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Three UK Quietly Pauses eSIM Support for Mobile Smartphones UPDATE

Thursday, December 31st, 2020 (9:05 am) - Score 57,192

Mobile operator Three UK appears to have “put a short pause” on eSIM support after first adding it to their network (4G and 5G) for mobile handsets (NOT Smart Watches.. yet) in late September 2020 (here), although the eSIM Support and Activation page on their website does a poor job of communicating this.

Just to recap. A traditional SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card contains a tiny chip that authenticates your identity to a mobile operator, usually as soon as you slide one into a new mobile phone or other supporting device. Such cards can also store a basic list of your contacts, although online contact lists have largely superseded that feature on modern devices.

By comparison a growing number of new Smartphones and Smart Watches are now shipping with eSIM, which essentially embeds an electronic SIM into your device and that makes it easier to switch between carriers via multiple account support (i.e. no more waiting for new SIM cards to arrive or fiddling with different ones when trying to change network). At least that’s the idea, but in practice it hasn’t always worked out that way.

Sadly, Three UK’s initial eSIM launch was a somewhat muddled affair. Most customers were told that they could only get it by visiting a Three Store, but some of those who tried this found that not all stores could do it. Meanwhile a few customers did manage to get the details sent to them by post (basically a card with a QR code on it that you have to scan), while others were told that this was not possible. Meanwhile none of this could be done online, which removes one of the advantages of even having eSIM support.

The latest development is that, since early December 2020, customers are now being told by local stores, social media, and telephone support staff that the service will not be available until “early 2021” (still only for mobile phones, not smart watches). As one support agent on Twitter said this week: “We’ve put a short pause on eSIM after introducing it on the network recently. We’ll be resuming this again as soon as we can.

Meanwhile another post on social media confirms that they were initially only trialling it in “some of our stores” and now “plan to roll it out across all stores and then other channels early next year.” We strongly suspect that part of the problem here may relate to COVID-19, which due to various lockdowns and the spread of tier 4 restrictions means that non-essential UK retail stores have had to close, again.

In an ideal world the closure of such stores would not be a problem for a proper implementation of eSIM, but it seems as if Three UK still have some way to go on that front. Meanwhile rival operators including O2, Vodafone and EE have had this feature for a while, albeit with varying different levels of support (i.e. it’s sometimes only enabled for selected devices). We have requested a comment from Three.

UPDATE 7th Jan 2021

A spokesperson for Three UK told ISPreview.co.uk: “Our trial of eSim devices launched last year and has now been completed. Existing eSIM customers will continue to be supported and we are working on a full launch later this year.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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40 Responses
  1. Buggerlugz says:

    Three can add that “pause” to their usual customer service support pause they started over a year ago and never resumed then……..

  2. André says:

    Meanwhile, EE still has to send you a QR code through the post (instead of having the eSIM assigned by their app, like Truphone) and when you change phones you can’t port the eSIM over to the new one.
    It’s a hassle and not worth it. I will be going back to a physical SIM on my next phone upgrade.

  3. Alistair says:

    Vodafones Esim support us fairly good. You can swap your sim online and then they send you the details via email. It can take upto 24 hours to get the email and they disconnect your old sim pretty much immediately. Soon as i received my Esim i scanned the qr code and viola it was added. They also provide a string if letters to add it manually too.

    1. Nigel kennedy says:

      They added it with a large violin??

  4. Bobby says:

    Vodafone e-SIM swap was seamless took it less than one you’re no QR code needed. Bravo Vodafone!

    1. Bobby says:

      Edit: less than one hour online

  5. JItteryPinger says:

    I run CalyX OS on my Pixel so e-SIM is dead.

  6. Stephen Wakeman says:

    The notion of introducing a physical medium, such as a paper QR code sent through the post, is ridiculous. You can display a QR code on a screen, say, from an email? Granted, you might need a physical copy as well if this is your one and only device. But it’s still stupid.

    1. Anna says:

      I agree. I Had it with o2 and the first e-sim wouldn’t work and then the second time it activated and then was barred according to my 3a – it took 12 out of the 14 day cancellation period to get an e-sim that worked as they all had to be sent out in the post (store couldn’t help even though I got it from the store in the first place – had to come in the post)- and then it was slower than Three (hard to believe I know) so it was cancelled on day 13.

      Never again

      Thank goodness this was before all the postage problems happened. It’s taken me 19 days to get a SIM from EE through the post!

  7. Liam says:

    Don’t get me started on how poorly implemented this was! I rejoined 3 a couple of months back as my wife was able to get a good deal on a second SIM for me (and I’d left 3 because I needed an ESIM). I rejoined as I was told by the sales advisor that once my SIM arrived I could pop into any 3 store to get an ESIM instead. And that I’d be able to get my Apple Watch an ESIM too.

    My local 3 store didn’t even know Three were offering ESIMS, so I went online to check and found the very small list of mostly northern stores (most of which were actually closed under what then was a top-tier local lockdown!). I went back to Three via web chat who told me the store was wrong and that they should be able to give me an ESIM. Eventually I got hold of someone on twitter who told me all the advisors were wrong and indeed there were only a handful of stores that could provide one.

    I asked for one by post (which the website implied was possible) but they said they couldn’t do it.

    After more reading of the very confusing content on the website – it also suggests that when you can order one to be posted out, your physical SIM stops working immediately and you are basically left without service until the EISM arrives. Not like on every other network where you can be sent a blank ESIM and do a sim swap on arrival to swap over. Bonkers!

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Sounds like they don’t know their Ar$e from their elbow, which is exactly the same experience I’ve had with their support since joining three. Technically three is totally inept IMHO.

  8. Leeman says:

    Three’s 4g speeds for home broadband in London are atrocious.
    Dial up offers a better service than the excuse for a broadband three are offering. I only got two months of decent speeds for the duration of my two year contract.
    Either they don’t know how bad it is or don’t care seeing they are still flogging their service for as little as 10 pounds a month now unlimited.
    The more, the merrier. Thankfully I am free to leave next month.

    1. Craig says:

      They are trying to boost their customer database numbers with cheap deals and rip off existing customers that are very weak and valuable….

    2. Milton villages says:

      The 3 brodband speed it is rubish .they offert a fake information. I am feeling again desapointe with the service. £10 it is a rasonable preis for such poor speed

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      They are well aware how bad it is, the fact is they don’t care as long as they continue to dupe more customer sign ups into 2 year contracts three can’t deliver.

  9. Steve says:

    Absolute joke, way behind the curve with this roll out, same for their 5G. Will be moving away from 3 if they do not implement this by the time my contract is up for renewal.

  10. m says:

    Thanks for your article which exactly mirrors my POOR experience with three. As a many years loyal three customer I was appalled by their eSIM support or lack of it and the confused and contradictory web pages simultaneously saying it was possible and not possible.

    I am still waiting on my complaint to the Ombudsman to be resolved.

    To review, I find the customer support (from India) to be excellent if they can sort things out for you, else hopeless.

    Then there was the Three building a 5G network, but oops we are just advertising and nothing is available

    Now we have : get your eSIM here, oh wait goto a branch (i.e. ridiculous), no wait, that won’t work either, now, the whole deal is off until who knows.

    FFS Three, get a grip.

  11. Unknown says:

    Three’s eSim was originally trialled within certain Midlands retail stores of Q3 & Q4 2020. The trial was successful with the full launch due to be early 2021. There has clearly been a communications breakdown internally between retail stores, contact centres and head office teams.

    1. Shazidur Rahman says:

      Listen enough of the b******* , just tell us how it is,

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Three has a real issue with communication, not just to its customers but to its own staff by the look of it. If they actually have a head of communications I wonder what size clown shoes they wear.

  12. JOHN MAY says:

    Communicating with 3 is very frustrating they cannot sort our registration out for 2 mobiles. Complaints I made to 3 and Resolver about billing, over charging were not resolved. A joke will be moving our broadband and 2 mobile contracts when contracts are up for renewal.

  13. MilesT says:

    Related question..are there any broadband 4g/5g routers that can work with an esim (directly or via a USB dongle)?

    1. Mal says:

      TP-Link TL-MR6400 300Mbps Wireless N 4G LTE Router. Superb. I have one. It works both with a SIM or with a fixed line connection.

  14. Craig says:

    What I hate about three is they love ripping off existing customer my contract expired last month just paying 14 pounds unlimited 4g sim…..

    They sent me a letter say your plan is no longer available we will move you to a new plan unlimited sim deal for 22 pounds 12 months….. Went over to live chat as for the 10 pounds deal for 6 months was told NO next I said OK then I will reorder tonight asked for a pac code he said why are you leaving 3…. Said to him you know why….

    After 20 minutes he kept begging me to stay with three he offered me 12 pounds unlimited sim deal for 12 months…..

    All of this took me over 3 hours he basically wasted his time and my time customer service is a biggest joke with 3

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      When your contract with three runs out you automatically continue to pay the same monthly fee unless you change it yourself, that way they can continue to fleece existing customers of as much money as possible.

    2. John says:

      Not necessarily.

      If you’re on a special deal that expires at the same time as your contract then the price goes up immediately.

      If you’re on a legacy package that they don’t want to continue then they can also stop this immediately as the contract expires.

      I’ve had both happen from Three.

  15. Josh says:

    I tried to get an ESIM at the Bournemouth Three store in August, as the online rep told me it could only be done in store. The people at the store told me it could only be done online. I tried online and managed to get one just fine, and now I have a Three ESIM. Shane they had to send the QR through the post.

  16. Chris Sayers says:

    The world’s gone bonkers, what’s wrong with opening a tray, popping in a sim, and sliding it shut, oh and who is mad enough to have a contract, buy your phone outright and go pay as you go, it’s completely frustration free, I’ve been with Giffgaff scince almost day one I’ve been totally happy with them.

    1. Bob says:

      What is bonkers is that we still use a physical sim at all! For a start, every dual sim phone I’ve owned uses a hybrid sim tray, so purchasing a dual sim device for my personal and business numbers, means I can’t use the Microsd slot.

      With an esim, I can have both my personal and business numbers, and also add a local data sim when roaming, and still use the Microsd slot.

      I always purchase devices separately from service contracts, but suggesting that it’s better to stay permanently on payg, unless you have reason to change supplier frequently, is nothing short of stupidity.

      If I were to purchase my unlimited data contracts on payg, each would cost significantly more than it does on a contract. I use multiple terabytes of mobile data every month across all my devices and servers, and also have a frustration free experience.

    2. Anna says:

      Bob, Depends on the situation. I don’t use my mobile much (I buy mine outright and use alternative brands 0 I have a Xiaomi Mi 10 right now and it’s fantastic)

      I live in a van full time – so I have a 3 unlimited data sim at £11 a month as I got the £60 TCB deal) (and I am actually in a new so therefore quite fast (280mbps) 5G area where I normally stay) and that’s for internet and my main number is with 1p mobile – because I use the unlimited mifi wifi and use the credit for anything else – at £30 a year for never experian credit it’s a good deal.

      I just had a go on a contract Samsung tablet – it was slow and crappy and I put it down within 60 seconds. I am glad I choose beefy phones made by other people

  17. Daniel says:

    @bob you can get duel sim with all 3 slots now didn’t always happen like you said was 1 or the other

    1. Anna says:

      I have a £30 cheap and nasty phone but even that as 3 sim slots and a SD slot!

  18. Ed Armah says:

    Reading the article and all the comments above nothing surprises me with 3 anymore and sadly makes me feel better that I am not alone.
    I’ve even gone to the point of complaining to the A.S.A (Advertising standards Agency) as I too experienced the same level of below par customer service and frustration.

    I followed instruction as it stated on the website and got told it was a “trial” and the trial sample is now closed. When quizzed as to where the location of the trial was, I was told mainly in the North & Midlands (predominantly where they are focusing on 5g) when I then stated that this is geographical discrimination as there is no chance I could get to said stores to register for the trial even if it was still available they stumbled and didn’t know what to say. I have complained to all levels, now at the executives office (Mark Bell) he/they are still unwilling to accept that the information on the website is wrong and misleading and have said they will fed this back to the web team, what a joke.

    The whole site surrounding 3 eSIM suggests that it is readily available and is a relatively simple process to do, whereas it couldn’t be further from the truth, the whole wording including to get a replacement/ activate your eSIM call 333 is false and missing vital information, such as the availability of the product. They are unable to answer questions simple questions may I add such as if I’m ordering a replacement, that would suggest that I already have one right? So how do I get one?
    They are useless and frustrating at the best of times, the whole company and their attitude towards their “valued” customers, as they like to repeat, is farcical, that doesn’t even include the signal issues that I encounter and have done always is a joke not to mention their 4g speeds and coverage, which I maybe wrong but have been looking into it and though the classification of 4g is correct it isn’t actual 4g lte which gives you the faster speeds.

    It seriously feels that everything this company do is misleading and not done properly. I appreciate that some things such as mast locations etc are out of their control however, the customer service and quality of information given is in their control and as such should be seriously addressed.

  19. Spurple says:

    You’ll take my physical sim card from me only when it is no longer possible to use one.

    I can’t sacrifice the flexibility of swapping phones at will and switching to a local sim when travelling.

  20. UK Fibre Guy says:

    After battling Three for an eSim for six months I gave up and have moved to O2 who got me an eSim within a week (still using the post which was a little disappointing).

  21. Sam says:

    Chinese owned Three are just pathetic liars . I got my apple watch cellular thinking they now supported esims. But the call centre asks to visit their physical store and the store asks to call the call centre . Also they have been lying about 5G Unless Chinese Huawei is allowed back in , I dont think Three network in my area will ever get 5G .

  22. dave says:

    Three is the most disingenuous (to put it politely) network I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with.

    Almost every statement they make should be marked with an enormous asterisk.

  23. Disgruntled Three Customer says:

    I again got sucked in by their cheap pricing and renewed on a 12 month sim-only deal.
    I’ve been with them about seven years now. To begin with they were great, decent speeds, 4G was fine, Feel At Home was OK. Then in about 2017 I noticed that when going abroad the Feel At Home speeds seemed to be heavily throttled.
    In late 2018 the network performance seemed to fall off a cliff. I think their network was heavily congested especially on the 4G spectrum rendering it almost unusable in any big city. If you called them up you were told to switch to 3G.
    In 2019 things got even worse. We were promised a full 5G roll-out by the end of 2019 but of course the date slipped and 4G continued to be poor. I called many times to complain about the unusable speeds and eventually they agreed to discount my package for the remainder of my minimum term. I was considering their 5G broadband at one point but on their roll-out date the only place they’d managed to cover was a single post code in Camden.
    It’s now 2021 and there is still limited 5G coverage compared to other networks, the speeds have also decreased since the initial 5G roll-out.
    Part of the reason I renewed was because I thought they were getting eSIM support – but as usual for Three this seems to have been delayed/shelved and as usual the customers have not been provided any timelines.
    I wish I hadn’t renewed – other providers are now offering competitive deals that are not far off Three price-wise. My advice would be to switch to Vodafone – I know a lot of people who’ve moved there and they all seem happier.

  24. B Patel says:

    I just renewed my contract with Three as I was offered a cheap renewal. Contacted Three today via Chat to see if I could transfer my number to eSIM and free up the SIM slot for a future upgrade.

    I was just shocked. The operator I was chatting with told me that “they ran out of the eSIMs and they will let me know once they are in stock!!!” I thought that this person didn’t not know about eSIMs so I asked her to speak to her supervisor. And guess what, he /she was rambling about the same thing.


  25. M says:

    O2 , O2,O2 made me crazy with my two contracts. One for e-sim and one for a physical one. The e-sim never worked. They sent it two times for me. I had to cancel both of them before 14 days. Their stores were never helpful.
    After cancellation, sent me near£700 bills.
    Lots of times I had to call them and everyone was giving me different info and sometimes they interrupted my phone deliberately. I gave my PAC to them. In the end, I asked them for a PAC code for my favourite number. But it should be valid until 22/05/21 and today 30/04/21 I tried to give it to another network but it said that my PAC is not valid. So exhausted and worried because I feel I lose my number too. They are not expert. I called their customer service and again they cut off my phone after lots of waiting over the phone.

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