Which mobile network should I choose? An unrivaled choice in the UK.

I get asked by a lot of people, a lot of the time, which mobile network they should choose. For me, there’s only ever one answer; Three.

To clarify, I’m not being paid or bribed to say this; I simply feel the need to write this article because a lot of people struggle to decide, yet the options are, in my opinion, unrivaled.

Let’s begin with infrastructure. Three cover over 97% of the UK with 3G. When we compare this to O2, for example, O2 cover all the towns and cities with 3G, but Three go that extra bit further and cover almost everywhere. With Three, you’ll get 3G all the way on a train or car journey, but with O2, you’ll only have it when you’re in town – it’s the same with every other mobile network. In fact, Three haven’t had any GPRS or EDGE masts since 2010, meaning you’ll only ever get 3G. Oh, and when there’s no Three signal? You’ll roam on to EE. This is through what’s called MBNL, a joint project between EE and Three which allows Three customers to roam onto EE when there’s no Three signal, and vice versa. On Three, you’ll always use Three’s network by default (because it’s better), but when there is no Three signal, you’ll benefit from EE’s infrastructure as backup (though your phone will still say ‘3’ as the network, as the SIM card sets it to do so).

So basically, there’s pretty good coverage. But that’s not all. Three’s network is also pretty fast.

IMG_0279You’ll probably have seen EE’s ugly green advertising everywhere, telling you how fast their ‘4G’ is, so you may have been considering them.. don’t. It’s mostly advertising and jargon being thrown at you. In fact, EE’s 4G (LTE) is limited by equipment to 36mbps download speed. Compare this, on the other hand, to Three’s 3G (DC-HSDPA), which is limited to 46mbps. So whilst EE are claiming to run a faster network, they’re actually not. In fact, their advertising claims that you can’t watch videos on 3G, and it’s only 1.5mbps, but that couldn’t be more wrong. If you’re on EE, O2, Vodafone, etc. then yes, you can expect about 1.5mbps download speeds at the best of times. But not with Three. I’d say the average download speed I get with Three is about 8mbps, but I’ve had record speeds of 27mbps down, as illustrated to the left.

Internet speeds are great, but cost and bandwidth allowance are other factors, too. However, Three also excel in these areas. Whilst EE are charging colossal amounts for LTE coverage, Three are bringing both high speed 3G (DCHSDPA) and 4G (LTE) to their existing customers for no additional cost. You’ll also find that EE’s bandwidth limits are terrible, particularly on LTE. With Three however, many of their plans offer unlimited bandwidth; and Three, unlike any other provider, have no fair usage policy. What that boils down to is that when they say ‘unlimited’, they mean it, whereas other carriers hide harsh limits behind their fair usage policies. Let’s take O2, for example.

When I was with O2 back in 2011, I used about 3GB of data and received a text telling me I was using excessive data and affecting the service for others. I used about another gigabyte after that, and received a further text explaining that my data had been cut for the rest of the month due to excessive usage. On the contrary, I used 44GB data with Three in December, and when I tweeted a screenshot of my usage, their Twitter team replied with “We salute you! ;-)”.

When perhaps I thought I couldn’t be happier with Three, they did another fantastic gesture. The Three signal at my house was a little iffy. It was fine on the first floor, but downstairs I only got 1 bar, which was sometimes intermittent. I phoned Three to see if there was anything we could do about this. I was asked to answer a few questions about where/how I could get signal, so they could diagnose exactly what the problem was. Once we’d done this, I was told that a femtocell, or as they call it Home Signal Box, could be arranged. This is a device which sits in your home and is plugged into the mains and an ethernet port. It then VPNs to Three, and acts as a cellular mast inside my home, so I can call, text and use the internet over my own little 3G mast. Three sent the femtocell out to me next day, completely free of charge. Some other networks also offer femtocells, but at a cost of over £100.

If I was asked for a downside of Three, the only thing I could say would most likely be that their support is largely based abroad, which can make communication a little difficult sometimes. Having said that, the call centre staff do know what they’re talking about. Personally, though, I’m a fan of the UK based Twitter support team over at @ThreeUKSupport.

For the reasons above, I’m willing to say that Three are the best mobile carrier I’ve ever been with, and the only carrier that operate a network which I feel comfortable calling modern. Oh and, if you’ve not already seen it, their new advert (above) is pretty awesome too. Writing this post almost feels like I’m writing an advert, but I simply want people to make the right choice in mobile carrier, and not get ripped off by the likes of EE, O2 and Vodafone. I hope this article’s been helpful if you were trying to choose a mobile carrier. Please do leave your comments below, I’d love to hear them.

Henry Cole

I'm an all round tech guy from Colchester, UK. I co-owned Geekily and regularly wrote here under "Geekily UK", but have since left the site to pursue other projects.

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2 Responses

  1. I have always loved Three since I joined them 4 years ago. Their 3G service is unbeatable and what’s even better news is that they aren’t going to charge for 4G service when it finally comes to the network, which is a huge win!

  2. Three are the smallest carrier in the UK, many of your facts are wrong and you go on about how Three coverage is everywhere yet explain that when you don’t get Three signal (which you said you get everywhere), then you roam on EE, which is also incorrect.

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