Premium dongle.

Our survey showed strong support for 3's customer service, with above-average results across the board. With improved performance and reliability from its Premium dongle and competitive prices, it's our favourite mobile broadband provider.

See the next page for a full break-down and individual ratings of 3's services and the results of our broadband survey.

Broadband survey performance results

3 mobile graph

These results were compiled from our online survey, where users were asked to rate their broadband supplier. In the case of customer satisfaction, this is an average of whether users would recommend their supplier and if they're planning on staying with their current supplier.

Feature table (click to expand)

Mobile 3 a
Mobile 3 b

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