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Three UK Pauses 4G Home Broadband Sales in Some Areas

Monday, February 8th, 2021 (2:02 pm) - Score 18,216
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Mobile operator Three UK has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that new customers in “some areas” are “temporarily” unable to order the 4G home broadband service via their coverage checker. Instead customers doing this will be told that it isn’t available, even if the service still works for existing users.

Recently we’ve received a number of gripes from people who have found that Three’s 4G Broadband availability checker no longer returns a positive result for their postcode, which is despite the service previously being available to them. We were able to confirm this by checking against a batch of addresses (including our own), which were previously able to order the service.

NOTE: This issue seems to only impact 4G broadband services, while 5G doesn’t seem to have been hit (or at least, not noticeably).

We did a little digging and our sources appeared to point the finger of blame at Three UK’s move to tackle network congestion in certain parts of the UK (i.e. possibly a means of reducing new sign-ups while the underlying problem is resolved, which seems like a sensible approach to prevent the issue getting worse).

Naturally, we put all of this to the operator, which confirmed that “some areas” would run into this problem, but declined to say precisely how big the impact was or how long it would take to resolve.

A Three spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We carefully evaluate the capacity of our network and only sell home broadband in areas we are confident can provide the right experience for our customers.

While our 4G coverage is increasing and we are adding new technology to our network as part of our £2bn+ network investment, this does mean that in some areas we may temporarily suspend sales of home broadband.”

Our own testing of this issue suggests that it may be quite widespread, while our sources have indicated that Three UK will aim to gradually reintroduce most of the suspended areas back into their checker over the next couple of months. As frustrating as all of this may seem, we tend to view it as more of a positive development (i.e. protecting the service for existing customers instead of continuing to oversubscribe localised capacity).

We should point out that Three UK have been offering “unlimited” style home broadband services via their 4G network for a lot longer than most of their rivals (others only really began doing it alongside the launch of 5G products). Customers of such products do tend to gobble a lot more data than typical mobile-only users and Three UK’s low pricing (starting at £21 per month, but often less in a sale) may have combined with that to deliver a healthy take-up.

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50 Responses
  1. Avatar Lee says:

    Three broadband have major problems.
    They tried to compete with fixed line providers and have been unable to deliver.
    True, they are cheap but my two year experience with them has been atrocious.
    1990’s dial up offered better speeds than three and judging by their Trustpilot page, I’m not alone.
    It,s a bit late now having oversold their network for year’s.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      To be fair the early years of “unlimited” data on fixed line broadband were also fraught with congestion problems as ISPs got to grips with it. Mobile operators will be going through that same learning curve, but on mobile it’s more complicated due to the high variability of the signal itself.

    2. Avatar Matthew says:

      In truth the main problem is that unlike with Land line broadband there isn’t any sort of minimum speed guarantee. If Offcom really want to tackle the issue then at least offer a minimum speed measured at mast. Right now having any sort of “good signal” is often meaningless, with the networks overselling (or under investing to cover the data/customer increases in an area). At least if the operators had to show a minimum available speed from the nearest mast at your location then that’d be a start. (well aware different distances and used Bands etc still affect final speeds)

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Really difficult to do that with mobile signals, which can be affected in so.. many different ways. Ofcom currently defines 4G coverage, based firstly, on the minimum signal strength required to deliver a 95% probability of making a 90-second telephone call successfully completed and, secondly, on a 95% chance of getting a download speed of at least 2Mbps.

    4. Avatar Matthew Bailey says:

      Precisely why I said minimum speed guarantee AT point of mast. (signal is ruled out as the issue.) If any given networks mast performance is hit to say 2mb at any given peak time at best case scenario near mast location, then that is the minimum speed to which they should be advertising at. We cannot continue to have mobile networks in full knowledge of over subscribed areas, touting 4g contracts, hiding behind “signal”a+ and asking customers to switch back to 3g to improve their connection. Three for example sold me a “4g” contract, and despite a very decent signal peak time speeds were literally sub 1mb. (0.79mb to be precise.) yet overnight those figures were comfortably in the 80mb range. It’s ridiculous.

    5. Avatar Mark Longden says:

      I signed up with the Three Mini and it has been appalling due to bandwidth issues. The customer service has been appalling too. Thankfully my contract ends soon and I won’t be repeating the mistake in the future. They are fools for alienating customers in this way.

    6. Avatar Jivanjee says:

      Well am with Three for about 10 years and I have totally different experience Three justo had reception problems o the trains but they fixed it and now am forced to use my Three phone as a router and all good at mine and I even play some games on it so all good and now am waiting for 5g

  2. Avatar David Jones says:

    I for one have never been able to order they home 4G broadband deal when looking at the checker, knowing full well I get good speeds on my iPhone I moved with the idea of buying an unlimited SIM and a Teltonika RUT950 positioned in the loft.
    I get speeds of over 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up. Far greater than the <10Mbps FTTC connection I had.
    Whilst ping times are in the 50ms range, this covers the use of gaming, streaming and working from home far better.

    1. Avatar Russell HUTSON says:

      I’m just installing a RUT950 setup myself. Have trialled it indoors with EE and O2 PAYG SIMs and about to try an Unlimited SIM from Smarty. Very impressed with the RUT950 (I used to build community wireless broadband projects, so I sort of know what I’m doing). Hopefully get the mast and antenna up this weekend.

  3. Avatar Ryan Thorpe says:

    Valid point Mark, a good thing if 3 thinks their network is under load to reduce sign-ups.

    I am growing tired of the people who have had a bad experience with a company when they should’ve checked first to see if speeds and/or coverage are poor and jump on a forum to beat down the company, when the onus was on them to check.

    So to balance, I watched loads of content over, my 4G speeds are averaging 67-70mbps and occasionally it drops to 3G and it drops to about 10-12mbps. There’s the odd slowdown or glitch and I’ve been with them for seven years.

    My usage case may vary to others and I’ve had the odd problem but I worked around or found a solution when I phoned them up. You can’t expect Voda/O2/EE service for the price you pay.

    1. Avatar Lee says:

      Nonsense. If you buy a product and it works fine for a month or two only to deteriorate thereafter why should you not have a right to complain.
      Just because you live in an area that works fine for now, doesn’t mean it won’t deteriorate in the future.
      The onus is on the company to deliver what they advertise and if they can’t not to lock people up in contract’s.
      That is a scam.

    2. Avatar Three sucks says:

      Lee,

      I’ve had this out with three as well.
      Bought a PAYG sim, tested out the speeds .. great 80 down / 20 up.
      Buy a contract.. works fine.

      3 months later … 0.5mbit

      Call up three.. well we don’t guarantee a speed and 0.5mbit is still a service. erm squeeze me? they did discount me to the point i’m paying them £8 a month for unlimited now but still I don’t consider half a megabit to be a service. Quite often pages don’t load etc. Ok this isn’t normal, but it happens way too often.

  4. Avatar Jack says:

    So once again Three have been caught out by not being proactive and upgrading backhaul to the masts. Stopping new sales doesn’t help the existing ones who are stuck with a poor service

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Stops it from getting worse, which is better than not doing anything (i.e. the typical approach) and allows time for a proper resolution.

    2. Avatar Dave Webster says:

      Mark how does it stop it from getting worse?
      Everyone is using more data so the bars not staying still.
      It’s just slows the downwards speed.

      I’ve been with three a long long time now but this year has been hard to defend them even with them reducing my price.

      They over exposed themselves to abuse of unlimited cheap contracts and now they paying the price.

  5. Avatar JP90 says:

    Had this product for almost two years, but since November speeds have been atrocious.
    Complained to 3 and got out of contract penalty free. You just need to be able to articulate your request in the appropriate way and they will not deny it (same happened with mobile contract)

    1. Avatar Dangthrimble says:

      JP90, you say you got out of your contract for Three Home Broadband penalty free and that you just need to be able to articulate your request in the appropriate way. Can you provide more details? I have been with them nearly a year and, after good speeds in the first few months, I am now often getting 3Mbps or less up and down, which is really frustrating during lockdown when streaming is often the best or only way to communicate with friends and family, or take part in meetings.

      Thanks

  6. Avatar Onephat says:

    Mark. Any idea if this will have any impact on existing customers recontracting / upgrading their routers?

    Thanks

  7. Avatar Oggy says:

    My area, AB12 4xx, is one where orders cannot currently be placed.

    Just did a speedtest and it came back as 58Mbps down and 18Mbps up.

    In a house of 2 of us we find that fine and it’s much faster than the FTTC connection I had until last July.

  8. Avatar LT says:

    I bought a two year contract for the unlimited service after seeing it highlighted here two years ago. For the money it was OK and would generally give me up to 40Mb/s which contrasted well with my BT vdsl which peaks at 18Mb/s. I did consider renewing it, but fttp is in the offing. My only real gripe is how useless their website is. I submitted a request to cancel and got a notification saying they would get back to me after two working days. A week later and nothing.

  9. Avatar Imran says:

    I don’t know why Ofcom force the speed Mobile operator. 1st 3g 4G 5G But all the UK mobile network, not guaranty speed…

  10. Avatar jimbo says:

    This should been sorted out years ago,was a THREE customer.

    Really weird, a shared mast i use with EE and 3 in CV13 for mobile broadband,im 200Mtrs away from mast line of site.

    EE 140Mbps Down 35Mbps Up
    3 4 Mbps Down 0.5Mbps up

    Its been like for 4 years and complained numerous times to 3 the usual phone call help switch on and off again.
    I glad they are hopefully improving the backhaul,its about time.

    1. Avatar Matthew says:

      Exactly.. And yet they get to sell to your location as “4g”, which in the case of Three at your location that is literally false advertising. Peak time in Britain according to the Office of National Statistics is 9pm on a Wednesday. We should by right be able to check (tied in with Ookla or whatever if need be) what the likely speed is going to be at our nearest mast location when we sign up.. At that peak time. At least then we would get Some idea of what we are really signing up for, and a fair measure for comparison between providers.

    2. Avatar Name says:

      4 years means that you renewed the contract at least once despite of having issues. Well done.

    3. Avatar tanon says:

      Switch from Band 20 to Band 3 if you have the Huawei B535: https://www.ltehmonitor.com/

      It takes literally 5 minutes and you’ll see your speeds go from 3Mbps to >40Mbps.

  11. Avatar Declan M says:

    A couple of my friends have 3 for their mobile and use it for tethering and they complain all the time about speeds some not even getting 4mpbs! not surprised that 3 has suspended sales of 4G Mobile broadband

  12. Avatar Greg says:

    Looks like they’re doing the same with 5G. I had it installed and working at my address last year, but if I check now I’m seeing the following:

    “We’re on our way

    We’re busy expanding our network to connect more homes.”

    As for all the comments here about performance, my experience was varied – it got impressive if somewhat unstable download performance, but I cancelled due to the less than ideal upstream speeds and thankfully got FFTP not too long after.

  13. Avatar JT says:

    To give Three credit, when compared to a BT Landline in a poor state of repair, unreliable and max download of 5Mbps, Three manages 32Mbps, despite them refusing to supply to this address. Eventually I found a way round their order blocking, ordered the Huawei 525 from Three on their unlimited deal and a Poynting a-xpol-002, after a year still fairly good. Openreach have abandoned rural areas in the hope they can allow the rural landline network to collapse completely and mobile networks take over.

  14. Avatar Michael V says:

    I’ve never really seen problems myself. This is definitely something good if they’re recognising areas of serious congestion.
    LTE speeds have improved a lot around Cardiff & South Wales.

    Though I know other places is very different. But all operators have their congestion areas.

  15. Avatar JT says:

    Also useful to force the modem onto Band 3 (32Mbps as above), if it flips to Band 20 download speeds collapse to sub 3Mbps.

    1. Avatar Russell HUTSON says:

      Top tip, worth a try, thanks

    2. Avatar Dave Jones says:

      Did exactly that on my RUT950.

    3. Avatar Michael V says:

      Yeah I got the Huawei AI Cube. Set it to 4G only. It typically looks for the higher band first. Band 3 / band 1. [1800mhz/2100mhz.]
      Stops it from falling back to 3G HSPA+.

      Can be done via the Hi-Link app or log in to the router’s settings page.

    4. Avatar tanon says:

      Exactly this. In my experience, most of the problems that people complain about with Three tend to arrive out of ignor…ahem…lack of technical expertise, more than anything else.

      If they just swapped the band to 1800MHz rather than 800MHz, then the “XX Mbps” speeds they got in “the first Y months” would magically reappear.

      At the end of the day, it’s hardly Three’s fault if the router’s firmware follows the default behaviour of shifting to the highest RSNI band – the router doesn’t know what speed is acceptable to you at the end of the day!

      Ironically, if such people spent half the time that they do complaining, actually trying to investigate the issue, they’d end up more content and wiser! I suppose it’s much easier to blame Three for “scamming” them, on the other hand…

  16. Avatar Name says:

    I’ve been with Three for just a year about 5 years ago. As far as I can see nothing has changed since that time despite their “spokesperson” selling constantly the same crap.

  17. Avatar Pete g says:

    Three mobile home broadband has been going down for a good 18 months I had not broadband 4G and mobile with them but have got rid of both due to poor signals from cell site 0.74 if a mileas the RF flies . Also their coverage checker map is highly inaccurate so they use faulty location info to give excuses why the service was do bad 0.74 of a mile from their site the truth is the site had a problem and they could not be bothered to get an engineer out because it meant a large cherry picker to access the antennas

  18. Avatar MARK MCCALLUM says:

    I get better speed by dropping down to 3G – at their recommendation; “congestion in that area”

  19. Avatar Fred says:

    This is what happens when auctions are about filling government coffers rather than network investment.

  20. Avatar Robert Blunden says:

    Using the huawei 4g Pro 3 router on three contract.
    I’m impressed with the performance. Constantly getting 45 to 50 mbps download and 22mbps upload speed and 1 or 2 ms ping.
    Going to give it a couple of weeks and see how it goes.

    1. Avatar Matt says:

      I brought the 4g pro 3 also as the 525 was only giving about 25 Mbps down …now get a constant 75 Mbps down and 35 upload…and that’s minimum on a bad day. Best router by far and never had a drop or issues with three in 2 years.

  21. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    I honestly wish they’d stop new users signing up in my area. My mast is constantly hammered yet Three’s doing nothing to to increase the available bandwidth on it.

  22. Avatar Graeme says:

    I had 3s 4G broadband for around 3 months before having to cancel the contract as it was so painfully slow. According to the support on the phone 10mb/s was “actually quite good”. I also cancelled my 2 x PAYG sims with Smarty. Moved to Vodafone on their 4g broadband and getting constant speeds of 60mb/s +.

  23. Avatar Jim says:

    LOL Clowns customer service they are really useless like a chocolate teapot blamed my hardware phone for slow speeds over 30 complaints in 3 years still not fixed my speeds…better off using two strings and a tin can of baked beans..

  24. Avatar Meadmodj says:

    All unfortunately predictable. Over hyped technology, over enthusiastic advertising and a clear failure in fixed broadband provision. Just look at the sub speeds on Think Broadband and you see a country clearly not reflecting the Ofcom broadband statements that refer to coverage not actual availability. With fixed broadband so poor it is no wonder that the demand has sought mobile alternatives additionally fuelled by Covid and that these will be clustered on particular masts.

    My view is that while we need real 5G, more spectrum, more backhaul capacity it should not be at the detriment to those on 4G and that fixed broadband should be providing fixed location demand.

  25. Avatar Paul Ian says:

    Here is my story 3 network was amazing back in 2017-2019 speeds were amazing since 2019 the network has gone awol slow speeds,terrible signal each time… I filed a complaint on live chat and phone they said we will issue a new sim card and see the problem get resolved….same BS…..what three needs is network upgrades in heavy areas seem like they want to save and cut cost and take on new users,….

  26. Avatar Markdvdman says:

    I have home broadband with three – and the signal has been nigh on useless these days! Now that I check on my postcode cannot order as per the headline story.

    IF they were sorting it – I would be pleased, but they are forever saying they are working on the mast to fix congestion – and it never alters at all!!!

  27. Avatar Dean Colcombe says:

    Existing 4g service in Coventry CV3 hasn’t worked for months. Three keep denying this, but finally admitted there was a problem and did not charge me for one month. Refused to say how long this has been going on for. Still today you are lucky to get 5mbps when it was originally 40mbps.

  28. Avatar Brett says:

    Just cancelled my three contract at 1hr in to it.

    Speeds were great when it finished a speedtest but every other speedtest the 4g signal went and then came back so I wouldn’t complete it.

    Three didn’t wanna fix an issue would rather I left.. figure that out

  29. Avatar Ian tony says:

    Hello, This is Mohammed from three customer service how may I help you today….Hi Mohammed having issues with my speeds no problem we will try and resolve and fix the issue first can we have your postcode… W23000 thanks John… Seems like no issues in your area but I’m getting terrible speeds peak and off peak time… We will send out a replacement sim card is that OK… You already sent out two in the last 5 months….lets check probably your mobile phone is faulty erm OK I have 4 mobiles in my household each one cannot be showing the same issue each one works perfect with other networks… OK thanks for your information John how about you switch to 3G network.. Yes but I’m paying for 4G not 3G…

    This been going on for 18 months now sick to death of it emailed the CEO he told me to do another live chat going round and round in circles doing the same useless checklist will you upgrade my mobile mast I’m getting sub 1meg all day and night asked you can I cancel my contracted was told no unless I pay the last remaining 5 months…. Where do I stand….

    Best Regards, Ian

  30. Avatar Neil scott says:

    Well we all knew about this since the end of 2019 three is lack of bandwidth…. They have taken on far too many new customers to please their shareholders and CEO..no offense to any 3 fan boys what happened to their 2 billion pounds network upgrade hardly any improvement….

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