‘All You Can Eat’ Data Reviewed: Unlimited 4G Internet from Three
July 11th, 2014
With Three’s all-you-can-eat data, you get unlimited 4G internet and no download limits.
In the UK, Three is fairly unique in having ‘all you can eat’ data without any download limits. All-you-can-eat data is available on a range of plans including Pay Monthly, SIM Only and Pay As You Go tariffs. You get access to Three’s ultrafast 4G network included with your plan (a 4G handset is required for this service) and there’s up to 4GB of tethering included every month (excludes Pay As You Go plans). There’s also the ability to use your phone abroad in 16 other countries at no extra charge.
In this article, we review Three’s all-you-can-eat data. We’ll look at the pros and cons of the service and review the range of tariffs offering unlimited data. We’ll also compare all-you-can-eat data to rival offerings from other mobile networks (e.g. giffgaff’s unlimited internet on their 3G goodybags).
- 1 What is ‘All You Can Eat’ Data?
- 2 ‘All You Can Eat’ Tariffs
- 3 Coverage
- 4 Travelling Abroad
- 5 Alternatives
- 6 Keeping Your Phone Number
- 7 More Information
What is ‘All You Can Eat’ Data?
Unlimited Internet: No Download Limits
Since 2010, Three has been fairly unique in offering all-you-can-eat data without any download limits. Unlike other networks, there isn’t a fair usage policy for all-you-can-eat data (i.e. there isn’t a hidden limit where you’ll lose your internet connection or where your speeds are reduced). You can simply use as much data as you like without ever having to worry about extra charges or limits.
With most other networks, there’s a more restrictive limit on how much data you can use. To give an example, customers on EE need to choose an allowance between 500MB and 50GB per month (the most expensive plan is £75/month for 50GB of data). On Three, all-you-can-eat data starts from £28/month (or £15 on a SIM only deal). You’ll often pay less compared to other networks and you’ll gain the freedom to use the full functionality of your smartphone without ever needing to worry.
Note: The Three website sometimes refers to a monthly download limit of 1,000GB. The 1,000GB figure is based on a physical limit: how much data you’d be able to use if you were downloading from your phone 24/7. According to Three website:
“Even if you used your phone for every minute of every day you could only use, subject to TrafficSense™, around 1000GB each month.”
4G is the latest generation of mobile network technology. Compared to 3G, it gives you even fast downloads: average download speeds are around 15Mbit/s (this compares to 4Mbit/s on standard 3G).
A major benefit of Three’s all-you-can-eat data tariffs is the inclusion of 4G at no extra charge. Providing you have a compatible 4G handset and providing you live in a 4G coverage area, you can use your unlimited downloads on Three’s 4G network.
The following table (taken from our guide to download speeds) shows how download times compare for different types of content on 4G and 3G:
|Activity||4G Download Time||3G Download Time|
|Accessing typical web page||0.1 seconds||0.2 seconds|
|Sending an e-mail without attachments||<0.1 seconds||<0.1 seconds|
|Downloading high-quality photograph||1 second||4 seconds|
|Downloading an music track (MP3)||3 seconds||10 seconds|
|Downloading an application||3 seconds||12 seconds|
For this comparison table, we have used average download speeds of 15Mbit/s on 4G (LTE) and 4Mbit/s on 3G (HSPA+). Typical file sizes used in our calculations: 100KB for a webpage, 10KB for a basic e-mail, 2MB for a high-quality photograph, 5MB for a music track and 6.1MB for a typical application download. Source: Ken’s Tech Tips guide to download speeds.
Other networks with unlimited data are currently restricted to 3G-only.
Tethering & Personal Hotspot
Tethering or portable hotspot means sharing your phone’s internet connection with other devices (e.g. with a laptop, tablet, MP3 player, e-book reader or games console). It’s essentially a way to get mobile broadband without signing a separate contract. To use it, you either need a smartphone supporting portable wi-fi hotspot or a USB cable to connect your smartphone to a laptop.
On Pay Monthly plans with all-you-can-eat data, 2GB of tethering is included every month. For SIM only plans, this is doubled to 4GB of free tethering every month. It’s a fairly decent freebie (Three will normally charge £7.50/month for a 1GB standalone mobile broadband tariff). Additional data for tethering beyond your limit will cost you £5/month for an extra 1GB.
Tethering isn’t supported on Pay As You Go plans.
Throttling & Traffic Management
Three has a traffic management policy known as TrafficSense. According to their key facts indicator, P2P file-sharing (e.g. BitTorrent) is slowed down on the network between 3pm and midnight each day. They also use video optimisation (videos are only downloaded at the rate at which you’re able to watch them):
We allocate a fixed amount of network bandwidth to P2P file-sharing activities and to tethering activities at peak times to manage network congestion and provide the best possible experience for the greatest number of users.
We use video optimisation to change the way video content is streamed to your device to make it play better. We use it to improve your streaming experience if our network is busy where you are.
The key factors indicator confirms that your speeds won’t be reduced for using too much data (see the section “Is traffic management used in relation to heavy users?”).
‘All You Can Eat’ Tariffs
All-you-can-eat data is available on a range of plans (SIM Only, Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go):
SIM Only (Keep Your Current Phone)
If you’re happy to keep your current handset, it’s £17/month for a SIM only deal with all-you-can-eat data. There’s also 200 minutes and all-you-can-eat texts included with the plan.
For a larger number of minutes, a range of other options are also available:
12 month contract:
1 month contract:
If you’re switching from another network to Three, it’s super-easy to keep your old phone number. You might need to unlock your current smartphone (see our guides to unlocking an iPhone or unlocking a Samsung Galaxy).
Pay Monthly (With New Handset)
For a Pay Monthly contract which includes a new handset, prices start from £28/month (you’ll pay more for the latest high-end smartphones such as the Galaxy S5). On Pay Monthly, you’re given the choice between 600 minutes per month and all-you-can-eat minutes. Both tariff options include all-you-can-eat texts.
For a full list of available handsets, please see the Three website.
Pay As You Go
On Pay As You Go, there’s a £15 bundle for all-you-can-eat data. The All in One 15 tariff includes 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat data. You can either use an unlocked smartphone purchased from elsewhere or you can buy a new handset via Three’s website. At present, our recommended handset is the Moto G 4G (see our guide to the cheapest Moto G deals).
Three currently offers coverage to 98% of UK’s population. To check the coverage for your area, enter your postcode on Three’s online coverage checker. We would only recommend choosing Three if you’re able to get “indoor & outdoor coverage”.
For calling, texting and browsing, you’ll need to have 3G coverage. For even faster internet, 4G is currently available in 30 towns and cities. According to Three, 4G coverage will roll out in 446 towns and cities by the end of this year (a full list of towns & cities can be found on the Three website).
If you’re travelling abroad to one of sixteen countries, the ‘Feel At Home’ offer allows you to use your phone abroad at no extra charge. You can use your inclusive UK airtime allowances though all-you-can-eat data has a 25GB/month limit when travelling abroad. Tethering isn’t permitted when travelling abroad.
‘Feel At Home’ is currently available in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. For more information, please read our full review of the ‘Feel At Home’ offer.
All-you-can-eat data is simply a marketing term used by Three. Other networks also offer unlimited internet: notably giffgaff has a £18/month goodybag with 2000 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited 3G internet (you can order a free SIM card here). Virgin Mobile also offers unlimited 3G internet (through speeds are reduced after the first 3.5GB/month).
If you’re looking for unlimited downloads on 4G, the ability to tether and the ability to use your phone abroad at no extra charge, all-you-can-eat data is the best offering on the market.
|Network||Monthly Price||Fair Usage Limit||Speeds||Tethering||Use Abroad?|
|Three||From £15.00/month||No Limit||3G & 4G||Up to 4GB/month||Yes, 25GB/month in 16 countries|
|giffgaff||From £18.00/month||No Limit||3G only||Not Permitted||Not Included|
|Virgin Mobile||From £23.00/month||3.5GB per month||3G only||Not Permitted||Not Included|
Keeping Your Phone Number
If you’re changing mobile networks to get all-you-can-eat data, it’s easy to keep your existing phone number. You can transfer a phone number to Three from any UK network.
To get started, ask your old network to issue you with a PAC Code (it’s free and it’s your legal entitlement). After ordering your new phone or SIM card from Three, fill out the form here on Three’s website. After providing the PAC Code to Three, they’ll schedule the transfer of your phone number for the next working day. In the meantime, you’ll continue receiving service on your old mobile network until the transfer happens.
For step-by-step instructions on transferring a phone number to Three, please select your current mobile network:
|PAC Code Finder: Transfer Your Phone Number to Three|
For more information on all-you-can-eat data, please see the guide on Three’s website. The Three website also has a full list of all-you-can-eat data tariffs (see the Pay Monthly, SIM Only and Pay As You Go pages).
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.