To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Three review: Cutting-edge speeds spoilt by sub-par service

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 9
per month, starting price. The monthly price shown will increase each April by the Consumer Price Index rate of inflation plus 3.9%

Speeds and 5G coverage are improving, but Three is falling behind on customer service and overall satisfaction

Pros

  • Impressive 5G coverage and performance
  • Cheaper phone and SIM-only deals
  • Huge range of Lite, Value and Complete plans

Cons

  • Average scores for customer satisfaction
  • Disappointing scores for customer service
  • Expensive roaming outside Value and Complete plans

DEAL OF THE WEEK: Get a YEAR of half-price Three broadband

Not only is the best Three broadband deal, but it’s the best mobile broadband deal overall at the moment: an average download speed of 150Mbits/sec, which is enough for a decent handful of devices to connect at the same time, for just £11/mth for the first year of a two-year plan via the company’s 5G Hub. The price will then rise to £22/mth for the remaining year of the contract, but that’s still an excellent rate. Just ensure that you double-check the strength of your home’s 5G coverage before signing up and note that each April your monthly charge will increase by the previous December’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate plus 3.9%.

12 months half price View deal at Three

After a few years where it was getting hard to recommend Three, the network seems to be back on form. Its 5G network is growing rapidly, and delivering some of the fastest speeds around, while a proposed merger with Vodafone should see it well-placed to compete with O2 and EE.

Sadly, that doesn’t mean it won any trophies in this year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards, despite good results for speed and value. Customer service remains an issue, with just 55% of Three customers telling us they were satisfied. And while 71% of Three users would recommend it to a friend, that number’s still much lower than the 85 to 90% we’re seeing from no-frills providers like Giffgaff (92%), Voxi (92%), Lebara (87%) and Smarty (93%). Three is surging ahead when it comes to performance, but customer satisfaction just isn’t keeping up.


Three review: What do you get?

Price used to be one of Three’s main selling points, both when it came to buying smartphones on a contract and getting cheap SIM-only data deals. It’s still very competitive on the first front: Buy an iPhone 15 with EE or O2, with 125GB of monthly data, and you’ll be paying over £60/mth, and more than £1,500 over the course of a 24-month contract. However, buy it from Three and it will cost you £47/mth, with £30 upfront, and you’ll get a larger 150GB allowance. After two years, that will have saved you over £300 – although iD Mobile is even cheaper still. Three is also cheaper than EE or O2 on the top Android phones, though not always by the same amount.

When it comes to SIM-only deals, Three tends to be cheaper than the other three major networks, but it sometimes struggles to compete with the no-frills virtual networks, including its own value off-shoot, Smarty. The £14 you’ll pay for a 25GB contract on Three is less than the £18 you would spend with O2, or the £22 it would cost with EE, but iD Mobile will give you the same allowance or more for under a tenner, while Smarty offers 40GB for just £10.

Similarly, Smarty and iD Mobile both offer Unlimited deals for under £20. Three’s cheapest unlimited deal costs £25/mth, though the network regularly offers substantial discounts for the first three to six months of the contract.

Monthly fee (1 month)Monthly fee (12 months)Monthly Fee (24 months)Data
Lite 1GBN/A£11£9 (£7.20 for first 12 months)1GB
Value 1GBN/A£16£14 (11.20 for first 12 months)1GB
Lite 3GB£7£73GB
Lite 4GB£19£13£11 (£8.30 for first 12 months)4GB
Lite 8GB£8£8£9 (£4.50 for first six months)8GB
Lite 12GB£22£14£12 (£9.60 for first 12 months)12GB
Lite 25GB£24£16£14 (£11.20 for first 12 months)25GB
Value 4GBN/A£18£16 (£12.80 for first 12 months)4GB
Lite 120GBN/A£18£16 (£12.80 for first 12 months)120GB
Value 12GBN/A£19£17 (£13.60 for first 12 months)12GB
Value 25GBN/A£21£19 (£15.20 for first 12 months)25GB
Complete 1GBN/A£21£19 (£15.20 for first 12 months)1GB
Lite 250GBN/A£22£20 (£16 for first 12 months)250GB
Complete 4GBN/A£23£21 (£16.80 for first 12 months)4GB
Complete 12GBN/A£24£22 (£17.60 for first 12 months)12GB
Complete 25GBN/A£26£24 (£19.20 for first 12 months)25GB
Value 120GBN/A£23£21 (£16.80 for first 12 months)120GB
Value 250GBN/A£27£25 (£20 for first 12 months)250GB
Complete 250GBN/A£32£30 (£24 for first 12 months)250GB
Lite Unlimited£30£27£25 (£20 for first 12 months)Unlimited
Value UnlimitedN/A£32£30 (£24 for first 12 months)Unlimited
Complete UnlimitedN/A£37£35 (£28 for first 12 months)Unlimited
The monthly price shown will increase each April by the Consumer Price Index rate of inflation plus 3.9%

Three has its extras to tempt potential customers, including free Paramount+ streaming subscriptions and the Three+ Rewards program, offering discount vouchers at various restaurants and stores. It also pulls ahead of the other major networks on overall value for money, according to our survey figures: 72% of users are satisfied with Three on this count, with over a quarter (26%) very satisfied. Only 55% of EE’s users and 59% of O2’s say the same, with just 16% and 18% very satisfied, respectively. However, that still puts it behind the no-frills networks, where the value scores can reach over 96%.

READ NEXT: Best business mobile network


Three review: Customer service

We had concerns over Three’s customer service scores last year; nearly 27% of users were very satisfied with a further 50% fairly satisfied, but that put it behind most of the other networks in our survey. This year the results are even worse: just 19% of Three users told us they were very satisfied with their customer service, with only 37% fairly satisfied. That’s still better than O2 (19% and 27%), and competitive with Vodafone (20% and 35%), but a long way behind our award winners, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile.

What’s more, Ofcom’s latest research into mobile customer service isn’t too positive for Three. The network has more customers with a reason to complain than the industry average and, overall, the levels of customer satisfaction are comparatively low. Three has had fewer complaints to Ofcom per 100,000 subscribers than it did last year, but it’s still not where it needs to be to show improvement. If there’s one area where Three really needs to do some work, this is it.

READ NEXT: Best mobile network

Three review: Coverage, reliability and speed

Three’s network covers 99% of the UK, and it’s now the second network, along with EE, to reach over 60% with its 5G network. 5G has been key to improvements in Three’s overall performance. While its median 4G/5G download speeds still trail those of EE – at 34.7 to 65.1Mbits/sec – its 5G speeds in some areas are superior. In the latest round of RootMetrics’ testing, Three was the only network to reach median 5G download speeds over 100Mbits/sec in all 16 of the cities where RootMetrics tests, even passing the 200Mbits/sec mark in nine of them. If you’re looking for the fastest 5G service, it’s a real contender.

Our survey results show decent levels of satisfaction with Three’s signal strength and speeds: over 68% of users say they’re satisfied with signal strength, while Three posted better than average results for its performance while web browsing and streaming audio or video. Sadly, it didn’t do well enough to come away with any awards for reliability since Voxi, Giffgaff and Talkmobile all scored higher.

Meanwhile, Three scored average results for satisfaction with its 5G services at 40%, coming ahead of O2 (25%), Giffgaff (28%) and Vodafone (38%), but falling behind Smarty (50%), Sky Mobile (41%) and iD Mobile (42%).

Check prices at Three

Three review: Roaming

Free international roaming on Three is now a thing of the past. Instead, Three offers 28 or 56 one-day roaming passes on its more expensive Value or Complete plans, giving you enough EU roaming for most people’s holidays and business trips. However, if you’re on the cheaper Lite plans, you’ll need to spend £2 per day to use your inclusive minutes, texts and data within the EU, or £5 per day in select other locations, such as the USA, Australia or Brazil. Outside those territories, things get even more expensive, at £2.50 per minute for a call, 35p per text or a horrifying £3 per MB of data. If you’re a frequent traveller, other networks will be significantly cheaper.

Three review: Other features, services and spending caps

Three offers Wi-Fi calling, not just in the home, but in over 250 stations on the London Underground. It also allows for spending caps. You can pick a level between £10 and £100 over your regular contract charge and you won’t be allowed to make additional calls or use any extra data beyond that.

Check prices at Three

Three review: Verdict

Test results show that Three’s 4G speeds are solid, and its 5G coverage and performance are improving all the time. Yet both our Mobile Network Awards survey and the latest Ofcom figures show that Three needs to up its game when it comes to customer service and overall satisfaction. It’s a good option if you live within its 5G areas, but our award winners have better deals if value and customer service matter more to you than speed.

Read more

Reviews