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ASA Ban Three UK’s Best Network for Data Claim After EE Moan

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021 (8:15 am) - Score 15,864
three uk mobile broadband

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned several adverts for mobile operator Three UK after they all were found to have made the same “misleading” claim of offering the “Best Network for Data” (mobile broadband), which the watchdog said could not be substantiated.

The complaint against three adverts – a paid-for search ad (a), a website advert (b) and a TV advert (c) – were all raised by rival operator EE (BT). In fact, yesterday also saw Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division, state that “to claim to be the ‘best network for data’ without any performance metrics to back it up is like calling yourself a world-class sprinter despite never having set any records, let alone competed in the Olympics.”

At this point most readers will probably be aware that Three UK has indeed built itself a fair reputation for offering some of the market’s most flexible and affordable data (mobile broadband) plans, although the relatively recent launch of “unlimited data” tariffs from rival operators has begun to test that.

Suffice to say that claiming, more generally, to be the “Best Network for Data” is a tricky one to prove and depends upon your criteria for comparison (speed, quality, coverage, cost etc.) and supporting evidence. However, the ASA found that Three UK had failed to include a strong enough comparison to substantiate their claim.

three_uk_best_network_for_data

The closest Three UK got to substantiating their claim was to harness the results of TechRadar’s Mobile Choice Consumer Awards, which had asked thousands of consumers and a panel of judges to answer the question – “Which Network do you think provides the best data plans?“. But the ASA said this was not sufficient enough.

ASA Ruling (REF: A20-1060112 Hutchison 3G UK Ltd)

The ads must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Hutchison 3G UK Ltd t/a Three Mobile to ensure that they had adequate substantiation to support claims, including comparisons with identifiable competitors, in their marketing materials and that the basis of any comparison was presented clearly.

We also told them to ensure that they provided sufficient information to enable consumers to verify comparisons with identifiable competitors, or signposted consumers to such information.

The outcome does not come as much of a surprise. Historically many broadband ISPs and mobile operators have tried to claim they are the “best” or “most reliable” at something, only to neglect the need for an effective comparison. Overly broad claims about service performance or quality rarely hold up to scrutiny when put before the ASA.

Not that any of this really matters to Three UK. The adverts themselves were all run a year ago and have long since ended, although at the time of writing one of Three UK’s website pages is still running the same claim in large bold print – http://www.three.co.uk/discover/network (pictured above). We suspect that won’t last long.

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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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53 Responses
  1. Noob says:

    I’d be made too if I was BT. If I was in a difficult position and was losing to the competition.

  2. Sam says:

    Keep in mind that EE is SIGNIFICANTLY better for 4G Coverage / Spectrum etc and just general usage on their network.
    3 is heavily congested. EE and 3 spend a lot on their networks but EE more so and it shows.

    1. Ram says:

      EE is an absolute shit mate, I switched from Vodafone for 100GB and does even to network always WiFi calling.
      They have given me 50% discount for 6months and they xall best how shame it is.

  3. Bubbles says:

    How can they claim that when that was an award three won? EE are acting like little children. No scratch that the whole BT Group is. They can’t just take threes awards away because they have the fastest mobile network (When it works which isn’t very often). The reason three were given that award was because they give their customers lots for a reasonable price unlike EE. £12 on three gets you 30GB of data whereas £12 on EE gets you 2GB.

    1. JP says:

      It’s not about value though is it… its about data usage and Three are currently quite popular for having issues relating to data.

      As someone who’s extensively tested all the 4 major networks throughout Birmingham and many other areas of the UK, EE has held the better service at least 90% of the time, followed by Vodafone, Three and O2*

      *O2 however is starting to catch up with Three now however.

    2. Bubbles says:

      O2’s wasnt based on speed either but theirs got taken down too

    3. Bubbles says:

      O2’s wasn’t based on speed either but that still got taken down

    4. Saphira Gomes says:

      £12 for 30GB? I pay £10 for 5GB, where do you get 30GB for £12 at 3?

    5. Ringo says:

      That’s correct I left BT in December and I’m using a smarty SIM card and it works on network 3 I got a deal of 50 gig for £12.00 a month .
      I checked the signal strength in my area first and found it was okay in and outside the house for surfing the net .
      I bought a router open to any network popped the smarty card in signed up in line and away I go
      I only had one megabit with brand last time I checked I had 11 Mbit with 3
      Okay there might be fluctuations in signal but it’s better than bt was offering it’s faster and cheaper and no 2 year contract nonsense .
      To tie you into price rises .it I my benefits BT not the customer
      I was with them for twenty years wow what a lot of money I have wasted on By.

    6. Bubbles says:

      @Saphira Gomes The trick is to not go through three themselves. Go through topcahsback or Quidco. I have 30GB for £12, My mother has 4GB for £6 and my father has 12GB for £8. If you factor in the cashback it makes it even cheaper for the first 12 months too. 30GB for £7.50, 4GB for £3.40 and 12GB fro £5.50

  4. Jimbo says:

    I did have unlimited data package(Best for data (3)

    I couldn’t use it,due to really poor speed (4G)4Mbps on 1800 MHz and even during peak times even slower.

    Let hope they sort these capacity and backhaul problems

    1. Kelly props says:

      Same here. My signal and speed are both terrible. Upon checking the the UK map signal checker my address always came up as working fully no problem. It never has and now I’m stuck in a contract and they’re not supplying what was advertised.
      Same with my 3 mobile phone. I can get a partial signal in certain areas outside only but as soon as I’m indoors in any building I can’t ring out or send & receive texts even though 3’s website showed as working fully indoors. No wonder they sell pretty quickly. They just don’t provide what they claim they’re selling.

    2. Rrrrr says:

      Am on Three since 2011 and I cant complain I because of long stay There offered me for 11£ pm unlimited everything on sim deal and my speed varying 30-90mbit and now am forced to use it as my router and I am even gaming on it So who will offer me better deal for 11£??? Am open for any proposition

  5. Buggerlugz says:

    Maybe Three’s PR department could run another advert saying “We think we’re Best for Data, because we are.” that’ll convince everybody! 🙂

    Its like three spouting how they’ve got the “Best 5G” in the UK, when we saw yesterday from the figures released how that is totally not the case at all, when the reality is the entire UK’s 5g is a shonky excuse for what 4g should deliver.

    1. Carl O says:

      Totally agree with this. 5g I would expect over 500mbps.

      4g in some spots can hit 120mbps on smarty, and then connect to 5g in my back bedroom with the same speed.

      Granted, I am on the edge of the coverage for 5g.

    2. JP says:

      I’ve been extensively testing Vodafone’s 5G recently and standing right under the mast best achievable if 450mbps, 4G (3CA) same location is in the 320mbps region.

      Meanwhile in non 5G area there 4G (3CA) tested at 295mbps.

      Three is next on the list for testing, with a 5G mast just adjacent the Vodafone one, It should realistically beat Vodafone by twice if it does infact have the full 100Mhz bandwidth broadcasting.

  6. aqx says:

    The way they would try cover this up would be “well we were/are cheapest for Data which makes us the best” but yet the way you would naturally understand it is “well they must be fast”. Shady advertising to say the least & imo should be dealt with more swiftly than a banned advert(s).

    1. Roger Thorne says:

      532 mbps on 5g on Three in Bristol! Not too shabby

  7. Billy Nomates says:

    How about no FUP on unlimited data. Unlike EE/Voda/O2 who all have FUPs and limits on their unlimited.

    1. JP says:

      Can’t really put limits on a congested service.

    2. Lexx says:

      Yep 3 network only goes faster when a new version comes out usually like 4g and 5g

      ee usually has enough frequency space even on non upgraded sites, surprisingly Vodafone does incredibly as well,

      can’t say much about O2 because I only have a giffgaff sim and o2 traffic shapes them to lowest data priority so can’t get an reliable data speed measurement out of them (unless its 4am in the morning)

      my local ee/3 MBNL still doesn’t have 4g+ as the mast is on a Building where the commercial to residence building owner seems like he wants to pull the cell off the building (it’s really required at this location if it’s not there their be a hole in the area)

      Vodafone’s already abandoned their cell and equipment on the building (the Vodafone cabin is still on the top floor and cell outside, all independently powered still last time I checked) they placed a new mast on a new business owners land close by

      bit unfortunate that they didn’t equipped it with 5g or space for 5g to be added later on, as they going to have to replace the cells to do it and the location of the site has resulted in a 10-20 degree ark where the old building it was on blocks the signal, less an issue for 4g as there is OK ish coverage on the other side but 5g will is be a blind spot for ever at this location

      3 very seldom upgrade masts and right now I can’t use 3 because speeds are typically under 1-3mb/s witch is not enough to stream or use YouTube reliably

    3. Billy Nomates says:

      yall must be living on a different planet to me

      800mbit or better on three 5G, rock solid. Never 4G.

      EE/Vodafone – no 5G
      O2 5G .. 300 mbit LOL

      Which 5G operator has 100MHz of spectrum ? Is it EE? nope. Is it Vodafone? nope…
      Vodafone can’t even manage 20 mbit here. Band 20 nonsense.

    4. JP says:

      Billy – Your bragging about a technology that is just in the early stages, you comparing networks that haven’t been able to bid for spectrum yet and your forgetting what everybody said about 4G in the beginning…

      I remember Three being voted best network for iPhone at one point, that was probably the last bit of the lime light they got.

      If Three continue to oversell its services, (which when 5G broadband is being sold for under £30 they clearly are) then your 800Mbps will look something like 8mbps…

      As for knocking Vodafone and EE, I’ve tested EE and Vodafone extensively over the past year Scotland – London and EE is hands down a winner, able to provide 430mbps on 4G in central London and rarely dropping below 100mbps elsewhere on the road….

      Vodafone sure has some low bandwidth areas but hey they didn’t get to take advantage of two high frequency (densely built) network and pick and choose the best spots, however has also achieved 340mbps on 4G in not so central area of Birmingham, has 5G achieving nearly 500mbps in early stages of launch, with DSS rolling out in London and soon to expand, and a very impressive coverage footprint.

      But to be honest Vodafone’s just preparing for the taking on of Virfin Media’s mobile base, meanwhile I’ve even got a shout out for O2 who have boosted bandwdith substantially recently even though 5G rollout is lacking for sure…

      What about Three, we they’ve had to stop sellking 4G home broadband because there masts are at a standstill, their coverage footprint from one 5G mast is somehow only able to cover 1/3 of the area that Vodafone is able to, also with only 3 masts in south Birmingham currently they aren’t exactly kicking any asses.

    5. Billy Nomates says:

      Not bragging, but all the three haters live in a totally different world to me. For me, none of the other networks come close. Three have upgraded all the local masts around me, and while there’s not 5G everywhere I go in my area, they’re still better than the rest.

      I have EE as well. And despite the fact they share the same mast next to me, they’re equal or less on 4G to three. I will use whoever is fastest, and for me, that’s currently three. But I have a business EE contract too.

      And you’re also totally skipping the fact that my “unlimited” EE contract has a 600GB limit and is therefore not unlimited. At least vodafone has 9TB which i’m not ever going to hit .. but I’m paying £18 a month to three and i’m getting faster than anything openreach or virgin media can supply in my area.

      I say go for whatever works best in your area. For me, that’s three. I have no problems with congestion, three do upgrade masts, they’ve got more 5G than EE/Vodafone has, only O2 has more 5G sites and their 5G here is slower than three, even standing right outside the mast with my cellmapper and speedtest.net apps running.

      Show me a perfect UK mobile network.

    6. Billy Nomates says:

      Also what part of magical london did you get those 4G speeds?

      I work in Soho and EE can’t even do 200mbit there.
      Kings cross? 50-60mbit on EE.

    7. JP says:

      Totally agree with you on area by area comparisons, I didn’t mean to make any sort of willywaggling accusations but currently I think the hype on 5G is too high and is just a marketing tool currently.

      I’m quite curious to what comes of the auctions and if Three will be bidding to get more spectrum or if the limit is hit, Many operators seem to be heading in the direction of DSS which will essential merge 4G and 5G into existing spectrum.

      I do believe Three’s 5G currently tops the performance where rolled out in full 100mhz form but do think that based on its poor spectrum holdings won’t help them where it will help others holding much more.

      It will also be interesting to see how Three manages its 3G spectrum in regards to shutting down 3G (if it does) as it has no 2G to fall back on.

      Currently bandwidth and 5G with these networks isn’t of concern over the potential of the market falling into monopolization (O2-Virgin) and the future beyond that if moves forward.

    8. JP says:

      Hey Billy, missed last message, the headline was between Guys Hospital and The Shard.

      Also hit 300mbps mark a couple of times heading down the M4 and was sitting in the 200’s on M25 between M40 and M4.

      Was using a Samsung S10e at the time on a 2019 EE Smart 60GB plan.

    9. Billy Nomates says:

      interesting JP.

      I shall try it out, when i’m allowed to go back to my office that is. I agree there’s a lot of numberwagging going on. I just choose who’s best for me, and I use them all. A few years ago, I would have recommended everyone move away from three as well so I’m no evangelist for three but they are meeting the ITU spec for 100MHz being classed as “true 5G”. I notice the ASA or whatever hasn’t pulled them up on that because at least that one is true.

      I’ll say this, your 4G numbers are very impressive. I’ve not seen them myself and I used to roam around Camden, Westminster etc. I’ve got all the major networks apart from O2 but my 5G phone can only handle two sims and they’re usually three and vodafone. Vodafone for data in London and three for unlimited and better speeds at home in SW London.

      I’m not allowed to travel at the moment, as I’m neither an essential worker, nor required to be in my office (in fact it’s been closed for a year next week). Vodafone works great in Central for me, and in my soho office it gets easily 250mbit. But EE doesn’t. Three on the other hand at work performs terribly but I haven’t had the chance to check 5G there yet in a year now.

      Yes it will be interesting to see what they do with 3G as well. I doubt they’ll give it the chop as there’s a lot of IOT devices that use 3G still. But then again, there’s a lot of 2G stuff still around and three doesn’t have anything there. Vodafone seems to be giving me H+ a lot lately too. But DSS seems like a bit of a fallacy to me, but then again if it delivers the speed I don’t care what symbol my phone displays.

      Nice talking to ya.

    10. JP says:

      I hope you can replicate the results I got, I’ve got to advise one thing though, I run these tests during the first lock-down when the streets and motorways where pretty much empty and London was trashed by students so wouldn’t be sure to get them results again.

      As for the True 5G thing, I’m not sure its neither right or wrong, it cannot be competed against currently, if Three’s 5G operates as NSA then I would argue its not true 5G as that would be SA, however I’m looking to get the Three sim online this weekend and go hit up the local mast, I will post my finding on the ISPr Forum so lookout for me.

      As for 3G switch off, Vodafone is looking at 2022 turn off, and are currently making changes to PAYG and Voxi customers to enable VoLTE in preparation (have had them activated this week)

      Will be interesting to see how DSS functions, I’ve heard that enabling DSS sacrifices some bandwidth from 4G in return from dual operation.

      Interesting year or two ahead.

  8. Whistler says:

    I have been with 3 for thr last 3 years on mobile broadband and phone I have only ever had 1 issue with speed when they upgrade the local mast I have just resigned for another 2 years unlimited data

  9. Johh Dobbin says:

    I have been with 3 network for 9 years during that time I, have never any problems with the speed of there Internet. I think it depends on were you you live.

  10. Shane M Byford says:

    I was with 02 in witch I did have a very lot of problems with. And I changed to 3 network in September last year and I haven’t had any problems at all since changing plus I don’t have any problems with my data as well.

  11. Chris Allen says:

    I didn’t know how bad 3 was until I added home broadband to my account. here in North london the signal is very bad , the 4g broadband doesn’t start to work until late,around 11pm every night without fail and if your phone service isn’t working you can be assured that the broadband will be the same.

  12. TheUnacknowledged says:

    Fair Cop to EE I think they’re well within their right to complain. Three’s marketing dept are always at it, I remember their “Make it right” campaign the just happened to co-incide with them ending every-ones “One” contract the them trying to charge 4x the price for the most similar tariff.
    I’d love to know how they justify the claim when they’ve even admitted they’ve stopped taking new orders for mobile broadband due to network congestion.

    Perhaps that’s their logic most congested network therefore we must be best lol.

  13. Anna says:

    Good as Three are no where near that anymore – EE kicks their bum even in rubbish areas. I can’t wait to leave them

    1. Patrick Rodgers says:

      I don’t blame you i have just terminated 4 contracts with 3 the worst customer service i have ever come across and the people you speak to on the other end of the phone when you ring 3 do nothing but lie to you just to get you of the phone wouldn’t use them if they were gaving there services for free

    2. Anna says:

      My SMS have started coming in 2 days late. it’s so annoying!

  14. daniel says:

    Three should be banned from selling anymore packages until they fix their network…The network built for data more like the network built for no data many times using three network in London I had no data let alone order Uber eat or use googlemaps had to borrow my mates phone for 1 day…..If you complain to them on the phone or live chat they will issue you another new sim card if you complain too much they will ignore you…..they lie too much eg #Make it Right #Sim contracts will not be having RPI increase they mentioned this in 2017 #GO binge removed #2021 they increased everyone bills by 4.5% #2021 payandgo increase by 300% #Where is that 2 billion pounds network upgrades they been telling us about since 2019 #Next is data caps this company is going downhill cannot wait till my contract finished and move to EE…..

  15. Shaun Taylor says:

    I tried 3 but ended moving back to BT Mobile (EE mnvo) as the coverage on 3 was patchy

  16. Tallone says:

    I tried 3 but ended moving back to BT Mobile (EE mnvo) as the coverage on 3 was patchy

  17. Gail Wilkinson says:

    3 network service has been terrible the last 12months.. Important Phone calls and messages have not been able to get through..ie Hospital appointments,Doctors and even death of friend. When trying to get through they just put you on hold

  18. Lexx says:

    If your using 3 make sure your using HulloMail is so your aware how many calls your actually missing

    3 Still does not have call catcher on there voicemail (because if they did there customers would know how unreliable there call network is because most phones still Have to drop to 3g when a call is been connected and that switch over is not always reliable or no 3g signal for the 4g call To drop to) so if your phone can’t be reached and the person just hangs up once it hits voicemail you never know your missing a call,

    orange/t-mobile > now ee always had missed call text notification, o2 and Vodafone only added it like 5 years ago (almost all virtual mobile providers don’t have call catcher)

    or have unreachable call forwarding set to another phone (like ee or Vodafone witch supports missed call notification)

  19. Daniel says:

    This makes EE look bad but I totally understand as a 3 customer. I had a crazy deal on 3 mobile £16 a month for Unlimited. (not on their website, but off a money saving website, which links to the three checkout so it was legit) I thought that was insane, but now at the end of the contract I’m leaving. I thought it was a scam so called three to ask if what I purchased was legit, and they said it is) I’m always on the go so decided to be reliant on my 4g/3g so I really tested the network in many areas of cardiff city and London East. It was so slow I could not get Internet. Full signal, Consistently fast for the first 5-10 mins of usage then cut out completely /became super slow. No zoom, WhatsApp or teams call would last more than a few minutes before cutting out. I hear (not an expert) that certain types of channel throttling or network management is not allowed in the uk. So either they crazy throttle the network or have over loaded their network. Someone please investigate 3mobile?! I searched online and I’m not the only one!! People said that the 4g was so overloaded that they needed to switch 4g off and force 3g. And behold- 3g was more reliable for calling. I was offered £15 a month unlimited data after asking for a pac code! That’s unreal pricing. Investigators email me I’ll send you a snap shot of the sms I got sent. How can a company give unlimited away for so cheap? Well its not really unlimited, and it’s not like a”slow” unlimited, it’s more unusable,with way to many people on the network. Quite frustrating, but when I see EE has such high pricing for data I actually understand. Quality cannot be produced for no money. Still EE is too expensive for me so I use smarty. The funny thing is smarty is a 3rd party that hinges of 3. however they always have a data cap on their plans. I’m getting consistent Internet for cheap. And it doesn’t cut out. That means three are managing their network differently. Its not fast, its not special but at least it works!

  20. Barry Cooke says:

    We have two Three unlimited SIMS costing us £15.00 per month. We previously had their £20 unlimited SIMS for a few years.

    Our two offices run 24/7 with 16 port switches, multiple NAS and CCTV feeds. About a dozen desktops plus mobiles and iPads etc.

    Had very minor issues in the 3+ years we’ve been with them. Both times we got a text explaining there was engineering work. So fair enough.

    Billing had always been spot on. Never had to use their CS or support.

    I run all handsets on GiffGaff. They’ve been great too.

    Previously had EE for handsets. Billing issues, signal issues, poor CS. Not good experience.

    My colleagues had multiple Voda handsets and iPad Sims. He was always chasing their dreadful CS. Mostly with billing issues. He’s now seen the light with GiffGaff. His life is much better.

    So my own experience with Three for data has been excellent. Beat my expectations and got me as a repeat customer.

    When they first launched with their walled garden network it was dire. We gave them a go but never a second chance.

    One to One were pretty fair. Then became T-Mobile and seemed to get a bit worse. When EE launched I smelled the corporate whiff……and it turned out to be very smelly indeed. The only good thing is that BT bought them and not TalkTalk…..

  21. Louise Mary says:

    Is it me 3 Network getting slower eachday joined 3 in 2010 they were miles ahead of 02,Orange,VOdafone and T-Mobile ever since 2016 the network has been going downhill with speeds,signal and phone calls had almost 5 dropped calls this week even had plenty people telling on the phone to speak louder and clear we cannot hear you.
    My speeds been around 3mb at peak time…….
    Text message gets failed to sent funny thing is a three staff at my local three store even said the network is pants just read trustpilot reqarding to the complaints about three says it all about the network……

  22. Patrick Rodgers says:

    Am glad people are waking up to 3 and seeing the rubbish service they provide not before time

  23. Stephen Wakeman says:

    The fact that once again we are seeing action taken over an advert that is no longer “in print” and was used over a year ago, proves one thing.

    ASA is an underfunded, overly stretched body that is – for all intents and purposes – pointless. If its presence is supposed to incentivise better advertising standards and scare companies into compliance, how can it work? I could claim anything I want in my advert safe in the knowledge that as complaints come in, because it’s a bare faced lie, that the only fallout is going to be a year later where I’m sternly told that I cannot use this advert again. Which is no problem because I’ve long since dropped that lie and am lying about something else now.

    Completely. Utterly. Pointless.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Absolutely if anyone should be taking action against Three it should be OFCOM. Its obvious they’re network is massively oversubscribed, which is why they’re stopping sign ups in certain post-codes. I wish Three would stop them in mine too!

  24. Mr Adrian R King says:

    I left three for a short time and went over to EE but found it to be absolutely rubbish couldn’t get a signal or no data connection plus it was more expensive, so i went back to three and happy to say now i have always got a signal and it’s cheaper

  25. Allan Adams says:

    Tried to use EE and found signal poor or if I had signal the speeds were horrific, that was from Vodafone. Now with 3 and excellent signal and speed everywhere I travel.

    It differs for everyone and for me EE provide an expensive and very poor service.

    I’m sticking with Three

  26. Robert Hart says:

    Fraudsters

  27. George Brown says:

    Your headline says “After EE moan” sounds like a criticism of EE.
    Your headline should say “After EE challenge” especially as the challenge was upheld.
    I believe that you headline comes over as biased.

  28. Jay powell says:

    As the for three haters I am in a different would of them here in Telford I am getting 90 mpbs on 4g in Dawley
    On three

    I wouldn’t touch ee with a barge poll as there simo plans are not truelly unlimited and very overpriced not worth the money to get a simo from ee
    Or there handset contracts either no thanks.

    Roll on 5g to be switched on on three in my postcode so I can cut ties with virgin media broadband and as for ee 5g you have to pay extra to get it more than 1 reason I will stick with three for the foreseeable future.

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