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Awful Three Mobile Broadband — Recommendations?

Deer

Casual Member
So my parents have mobile home broadband via a Three unlimited data SIM, which came with an Huawei AI Cube with Alexa hub. We pay ~£26 a month. I think it's supposed to be around 10Mbps, but we've been having no end of trouble with it. I ran a continuous speed test using Python (it runs off speed test.net) and the speed seems to be fairly good numbers-wise, it dips occasionally but remains around 10Mbps. It does seem to switch between hosts/masts quite a lot though. In practise on our devices however, it has days where it is barely passable and days when it is utterly unusable, even when the speed test says it's around 10Mbps still. The devices we use often say 'connected but no internet'. I rely on it for my university lectures and my parents both work at home. We often just give up and use our limited mobile data. We're on a Three contract, which doesn't end until August (well past my online exams :/) and so pretty much trapped with it at the moment. I have called them up and they said they're going to call us back in 24-48 hours, but I also went on live chat as well. On the chat they mentioned about our SIM being old (13 months old) and that they're going to send us this new 5G sim, but I don't know whether that's going to do the trick or not. It's confusing since I think we're on 4G, so I don't know why they're sending us a 5G sim. Even if it does work, we'll probably go elsewhere once the contract is up.

What mobile broadband providers would you recommend? We want to avoid Virgin since we've had trouble with them before. We also don't want EE or Plusnet (which runs off EE) if possible as all our mobiles are on that provider and if it cuts out we have nothing. Does O2 do any unlimited mobile home broadband deals? I only seem to be able to find limited ones. We are in the EN11 postcode.

Also, could you use a different phone SIM to power the mobile broadband (so if you got a SIM-only contract) instead? Or does it have to be a particular type of SIM?

Thank you.
 
Last edited:

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
You can put any sim in your router (as long as you've got the data) and it'll work. Its a good way to test which carrier provides the best signal.

BTW There is no such thing as a 5g sim, they're all the same.
 

GaryW

Casual Member
Nor sure about Three, but EE certainly used to lock the modem/routers they provided with home broadband packages so you couldn't just pop in someone else's SIM.
 

bonehead999

Casual Member
I don't understand how Three are still in business. Their entire service offering is poor at best.

I suggest you grab some free PAYG sim cards and do some speed tests. Cellmapper.net is also your friend but there are lots of other tools. Read small print, check for bandwidth limits e.t.c, some packages will limit your maximum downstream.

It might also be worth checking your Wi-Fi is working correctly, if you're using that. A friend of mine recently gained an extra 10-15mbps by using an ethernet cable to his main router rather than connecting over Wi-Fi.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
@GaryW device locking is now illegal afaik.

@Deer O2 do have "unlimited data" contracts, not for "broadband" mind you, but you can use it as such. If you do not want to go full contract, try GiffGaff which runs off O2 and has "unlimited data" SIMs for £35. It's a good way to test.

Re EE, if you all have it already, I assume contracts, I would definitely go for it as you will likely get a very good deal on an "unlimited data" SIM with them. What speeds are you getting on your EE phones?

BTW, EN11 is covered at least partially by their 5G, this means speeds well over 100Mbps, I would definitely investigate.

If you want to avoid that single point of failure, you could always switch one of your phones to Giffgaff etc, or just keep a SIM handy in case EE goes down.
 

kommando828

ULTIMATE Member
Having a connection but your devices saying there is no internet could be an APN problem or a DNS issue. Try changing the APN as there are 2 Three APN's and also try setting your router to use either Google's or Cloudflare's DNS.
 

Meatball

Pro Member
Thoughts:

The A1 Cube B900 has a reputation of poor reception, no external antenna option and a limited WIFI range. Ensure all speed tests are using a cabled device to accurately report the 4G speed and rule out WIFI a issue. You need to check its at the latest firmware.

Some of Hoddesdon and a lot of the surrounding area is Outdoor 4G only.
Vodafone has good coverage because its Band 20 but hence slow.
EE and THREE 4G coverage very similar to each other and should be providing a basic speed.
EE says good 5G (outdoor only) but not applicable with this unit.
O2 various mast bands so would require testing at your specific location

Your phones indicate EE is probably your best bet. Can you try one of your EE SIMS in the Cube? (or get a test SIM at the supermarket).
If EE works then ideally you can get a good deal and if you have family SIMS you can donate data back to your phones if needed. Alternatively upgrade one of the phones and get a low data SIM for the A1 Cube (again donating). You may find continuing to spread the load over separate mobile connections will be better than via the A1 Cube if usage is concurrent and available speed is limited.

I assume you have tried moving the Cube to various locations in the house?. That is for the THREE SIM or a EE Test. I know it is a speaker but it needs to be where the best signal is. Upstairs or even in the loft. WIFI signal on this unit is not good. So use the Ethernet port to cable to an old router or access point in a more central position to provide the WIFI connectivity.

Three sometimes kicks you off the mast. One crude solution is to use a simple mains timer (Master Plug mechanical Argos £5) to set the timer to turn off the Router at Night (and other set times) to reset both the router and its connectivity.

By the time the Three contract ends your reception options will have changed and you can invest appropriately.
 

Deer

Casual Member
I have an EE sim I can use to test the mobile hub, so will be doing that later today. We have moved the hub to several places around the house and had the same issue: it connects fine but the signal is slow and cuts out a lot.

After some more research it looks like EE is the best mobile provider in our area with speeds of 36Mbps, which I confirmed by running a speed test on my EE sim phone network. Vodafone we don't want to touch with a bargepole. Three (when it works) and O2 are limited to around 10-14Mbps, but O2 doesn't seem to offer unlimited mobile broadband or equivalent by the looks of it. This leaves EE and Three as our only options for mobile broadband. Three has been terrible and we don't know if they'll actually fix it or not and we already have EE on all our phones and don't want to put all our eggs into one basket in case the network goes down. EE is also twice as expensive as what we currently have with Three.

In an ideal world my dad would like:
1. Mobile broadband, so he can take it anywhere with him if we go on holiday in the UK.
2. Unlimited data.
3. Reliable connection and good customer service (not Vodafone basically and chances are not Three.)
4. Not to pay much more than what we pay currently, so probably under £30pm (unless my sister and I help pay for it, but we'd like a better speed than 10Mbps.)
5. Doesn't want to attach a dish to the side of the house.
6. Doesn't want to be all on the same network (i.e. EE.)

This is not possible though since this leaves no suitable providers at all, so we need to compromise somewhere. It seems like our best options are 1. go with EE and deal with paying double what we pay at the moment as well as having all our eggs in one basket 2. get a normal Wi-Fi broadband without a landline, go without having the portability and possibly have to deal with someone coming in to install it. 3. stay with Three (if it gets fixed) and not know if we'll run into the same or more problems further down the line.

The only thing with option 1. is that EE only seems to offer unlimited data on its 5G contracts and we don't yet have 5G in the area, so I don't know if we'd just have 4G but be paying for 5G or whether it just wouldn't work at all. Option 3, to stay with Three, isn't ideal since I game, watch lectures, discord call, download textbooks/pdfs, etc. and my sister also does much of the same thing, so we'd like to get a better speed (30Mbps+) and pay our parents more (we also help pay for bills/food) for it if it ends up costing more. I also help my parents with phoning service providers, etc. since it stresses them out so much. With regards to having a mobile hub, I'm not sure what's wrong with us just using our phone data and tethering if we want internet on a tablet or something.

This also all depends on what happens with Three. If they don't fix it, will we be able to get out of our contract early without fees or too much hassle? Otherwise we will have to wait until August/September of this year until our contract runs out.

Thank you for your replies so far!
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
@Deer I wouldn't be looking specifically for "mobile broadband", just search "unlimited data". This is how I am getting my internet, via EE unlimited monthly contract @ £37.
If you search "mobile broadband" specifically, at least with EE you get some ludicrous prices.
Technically there isn't that much difference, as the provider can't tell you where you can or cannot use that SIM in. It's related to some EU/OFCOM decree. Of course, the unlimited data SIM option does leave you needing a router, though you could use the Three one I guess.

If you are all on EE, it would benefit you to sign up for yet another contract. Not only can you get a better price as an existing customer, better than what I am paying, but if you get unlimited data, you then have 100GB giftable that you can spread within the family, so there is something to be gained there.
The only downside is you then also need to buy a 4G or 5G router.
If the SIM is 5G and your area is not covered, it will work on 4G, there are no issues there.

I doubt you can cancel your Three contract early.. worth trying I guess.

PS: they still seem to have a very good promo deal on their business site (you dont need to be an actual business), unlimited 5G data for £23+VAT.
 

Meatball

Pro Member
As you are a student there are specific offers. As an existing EE customer are you aware/using them?

Yes tethering a good option for your personal use is probably best.

I would persevere with Three for now and see if this new SIM does anything relating to the settings. Also try the new SIM in your phone to determine whether it is the A1 Cube or the Three service.

Mobile performance is very volatile and current UK speed expectations are too high (note EE market their 5G as only Superfast). We are still a long way from the full potential of 5G with many 5G routers and mobiles on the market having just as short a life as 4G devices. They are also currently still expensive.

As long as the signal is sufficient indoors for home I would concentrate on a good basic 4G Router (with paddle aerials). There are models that are portable enough for use on motorhome/caravan etc and are USB powered.
For a very portable solution I would recommend a MIFI/Hotspot such as the Huawei E5785 feeding a WIFI extender at home and using it's in-built WIFI on the move. I use both in my campervan (EE and Three) through a load balancing router. As always it is how much you are prepared to spend and how complex you want to make it. I assume you are after something very simple for your parents.
 

Deer

Casual Member
Okay, so my dad took my EE SIM from my old phone (I'm on O2 now but been trying to cancel my EE one) and put it into the hub, but it didn't work straight away and we didn't want to change around the settings only to have to change it back unless we're really at the end of the road. He put the original Three SIM back in, but it wasn't connecting like before and we thought it'd been messed up by the switch somehow. We just left it since all of us were frustrated and wanted to get on with work for the moment, but it did eventually reconnect properly again. The funny thing is, when it did reconnect, not only was the connection finally stable and usable, the speed had increased from 10Mbps to 20-35Mbps! We're not sure why, we just hope it stays that way, but who knows. Will see what happens over the week.

We still have this '5G' SIM arriving in the next couple of days, but not sure if it's worth putting that in and seeing what it does.
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
If possible, finding and noting down the CellIDs (usually shown somewhere in the UI, possibly Advanced>System or something similar) when you are seeing differing speeds. If the CellIDs change that indicates your connecting to a different cell or mast at that time. You are likely to have multiple in your area and you are now connecting to one that provides better throughput, whereas beforehand it was a more loaded cell.
 

kommando828

ULTIMATE Member
If you have a PC then download and install LTE Monitor


Once it logs onto your router it will give you more control and information on your connection including mast ID's and bands. My guess is your router gets its good speed on Band 3 but as Band 20 is a longer range signal it reverts to band 20. This was every 24 hrs with me until I used LTE Monitor to force the router to only use band 3. Band 20 will only give you 1/3rd of the download speed of band 3 on Three which is similar to what you have found.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
The fix didn't last. It went back to barely working and being excruciatingly slow after a few hours.
Sounds like Three alright. We hear this often.. :)
People reboot periodically because of this, but of course, it doesn't always yield the expected result.
I'd just stick to EE..
 

Deer

Casual Member
Tried the 5G SIM and still having the issue, but I've found that I can see the speeds more accurately from logging into the Huawei app and watching the diagram on there. It says 4G with 3 bars (half the bars.) The speeds are barely touching Kbps between the internet and the hub, whereas the connection between the hub and our devices is good on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. I tested the speed on speedtest.net and it was saying 5Mbps, which is inaccurate because I can see the speeds from the Huawei app.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
5Mbps is roughly 600 kB/s.. (megabit vs kilobyte) maybe that's what you are seeing in the app?
Regardless, it does sound rubbish.

You can also use fast.com for speed tests, it's Netflix' service, I doubt you'll get different results though (though they may be prioritizing Netflix a bit, who knows).
 

Deer

Casual Member
@Lucian

It's begun to work again now with decent speed 10-20Mbps once we got the 5G SIM working right. It's hooking onto a local mast with bands 3 and 20, but I don't know how to figure out which band. I've tried a few apps, but they treat the mobile broadband as Wi-Fi and don't seem to want to show it. Is there any way to find out what band you're on?
 

SmartyBroadband

Casual Member
I'm not sure if bands 3 and 20 correspond to 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

Totally different. LTE bands are what the router uses to connect to the mobile phone network. Different frequences. Force it to Band 3 if you can.


2.4/5Ghz are WiFi frequencies only.
 
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