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Three UK Wave Goodbye to Unlimited Mobile Broadband Tethering

Monday, February 24th, 2014 (12:52 pm) - Score 23,069

Mobile operator Three UK looks set to disappoint new customers when it drops unlimited Mobile Broadband tethering support from related mobile tariffs (e.g. The One Plan) in March 2014, which will instead be replaced by a 2GB usage cap.

Tethering allows customers to turn their Smartphone into a wireless (wifi) Mobile Broadband modem for use by a computer, although this often results in the customer using a larger amount of data than before and is thus restricted on several networks (note: it is sometimes possible to get around those bans).

It’s believed that a similar outcome has caused some of Three UK’s customers to begin using their The One Plan package as if it were a fixed line broadband service (note: data capacity on mobile typically costs a lot more than via fixed line ISPs), which has put a lot of strain on their network.

The One Plan costs from £20 per month on a 12 month contract and includes “all-you-can-eat” data, 2,000 minutes, 5,000 Three-to-Three minutes and 5,000 texts. At the time of writing Three UK’s website, specifically its T&C section, still states that the only “limit is how much your device can consume“.

A Spokesperson for Three UK told ISPreview.co.uk:

As I’m sure you can appreciate, we cannot discuss future propositions.”

However, despite the characteristically evasive response of Three’s PR department, anybody who calls, live chats or walks into one of their shops and asks about it (as we did) will still be told that the Tethering free-for-all is about to end. It’s perhaps one of the worst kept secrets to date.

Existing customers who do enquire are told that if they buy or already own The One Plan now then no capping for tethering will be introduced (even if the contract term is over), although those who order from March 2014 will face a 2GB cap. Obviously this is all fine and good until you fancy upgrading your plan and or want a better handset, which is likely to attract a new contract.

However the operator has also been telling customers that they should have plans where you can change your phone and still get effectively unlimited tethering, although we wouldn’t be surprised if this attracted a higher cost. It also remains unclear whether or not this change will become effective from 1st March or mid-month.

In semi-related news, EE’s CEO, Olaf Swantee, has accused Three UK of effectively devaluing 4G and “confusing” consumers by offering the new connectivity method at no extra cost. “There is more to competition than price. Otherwise we would just be playing an endless game in reducing costs where the product becomes a commodity,” said Swantee (here).

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31 Responses
  1. Avatar Miffed3

    I was told the same by the chap in their shop a couple of weeks ago, can’t say I’m pleased but I will wait to see what new plans they offer (if any?).

    • Avatar Web Dude

      I’d “bite the bullet” and get the One Plan 12 month SIM only deal now if I were you – if they try to change the terms and affect customer in a detrimental way (eg limiting the previously unlimited tethering) then surely the customer has the right to cancel without penalty.

      The “wait and see” approach is one which leaves you ever hoping they offer something attractive, with no guarantee they will.

      I urged my sister to switch to the One Plan deal last July (her 12 month Unlimited 600 12 month contract had ended, she was paying £15 a month anyway, so it was not going to cost her anything to change (she’s eligible for a free bus pass, so even going into Brighton to the 3 Store was going to cost her nothing, except time). When the news in January was of a price increase, I urged her to get it ASAP but her husband was ill and she was being pressured to get a new phone when she rang 333 so didn’t get it then. If she misses it now, I will be more than a little annoyed – it will mean she ends up spending more in future if she wants unlimited (for using Skype with her grandchildren) because she will inevitably need a home phone and then a broadband deal on that, when if she had acted 6 months ago, she could be sorted for a few years…

  2. Avatar Stuart

    Seems reasonable to me.

  3. Avatar Matthew Williams

    Everyone knew it was coming I had sort of hoped they would of made the Cap 5GB.

  4. Avatar DTMark

    In the quest for market share, this “socialised” model of “unlimited usage” seems attractive to operators – for every customer they gain who is simply looking for P2P data running 24/7, they presumably gain a greater number of customers who do not “abuse” the network like this.

    The word “abuse” is in quotes, because this is not really abuse, is it. The operator is offering unlimited data transfer and the customer is simply taking up that offer. The customer is doing nothing wrong.

    While the likes of Sky can continue to use the benefits of cross-subsidy (phone, TV) to enable this over xDSL, just spending more and more money/taking the “hit”, the effect of this sort of behaviour on a mobile network, taken to its extreme, could mean the performance for everyone becomes so poor that the only customer that remains is the one using said P2P and everyone else leaves.

    So an entire cell is provided for one customer paying £15 a month and said objective of gaining market share goes into reverse. Doesn’t sound like a great business model to me.

    • Avatar Gerarda

      I was going to move from Vodafone to T mobile due to Vodafones deteriorating until I discovered T mobile tethering bar. I have to say I cant see the difference in effect between tethering and downloading everything to the smartphone and then transferring it to another device. The same data comes down at the same speed.

    • A good question. I’ve noticed on some operators that a non-Tethered mobile broadband link through the Smartphone serves you compressed images/content and can cause some problems with certain networking configs. But when you tether that goes away. Experiences seem to vary though and so do end-user needs. For most people, Tethering is just about ease of use instead of having to do a workaround.

    • Avatar DanielM


      The image compression isnt something that is forced it can be removed by going to one of the following:


      if you with o2 you are out of luck!

    • Good info., Thanks Daniel.

    • Avatar Kevin

      To turn off image compression on O2, change your APN details to the following (contract customers only).

      APN: mobile.o2.co.uk
      Username: bypass
      Password: password

  5. Avatar Max

    This will do nothing. Anybody with a passing interest in technology and phones will quickly realise their are numerous Android apps that circumvent tethering allowance, and make data appear just as it’s coming from the phone. Unless they remove unlimited data full stop and not just on

    • Avatar DTMark

      How does it do this – by intercepting and changing the browser headers or the MAC address perhaps?

      In which case, if you go to, say Amazon, do you get the full site or the mobile site on the tethered device?

    • Avatar Kevin

      Unfortunately that won’t work, as they determine traffic by the TCP header. As soon as it detects that the data is coming from something other than your phone, I believe they may class ALL your data as tethering for the duration (I’m not sure how long they take to detect you aren’t tethering).

      Allot of the apps which activate tethering, just activate the phones inbuilt tethering functionality. I do believe a couple of paid for apps will setup a proxy on your phone, however this too has its limitations.

  6. Avatar Phil

    @ DanielM – the link u posted above doesn’t work?

  7. Avatar dragoneast

    If you want the data then pay for it. The more the better. What’s so difficult in that? No-one in the west is poor. Just mean. And the richer, the meaner. Nobody else owes you a living i.e. should subsidise your use. Abuse, actually. Why should data druggies be treated any different from heroin addicts, after all your pusher doesn’t reduce the price once you’re hooked?

  8. Avatar Rupees Burdoch

    This is good news for almost all consumers. By kicking the service abusers into touch, the 99% will benefit from a much improved experience. Faster speeds, better connectivity, no compromises for the 99%. It’s a very smart business decision that I wish other ISP’s would follow. Caps are not evil, they are a practical solution to a very real problem: pirating bandwidth hogs.

    • Avatar Web Dude

      It’s one thing to complain about heavy usage, quite another to accuse all such users as “pirating”.

      I regularly download 15-45 GB a month, depending on whether I am working at home or away.

      Not a byte of “pirating” – no USENET, no peer-to-peer, and I resent being classed as a ‘pirating hog’ simply because I make more use of a service than plenty of others, and may fall in that 1% you’ve classed as ‘abusers’…

      2 GB as a limit would be pathetic – I sometimes exceed that in a day.

    • Indeed the days where heavy users were often classed as pirates have long since passed. The plethora of new video streaming services and other online content distribution mean that average consumption in the UK has increased to be many times what it once was. Ofcom’s communications market report covers this.

    • Avatar Paul

      Abusers ?? no one abused it, how is using what you pay for abuse.

  9. Avatar Web Dude

    In case you wonder… I use a NowTV box (wireless, streams “on demand” video from Channel 4, Five, and BBC iPlayer, plus music videos, etc, etc)… Also monitor some CCTV security systems to assist clients, and stream radio and video (eg from World Wide Webcam App). Been a while but used to also use TVCatchup (sometimes use that if I take my tablet away with me, instead of the NowTV box).

  10. Avatar Rixius

    Will this affect existing customers or only new customers in March? I’ve seen conflicting reports.

    In any case, I’ve ordered the 12 month SIM, just in case, so will wait and see the answer before opening…

  11. Not really sure what to think to be honest.

    I’m mid way through a One Plan contract on my iPhone 5 which will end in Feb next year, and I have to say the main selling point for me was the unlimited tethering and that has seen me through a lot of internet “emergencies”. And to be fair there have been times where I have used it fairly exhaustively.

    In some ways its a good thing – I’ve always thought it must be costing 3 a fortune with a) people using huge amounts of expensive (for them) data and b) people as-a-result not taking a mobile broadband contract too.

    If the rumours are true and this comes into effect, it will lead me to consider other networks when my renewal comes up next year – where previously I was thinking it’ll just be a straight renewal to the next iPhone with 3. I’m not sure the change would put me off 3 completely (they still have other fantastic perks), but I think it’ll certainly make me consider the competition.

    Not sure what it would do for 3’s market share though – in a world where internet usage spikes year-on-year, this could be a damaging change for them.

    So far I’ve been really pleased with 3 – other than a couple of minor hickups the service has been great.

  12. Avatar Chris C

    In 2 minds about this.

    I have left my one plan going but I am not using it, I was intending to replace my O2 contract with Three but didnt due to lack of 2G (good for battery life) and the 3G performance been the worst I have ever seen, 3G on Three runs slower than 2G on my O2 service. I expect congestion probably from people in my area abusing the unlimited tethering. So possibly this change will improve congestion levels, however if its only for new customers probably not for a few years.

    I dont like the fact however mobile broadband providers can get away with advertising a limited service as unlimited, eg. fixed line broadband is not limited to one device only and neither should be mobile broadband. The simple fact is I rarely use 3G, the times I will need it is the rare occasion I travel, and if my fixed line broadband goes down I then use 3G for backup, meaning I can use no data for several months in a row but then suddenly need say 10-20 gig in a short period of time, on most operators 20 gig usage via tethering is silly money, hence me trying Three.

  13. Avatar Andy

    This just happened to me. Been a customer of Three for years as the network coverage is great. I use tethering to do emails on the train. Just got my phone completely blocked by Three. No polite warning, just blocked my phone for all calls, internet, everything. This is completely unacceptable. I will be terminating my contract with Three before the day is done. Suggest others do the same so that Three’s management get the point they can’t do this to loyal customers.

  14. Avatar WF

    This new policy is very myopic. The problem is customers abusing their networks. A better solution I feel, would be to have a 2 GB cap followed by limiting the speed to 2MB/s.

  15. Avatar Matt

    Why the hell is to considered “abuse” to use what you paid for? There is no abuse. Three offered Unlimited Tethering, and people used it. Abuse would be using more than the 1000GB a month, or using some software to hide that they were tethering, then exceeding the 1000GB a month by a substantial amount.

    I can use around 200GB a month tethering, which includes Steam downloads, YouTube, Netflix and other video streaming services. This is the age we live in. The data I could stream to my phone, which is 1080×1920, is no larger than that coming to my PC, which is 1920×1080. The end result is the same.

    Clearly this is about revenue raping customers since the 2GB limit is VERY low, but Three conveniently offer the ability to purchase more. If it was about congestion then they would limit account of high users, or people who exceed the limit… Not offer them a way to buy more usage.

    I think Three will see a sharp drop in One Plan renewals, and this will affect them on their overpriced “subsidised” phones.

  16. Avatar datamuncher

    Sounds disingenuous to me. They’ve just assessed the market and judged there arent enough customers to poach anymore to justify the competitive deal anymore. when you get down into the small print you actually find that ‘all you can eat’ actually means all you can eat, except when the buffet is really busy at dinner time, in which case it takes longer to be served, reducing how much you can eat. Or dropping stupid food metaphor, there are speed limits when the network is at its busiest. They have algorithms that adjust speed regionally, over time, precisely to avoid this ‘strain on the system’ BS. Users would notice their data grinding to a halt if it was getting that bad.

  17. Avatar MiSJAH

    I’ve recently taken a ‘one plan’ 12 month sim only deal with 3 and bought an iPhone 5c for 4G.

    Problem 1, Home address is bang in the middle of a 4G coverage area, i have no 4G signal 🙁

    Problem 2, I’ve come from an iPhone 4 using a PAYG 3 sim (All in One 15 Addon) I travel around the UK frequently so I tether to my laptop at least 3 out of 7 days. I download/stream movies on an evening. Now on the iPhone 5c with the One Plan in a 4G area I get speedtest.net app results of 30mbps down and 15Mbps up, however tethered and using speedtest.net website on my laptop I get a maximum of 1Mbps down and around 3Mbps up.

    I took this contract for the unlimited data/tethering (3 rep advised tethering is still unlimited on the One Plan on Friday 16th May 2014) on 4G. Speeds tethered are worse than my old phone tethered on 3G.

    At present it looks like I’ll return the sim to 3 and return the phone to the 3 store, so they lose ~£400 on the handset and £240 for the monthly sim charges from me.

    Problem 3, I need a pay monthly sim contract that will allow tethering for ~100GB+ a month. Advice and suggestions appreciated.

  18. Avatar Mark

    Don’t believe it at all, I haven’t been cut-off yet and I’m a old customer who has been renewing it all the time on the ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT plan and seriously abusing this, they may have got rid the word “Unlimited” I have gone over 50GB of data usage, I have come across a page where it says fair usage 1000GB. That doesn’t mean it’s unlimited. Tesco’s Broadband has this as well, though they say “Unlimited”. They got rid of the word because Three UK had too many complaints to OFCOM and Watchdog. I believe, it depends on the contract, package and how long you’ve been a customer of Three UK. I believe first time customers might only get 15GB of data on a “all-you-can-eat data” fair usage before being cut off, the longer you stay with them, the higher your fair usage goes up. as said, I have been abusing their services when I went on holiday on the isle of sheppey (Chalets and Caravans no landline broadband allowed with crappy wi-fi and only 2G/3G Signal available), I’ve used it to play on the ps3 online, I’ve used it download movies from sky, I’ve used it to watch BBC Iplayer, why haven’t I been cut off yet? huh? as said, they’ve just removed the meaning of unlimited, no one is going to signup to them as a free 0800 service, PEOPLE WANT INTERNET, IT’S THE INTERNET THAT KEEPS THEM IN BUSINESS! Without it, they just be another stupid mobile phone company with a bad reputation for rubbish service.

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