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Three (and Smarty) tested packet loss - 'slow browsing' and timeouts

liveswired

Casual Member
There is known, recurring, frustrating, fault with the Three service that H3G refuse to fix. I am in a rural area where the 3.5+ km distance from the green cab means I barely get any copper broadband at all – trying to work from home is a nightmare, so I have a Three unlimited data SIM in a Draytek 2860Ln. I’m only about 500m line of sight across an open field from the Three tower (I could actually sling a wire to it!) so RAN connection / signal is not an issue. Download can peak up to 120Mb with consistent 30Mb up. All good so far. However, the issue is, as many have noticed, that accessing web sites and services it a totally miss and hit experience. Failure to get DNS, failure to negotiate TLS, timeouts, packet loss all conspire to make the service pretty much unfit for purpose. Changing DNS, MTU, band, access tech (3G/4G) make little difference. However, using a VPN almost completely eliminates the problem – except that unless you spend alot on a full SLA’d commercial VPN the speed is crippled and connection is unreliable.


So I decided to write a monitoring app to hit a selection of 10 URLs every minute and log the results - which are amazing. At worst, I see over 25% failure to complete the URL transaction and the average runs at about 9-10% failure rate over time. It appears to be consistent, random packet loss issue. The BEST I have seen over a rolling 1 hour window is about 3% error rate. Those failure rates, as far as I am concerned, do not even fall within the ‘best effort’ small print. For comparison, EE runs at less than 0.05% failure and even the dribble that I DO get from BT also runs at less than 0.05% failure rate.

This all suggests there is a serious design flaw in the Three core; probably an under-specified / overloaded backbone or equipment – but it’s difficult to speculate.

I have spent hours on the phone to various 1st and 2nd line support ppl in Three, but after getting through the dumb ‘have you turned it off and on again’ scripted response, all they will offer is ‘we don’t know how it works’, ‘we can do nothing about it’ (WON’T do anything?) and ‘would you like to cancel?’ (and return that c**p Huawei router). It’s as though even the 2nd line view the network core as some sort of invisible magic they can’t touch and won’t question. Any request to escalate to core engineering is met with ‘I don’t know how to do that’ or ‘we are not allowed to do that’ depending on who you are talking to. They DO NOT DESERVE TO BE IN BUSINESS with that sort of attitude. I have pointed out that MANY of us suffer the same experience, all over the country, and that they REALLY need to take a look at why it's happening - but with no takeup whatsoever. I guess the majority of Three customers use phones and just put the necessity to retry down to ‘bad signal’ – when it is really a fundamentally broken service. The fact that a VPN over Three works without these errors shows that the RAN (and your home equipment) is not the issue.

AVOID THREE (and Smarty) AT ALL COSTS!

(fwiw, I used to be a cellular core engineer)

Any updated on your situation since?

I really am dumping my Three unlimted 4G phone contract and Home once they run out. I was with Three for three years and had good 4G on my phone - 30mbps which was enough to get me to go for the home option which for 5 months gave me 50-70mbps + but the whole lot has completely and truly went down the pan.

Customer services gave me some bull about a problem with my local mast that their engineering team are apparently working on - even escalated my issue and told me I would be contacted by a specialist in 2 days, well that hasn't happened lol.

I told him I've tested multiple masts and I am getting the same speed range at each one 3-10mbps and that's just the speed- so it is very clearly a backbone issue with their core network that they are refusing to acknowledge.
 

liveswired

Casual Member
I should add that 3-10mbps would be workable but ONLY IF it was RELIABLE. But Three isn't, I would run a speed test every day and it takes several runs to get one that doesn't fail, most websites have a 10 second wait time, infact I seem to have to refresh a few times to get sites to load.

The BT line I had supplied 2.5mbps which while crap, was reliable at loading everything and I could even watch a video without buffering.

Three are a joke of network.
 

itrends

Member
Here is what I have done as a work around for now.

Firstly, I got a TP Link Archer Mr6 router. This took my speed from around 12mbs to 40mbs and 4G+. Great I thought, all sorted.

Nope, same issue, but now I can get faster speeds between the issue happening.

Here is where I hit gold though.

I have a Linksys WRT3200ACM sitting about. This happens to be one of the routers that ExpressVPN release their own software for.

I have now put that router between the TP Link Archer and my home wifi. This means that all the traffic on the network now goes in and out of a VPN connection. Three is no longer doing any of the DNS or traffic routing/lookups.

Since I have put this VPN in the middle my internet has been absolutely lightening fast and not got stuck once! On any device. The current issue I am fighting with is trying to get Disney + to either work with express VPN UK or to somehow route that traffic outside of the VPN. For now, I just turn the VPN off.

So... here is a way for you to test if this solution might work for you.

1. Get connected as usual
2. Install Express VPN as a trial on your machine (other VPN providers may do the same I expect)
3. See how your internet is on THAT specific machine while connected

If you find that this resolves the issue for long enough, you might then consider putting your own ExpressVPN router VPN in-between three and your home wifi.

Right now I have

Archer
goes into
WRT3200ACM with express vpn firmware installed
goes into
ORBI home wifi to get the signal through the house

Yeah, it's not a cheap setup, but now out in the country I have 50mbs flawless. Very happy.

There are very likely cheaper ways to achieve this but hopefully this triggers some ideas.

Finally, I did try setting up express VPN on the threeUK supplied 4g modem as it has space to do so. At the time I found that broke some things / it wasn't great so I removed those settings in the end. That may be worth exploring as perhaps with another VPN or your specific network setup that will work just fine.

I appreciate we shouldn't have to work around the issues in these ways, but for those that really need reliable internet for now until three solve the problem properly... well I hope this helps.
 

Darnoc

Member
Big thanks to @AliJCam and @itrends for the great info. I've been with Three for a week now on a 5G home broadband deal. The speedtest results are fantastic but web browsing has been utterly terrible. I've been pulling my hair out as all the advice seems to be change your DNS but that has made bugger all difference. My wife told me to get on the phone to Three and ask them to help but we all know that would be a hiding to nothing. I already had an ExpressVPN subscription so after reading this thread I put that on and - hey presto, perfect web browsing! I'll now look into getting this working on a router to fix it for the whole house.

Thanks again for the great advice. Such a relief to have working internet at last. Hopefully Three will get their act together at some point...
 

nickdex10

Casual Member
Hi all, I moved to 3 a few months ago and it was brilliant up until the past 2/3 weeks, streaming netflix/amazon etc through TV is fine but working and browsing from my Mac is woefully painful and slow with web pages timing out or taking an age to load - it also only seems to effect some website. Speed tests constantly show 50mb so its not a speed issue. Im currently running a 7 day trial with a VPN and so far it seems to be working much better. I see some people are suggesting running the VPN through the router - I have no idea how to do this so any help or advice would be much appreciated! I have the Huawei 535.
 

liveswired

Casual Member
Hi all, I moved to 3 a few months ago and it was brilliant up until the past 2/3 weeks, streaming netflix/amazon etc through TV is fine but working and browsing from my Mac is woefully painful and slow with web pages timing out or taking an age to load - it also only seems to effect some website. Speed tests constantly show 50mb so its not a speed issue. Im currently running a 7 day trial with a VPN and so far it seems to be working much better. I see some people are suggesting running the VPN through the router - I have no idea how to do this so any help or advice would be much appreciated! I have the Huawei 535.

I'd say most people on Three network are facing this issue, Three are ignoring it and palming us off and no site is willing to take the number of complaints serious to investigate. Lets just say at the rate trustpilot is building up a massive catastrophic Three network story through reviews something has to give.

Three have an easy excuse - blame it on the area or signal 🙄.
 

nickdex10

Casual Member
I'm only on a 30 day contract so i can cancel if it doesn't improve, which is a shame as for the first couple of months it was brilliant. I've done a bit of research on alternatives but it seems there are issues with gaming connections and usage limits on most other networks, does anyone have any suggestions on who is a good one to move to?
 

TTJJ

ULTIMATE Member
I'm only on a 30 day contract so i can cancel if it doesn't improve, which is a shame as for the first couple of months it was brilliant. I've done a bit of research on alternatives but it seems there are issues with gaming connections and usage limits on most other networks, does anyone have any suggestions on who is a good one to move to?
For me Vodafone’s unlimited max plans with cash back from various online sellers are the only alternative to Three with a reasonable price. There’s no fixed IPs and it’s CGNAT but I think for most people it wouldn’t be an issue even when gaming. Best to test it first.
 

Vanburen

Casual Member
I have been using a Three unlimited Sim while on holiday and have come across the same issues people have been flagging in this thread, fortunately I will be able to ditch it when I get home.

It may well be worth trying out the AAISP L2TP service as an alternative to VPNs: https://www.aa.net.uk/broadband/l2tp-service/

Would be interesting to hear if that helps fix some of the issues with three.
 

chazzypuk

Member
I am having the same issues. Turning off the 4G appears to fix the problem as does using Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 warp service. I have a TP-Link Archer MR600. Is there anyway I can install the VPN in this router so I don't have to have separate apps on all devices. I am having an issue on Sky Q with my network setup too and I think it's related to this issue.
 

grovep

Member
I am having the same issues. Turning off the 4G appears to fix the problem as does using Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 warp service. I have a TP-Link Archer MR600. Is there anyway I can install the VPN in this router so I don't have to have separate apps on all devices. I am having an issue on Sky Q with my network setup too and I think it's related to this issue.
Same problem, same router, same question about VPN
 

AliJCam

Casual Member
Update:
Since starting out on this, I have developed my 'testing' probram much further. As before, my test program hits 10 major international web sites every minute and now logs various fail rate parameters - overall, by day and by last rolling 15 mins. I also capture details from the IPstack using netstat. The results are illuminating. The attached screencaps are from the last 3 days - the graph shows the rolling 15 minute error rate. Note how the HTTP error rate CAN be nice and low for considerable periods, but then just jumps up for no apparent reason, although one it goes bad it usually stays bad until an automatic or manual IP address change (manual change forged by rebooting my router). So, you can see how the recommendation by the support staff to 'reboot your router' can appear to resolve the issue. However, the failed connections statistic that netstat reports is always high. The symptoms seem to be related to the connection, rather than the PC running the test as I get much the same results running from different PCs on the same Three connection. One possible thing I have not really tested out yet is if the router becomes 'overloaded' by the ongoing rate of failed TCP transactions and eventually can't keep track of any more re-tries and passes the failures back to the PC.
Suffice to say, this does not happen on other ISPs...
(oops, can only attach 2 at a time, seen next post for the third one)
 

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AliJCam

Casual Member
seems there's a limit on consecutive upload size - will try later to send the third - although it shows much the same shapes...
 

Darnoc

Member
Big thanks to @AliJCam and @itrends for the great info. I've been with Three for a week now on a 5G home broadband deal. The speedtest results are fantastic but web browsing has been utterly terrible. I've been pulling my hair out as all the advice seems to be change your DNS but that has made bugger all difference. My wife told me to get on the phone to Three and ask them to help but we all know that would be a hiding to nothing. I already had an ExpressVPN subscription so after reading this thread I put that on and - hey presto, perfect web browsing! I'll now look into getting this working on a router to fix it for the whole house.

Thanks again for the great advice. Such a relief to have working internet at last. Hopefully Three will get their act together at some point...
Okay, that's it, I'm out. Three has been nothing but problems since day one. This week on Monday and Tuesday (and a couple of weeks ago) I had no internet at all and couldn't work from home (same issue on the EE network to be fair so probably a local mast issue). Even when working it's simply not usable without being connected to ExpressVPN (I have a new Linksys router now with this running permanently, another cost to get Three to work). Today enough was enough and I called to cancel. Wow that was a painful experience - and they tried to charge me a £250 termination fee. I don't think so! Anyway I'm disconnected now and have a fibre connection due in a couple of weeks.

If you're still with Three then good luck to you. Getting a 5G home broadband deal seemed like a good idea at the time but it's just not designed for decent uptime that I need for wfh not to mention the need to be VPNed up all the time.
 

TTJJ

ULTIMATE Member
I've just today cancelled the last of the family Three broadband plans. Finally switched them over to Vodafone.

Honestly shows you sometimes it can be too good to be true. Two weeks ago had the email about the big network build and amazing improvements coming specifically to our area with work to finish last week - got a text saying it's all done and performance was even worse than before.

I honestly don't know what they do with their network but they're cheaping out somewhere and it really shows.
 

MarkyR74

Casual Member
I should have known there would be a thread on here about this.. I have been with Smarty for a while and it worked great. But on my iPhone I have noticed the exact same things, my 3G speeds are much higher then my 4G ones, and reading recent news about Three ditching the all you can eat plans and spending millions in backbone upgrades, I think I know where the problem lies.
On advice on here I got a Voxi SIM and it has good 4G speeds and a bit better coverage, but it’s £5 a month more. I’m in two minds weather right swap or not as I like Smarty and £10 for 30GB a month is impressive.
But the Voxi sim is a 5G plan.. not that I’ll ever get that round my way for a few years. I notice You Tube works fine but webpages can be slow. I do plan on getting a new 5G iPhone so there is that.
It’s one of these things where it does me as is but I’m annoyed with having 2MBPS download speeds with 3 bar 4G signal when outside walking the dog! In Voxi I get around 15MBPS plus.. But I do get WiFi calling with Smarty.

Anyway I’m rambling, interesting thread though.
 

muppy99

Member
Update:
Since starting out on this, I have developed my 'testing' probram much further. As before, my test program hits 10 major international web sites every minute and now logs various fail rate parameters - overall, by day and by last rolling 15 mins. I also capture details from the IPstack using netstat. The results are illuminating. The attached screencaps are from the last 3 days - the graph shows the rolling 15 minute error rate. Note how the HTTP error rate CAN be nice and low for considerable periods, but then just jumps up for no apparent reason, although one it goes bad it usually stays bad until an automatic or manual IP address change (manual change forged by rebooting my router). So, you can see how the recommendation by the support staff to 'reboot your router' can appear to resolve the issue. However, the failed connections statistic that netstat reports is always high. The symptoms seem to be related to the connection, rather than the PC running the test as I get much the same results running from different PCs on the same Three connection. One possible thing I have not really tested out yet is if the router becomes 'overloaded' by the ongoing rate of failed TCP transactions and eventually can't keep track of any more re-tries and passes the failures back to the PC.
Suffice to say, this does not happen on other ISPs...
(oops, can only attach 2 at a time, seen next post for the third one)
Great work, is it possible to get a copy of your program or details of how to construct my own. My internet connection using a Smarty sim is so bad that using webmail is impossible as it logs out repeatedly. Swapping to a giifgaff sim solves the problem totally. For a while the Smarty problem was resolved by swapping the connection from 4g to 3g but now that is just as bad. At a relatives house ive started to see the same sort of thing on a plusnet connection. I think people who are non technically minded think its something they have done or their equipment and the ISPs get away with it.
 
I'm so happy I stumbled across this thread. I have been using Smarty for my home internet and have had all manner of issues with websites stalling on my PC. However, if I used a VPN it's perfectly good.

In my location I get at least 40mbps down and 20mbps up throughout the day, and even faster early mornings.... so from a cell tower perspective there are no issues.

Forcing my phone (which I tether from) to 3G helps things drastically as well.

Three's network core must be a total mess. I did try sending an email to support about the issue with evidence but that was a pointless waste of time.
 
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