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Three UK Claims 5G Population Cover of 54 Percent – Beats EE

Monday, May 23rd, 2022 (12:01 am) - Score 9,576

Mobile operator Three UK this morning claims to have overtaken arch rival EE (BT) for population coverage of their new ultrafast 5G mobile (mobile broadband) network, which they say can now reach 54% of the United Kingdom. By comparison, EE put their own figure at 50% on 10th May 2022 (here).

As a result of this, Three UK are now claiming to be both the “UK’s biggest and fastest 5G network“. The operator added that its 5G network is now available in more than 400 locations across over 3,000 sites, while their customers are said to be gobbling almost 20GB of data per month (up 15% year-on-year).

NOTE: Usage on Three’s 5G powered Home Broadband packages is even higher, at a substantial 354GB per month (similar to Ofcom’s figure for fixed line broadband).

The catch here is that individual experiences will of course vary between different locations, and their “fastest” claim currently only appears to be supported by Ookla‘s data for download speeds (EE and Vodafone remain faster for both uploads and latency). The word “biggest” might also cause some confusion, as it could be taken by some to represent customer figures, rather than coverage (Three has fewer customers than their rivals).

Ookla’s UK Mobile Data Speeds for Q3-Q4 2021

Ookla mobile data speeds UK q3 q4 2021

David Hennessy, CTO of Three UK, said:

“We are relentlessly focussed on delivering the UK’s biggest and fastest 5G network for the UK. Millions of mobile, business and home broadband customers across more than half the UK’s population are able to access our superfast speeds enabling them to live their digital lives to the fullest.”

We should point out that the way operators measure geographic and population coverage may vary, thus we tend to prefer to wait until Ofcom’s annual Connection Nations reports in order to get a more impartial perspective on coverage. Nevertheless, achieving 54% and overtaking EE in the process is a significant achievement, particular as EE were the first major operator to start rolling out the technology, while Three UK started much later.

On the other hand, Three’s late start meant they didn’t get caught out as much by the UK government’s move to ban Huawei’s kit. One other potential differentiator could relate to the kind of bands that Three UK have used in order to achieve the figure of 54%. For example, on EE about 44 points of their 50%+ 5G coverage claim is on mid-band spectrum (faster speeds), while just 6% is via 700MHz (slower speeds, but better coverage). We don’t know where Three stands on this one.

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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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43 Responses
  1. sebbb says:

    Theoretically 3 UK it’s not going to turn on N28 band, they will use it as LTE instead (so B28), which makes sense given the lack of lower bands spectrum (only 5MHz in B20 – 800MHz) and that they will need the base layer for NSA 5G… So not sure the figure includes any 5G in lower bands.

  2. J Gallagher says:

    Look at the state of their rollout outside of England. Embarrassing.

    1. An Engineer says:

      Anyone would think Wales and Scotland both have swathes of their nations that are very sparsely populated with no large towns or cities while over 5/6ths of the population are in England, mostly in large metropolitan and wider metropolitan areas.

      Which is exactly what the map reflects.

    2. M says:

      That image is definitely not accurate too. Maybe there’s more out of England that’s not marked there.

      My town is not pinned and has Three 5G coverage.

    3. Sam P says:

      Three 5G coverage in South Wales seemed fantastic to me, every time I stopped the car it seemed I had 5G, even in some more rural areas surrounding Cardiff.

      I can’t comment on Scotland though.

    4. TH says:

      It’s largely because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are very sparsely populated. London alone (one city) has a bigger population than the whole of Scotland and Wales combined. Naturally, any company who wants to reach the most customers will take account of where most customers are. It affects the less populated areas of England, such as the North East and the South West, too.

  3. Michael says:

    I live just outside Cardiff but often travel around the city. Their 4G coverage has improved a lot & 5G is expanding quickly.
    Across South Wales their network coverage has improved also.

  4. Summer Summerson says:

    Points for creative journalism there – arch rival?! but I suppose it gets the clicks.

    Somehow I don’t think they’d have MBNL working if they were arch rivals.

    I did do a long drive the other day and there were spots of very good 5G from 3, but still too many spots where the phone was clinging on to one bar of 4G and the radio station I was streaming would cutout. Still some work to do 3.

    1. Lexx says:

      Seems about right most of the MBNL ee(ext-mobile)/3 masts Stuck on 4g just to spite 3 (ee has good chunk of bandwidth available on 4g 1800/2600 available on them)

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      The MBNL agreement only goes so far, with both networks still very different in their performance and coverage. They are both very much still arch rivals in a competitive market.

    3. F. Maxwell says:

      Summer Summerson

      Yes “arch rival” stuck out like a sore thumb, very childish superfluous language.

      Ceased reading the article at that point, sorry to see Mark doubling down in this thread.

    4. Serbian Warrior says:

      Throughout the years, I have been reading many articles so far from Mark and I found them mostly highly interested and very knowledgeable.

      You can’t always get everything absolutely right, but for you to call someone childish after he tried to give you a better understanding of why he used the term that he used is very infantile at best

    5. Serbian Warrior says:

      PS for the sake of the people who are actually interested in the IT / Technology / News and like to read trough the comments of like minded professionals please cease to comment too. Thanks

    6. Chris says:

      You’ve gotten a little carried away there Serbian Keyboard-warrior.

      Perhaps professionals should use professional language, rather than tabloidesque sensationalism?

    7. Summer Summerson says:

      Thanks for the reply Mark. I appreciate your point of view.

      I may not agree with the language used, but I don’t shame or hurt anyone for it, I made my point and he made his, and Mark
      made an effort to read the comments and reply – people are allowed to have a debate and state a point without hating anyone for it.

      When did everything become so polarising.

  5. Sam P says:

    This seems very likely.

    I was travelling around the UK last week and found I had 5G A LOT more on Three over EE.
    EE’s 5G seems very inconsistent and certainly isn’t as widespread as their coverage map would show. I even seen gigabit speeds on Three many times in very busy areas, it’s good to see.

    EE’s 4G is much much faster than Three though.

    1. Bon says:

      Yep, I agree. There’s a thread someone created on the forums but basically we agreed EE’s claim doesn’t bear fruit in real life, most of us had better coverage on Three/Voda.

    2. James says:

      Are you actually able to do real work such as use a corporate VPN with a 3 SIM? I failed to get enough throughput on the West Coast mainline the entire journey between London and Birmingham. Perhaps that’s normal for all the UK networks? In Switzerland, I generally expect VPN to hold up an ssh session on all rail routes, so it was a bit of a shock to find how badly 3 performed.

  6. Kevin L says:

    As a resident of south Wales that also travels a lot to north Wales I can see 5g rapidly expanding in both areas on top of the rollout of 4g in areas which until recently ‘only’ had 3g.

    Many congratulations to Three on finally getting it together and starting to get the job done.

  7. simon says:

    I never found Ookla to be reliable as others – Here i can never get full 5G speed on my phone or Router but I can on fast and broadbandspeed checker.

  8. Matthew Morgan says:


    Looking at the coverage map it looks like Three might have switched off 4G at at-least one site when they turned 5G. Leaving surrounding villages with only outdoor coverage or none at all (2100MHZ 3G does not reach many of those villages).

  9. Christine Anderson says:

    Hi I am not sure 5g I never been 5g and I have 4g

  10. Anuraj says:

    Three uk 5g improved lot. They are keep installing latest mast which capable of STANDALONE 5g.

    Three should have more 5g mast. They have applied new mast and rejected by councils because of local residents fear of 5g and usual reson “ eyeshore “ and property prices comes down.

    Three should start rolling 700mhz sooner to get more wider coverage. I don’t understand why operators hesitate to roll out 700mhz.

    4g also improved lot where new mast. Three start to deploy band 32 for download speed.

    Finally three on track.

    EE need to improve voice quality and 5g start to get slower

    1. Michael says:

      I’ve seen more 700mhz around recently. They are adding it to new & existing sites.

      Their sites might be set up for when Standalone 5G comes but none of the operators have launched SA 5G yet.

      I find Vodafone lacks in 5G speeds a lot.
      Three is better than Vodafone & o2.

  11. John says:

    Got 180Mbps on 4G+ in O2 while in roaming in EU. Three – poor as always.

    1. Anuraj says:

      Forget roaming. What about uk speed on 02 ??
      Very slooooow. Can’t even send iMessage after 5pm.

  12. Serbian Warrior says:

    After being loyal customer to three for many years I had to eventually switch to Vodafone cause it’s just better alternative. If you are traveling around this country a lot you will realise that the three network is very unstable.

    I wish to three to achieve their goals primarily because I think the money they are asking for their services like the SIM only card ” unlimited everything” £16 or £17 is phenomenal.

    No-one else gives you such great deals like three and for people living in the city and not traveling much I do think three SIM is the best solution.

    1. Carl Jones says:

      I left three for Vodafone and not looked back. Vodafone is actually a mobile
      Network you can use inside. Can’t see myself trusting three for some years after one plan fiasco.

    2. NE555 says:

      “I think the money they are asking for their services like the SIM only card ” unlimited everything” £16 or £17 is phenomenal”

      That’s a very short-sighted approach by Three, in my view.

      Radio spectrum is very limited. If they fill up their network with home broadband users, downloading terabytes per month and paying very little, it means poor service for the genuinely mobile users – and a low financial return for Three.

  13. james smith says:

    NE555 the reason that Three are popular with Home broadband is because thary do not take the….. like fixed line service providers such as Shell and Sky

  14. Gregowski says:


    Imagine I have 2x 20mhz block in 800 B20. One of them 5G the other 4G. What are the max speeds in theory for both technologies in the same frequency and same channel bandwidth?

    1. Andy199 says:

      For 4G assuming 2×2 MIMO, 64QAM on the downlink and 16QAM on the uplink the theoretical maximums would be 150Mbps Download and 50Mbps Upload.

      For 5G assuming 2 Layers, 256QAM on the downlink and 64QAM on the uplink the theoretical max would be 218Mbps Download and 87.5Mbps Upload.

      You can change the configurations for both using these tools:


  15. Lance says:

    Looking at their own network coverage map, I find it hard to believe they cover 54% of the entire UK population!

    There coverage is even sparse compared to O2

  16. Michael says:

    EE made a fuss about population coverage measurements and blogger they have gone back to it.
    All 4 have their own way of measuring coverage. I think it should all be done in relation to landmass not population.
    So while one map might look fuller than another, it might be classed as less coverage.

  17. Michael says:

    EE made a fuss about population coverage measurements and *now they have gone back to it.
    All 4 have their own way of measuring coverage. I think it should all be done in relation to landmass not population.
    So while one map might look fuller than another, it might be classed as less coverage.

  18. Tech3475 says:

    What I find funny is that Three literally built a mast down the road from me last year but there’s still no coverage change on their website.

  19. Mark says:

    I’ll stick to EE for now. I used to love getting 800Mb+ on Three’s 5G network, but the second I moved away from the 5G area and back to 4G it was slower than dial-up! EE’s 5G seems to net me a much slower 200Mb but the 4G seems to always be 60Mb+ no matter where I am.

  20. Jimmy Nails says:

    I use all networks for my work (bar O2) Three are cheap for data and decent speeds however the whole package is rubbish. Vodafone’s signal is excellent wherever I go in the UK and never get a drop call. EE however have always had the fastest speeds, UK call centres quickest answering times and smart plan gives me Netflix and Apple Music. You pay for what you get I suppose. Threes prices with Vodafone’s call strength and EEs data speeds and customer service would be the dream. Maybe chuck in tescos no price rises and we are onto a winner

    1. Nx1 says:

      That’s my experience with 4G. When it comes to 5G, Vodafone seems to be lagging behind both EE and Three in terms of speed and coverage.

  21. Connor says:

    From what I’ve seen so far Three only uses 700Mhz on 4G and I’ve only so far seen it on 5G capable masts.

  22. Anatoli says:

    We do know where Three stands because they have said so publicly. All of their 5G coverage is mid band 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum. They are using their 700 MHz for 4G.

  23. Anatoli says:

    Their fastest 5G claim is also supported by OpenSignal – check their UK report for Apr 2022

  24. Mark S Smith says:

    Where I live in Bradford, I’m finding that the data speeds when I can get a 5g signal is slower than the 4g service. They claim to have Bradford covered but so far I’m yet to find a reliable signal here that lets me use data. Is it a case of not enough bandwidth at the mast or simply too many subscribers for what has been built?

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