‘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.

ThreeIn 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).

What is ‘All You Can Eat’ Data?

Unlimited Internet: No Download Limits

What is All You Can Eat Data?

All-you-can-eat data is truly unlimited (there’s no hidden limits or fair usage policies).

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.”

Download Speeds

4G Logo

4G: Included at no extra charge.

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

Android Portable Hotspot

2GB of tethering is included on Pay Monthly.

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):

data-binaryWe 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 £15/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:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Three200UnlimitedUnlimited£15.00
Three600UnlimitedUnlimited£18.00
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£23.00

1 month contract:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Three200UnlimitedUnlimited£15.00
Three600UnlimitedUnlimited£21.00
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£26.00

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.

HandsetWith 600 MinutesWith Unlimited Minutes

Apple iPhone 6
- £45/month 
£99 upfront

Apple iPhone 6 Plus
- £51/month 
£99 upfront

Samsung Galaxy S5
 £35/month 
Free handset
 £38/month 
Free handset

HTC One M8
 £35/month 
Free handset
 £38/month 
Free handset

Sony Xperia Z2
 £37/month 
£9 upfront
 £40/month 
Free handset

Apple iPhone 5s
 £38/month 
£9 upfront
 £41/month 
Free handset

Samsung Galaxy Note 3
 £38/month 
£29 upfront
 £41/month 
£29 upfront

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini
 £28/month 
£29 upfront
 £31/month 
£29 upfront

Apple iPhone 5c
 £33/month 
£29 upfront
 £32/month 
Free handset

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).

Coverage

Mobile MastThree 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).

Check Three Coverage »

Travelling Abroad

Feel At HomeIf 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.

Alternatives

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

Transfer Phone Number to Three

Customers on another network can bring their phone number to Three.

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

Your current network provider:

  More Options

More Information

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).

Visit Three Website »

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

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+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 24 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Liam said:

    Just to let you know Ken that from the 24th of this month GiffGaff will no longer be offering unlimited data on it’s £12 package, the price has been raised to £18.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Liam,
      Thanks for the heads up on this! We’ll be updating the prices for giffgaff across our website in the coming few days :)
      Ken

  2. Bernard Ryan said:

    I have had similar problems of speed being slowed down by 3 to 2 mbps, And similar upload speeds, A reboot of my phone has solved the problem, I think for £23, For what i get is a good deal, I dont know how there MIFI Broadband is, Maybe someone will tell us

  3. nick said:

    Three is an absolute joke. They sell you all of these great features like ‘unlimited data’ but between 3pm and 12am they seriously throttle you. Download Speeds go from 8-10mb down to less than 0.5 mbs. You literally can’t do a thing. Web pages take ages to load, forget trying to watch a video on your way home from work.

    Three sounds great, using it is a completely different thing!!! AVOID!!!!

  4. Bernard Ryan said:

    I took out a monthly sim only deal with three, Unlimited 4g with unlimited tethering, 2000 min and unlimited text, I have had it now 6 months, I was told i am in a very good area for 4g, And there on line checker confirms that, But i have never hit a 4g connection ever, And ive tried my phone all over the house bottom of garden etc, But def no 4g, There on line checker is incorrect and cant be trusted, I have made 4 complaints to there on line complaints form, But completely ignored ,

    1. Bernard Ryan replied:

      And Ken your web page says ( Up to 4GB/month Tethering from 3 ) I can assure you i get unlimited tethering from 3,

      1. Ken Lo
        Ken replied:

        Hi Bernard,
        Thanks for your comment. In the past, The One Plan included all-you-can-eat data and unlimited tethering. Unfortunately, Three have now changed their tariffs (The One Plan is no longer available). A tariff taken today with all-you-can-eat data would either have 2GB of tethering (Pay Monthly contracts with a new handset) or 4GB of tethering (SIM only deals where you keep your current handset).
        Hope this helps!
        Ken

        1. Bernard Ryan replied:

          Thanks Ken i bought my own 4g phone, And got the monthly contract, I pay £23.00 a month, And get unlimited tethering, I must use at least 4gb a week, I watch a lot of youtube, I have been in some parts of the country, Were i have had some fantastic speeds, Ive hit over 50 kbps in some places, I was thinking of getting a 3 mifi unit, With the, Ariel on it, So to get a better signal, But it is suggested that my sim may not work in the 3 mifi, Do you know if this is correct for sure, As after reading some forums, Some people have said it works ok.

          1. Ken Lo
            Ken replied:

            Hi Bernard,
            Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of The One Plan SIM card prohibit you from using the SIM card in a mobile broadband device (this includes the 3 MiFi unit). Whilst it is possible from a technical perspective (i.e. the SIM cards are 100% compatible), it’s likely to be noticed by Three and you may find them suspending your account. Hence, for this reason, I’d strongly recommend against doing so.
            Three do have some mobile broadband SIM cards (e.g. £15/month for 10GB of data). For use in a MiFi, this probably works out as being even cheaper and will fully comply with the terms and conditions.
            Hope this helps!
            Ken

  5. Robert said:

    Hi,

    Great article, a good read!! When I’m free to cancel my current contract with another provider, I’m planning to get the cheapest SIM-only all-you-can-eat data contract. When I’m on holiday in one of Three’s Feel at Home countries, could I transfer the SIM into an unlocked MiFi device and use the data up to the 25GB/month limit (essentially, fooling the SIM card into thinking that the data is being used by the “phone” and not other devices)?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your comment and for the kind words about the article! Unfortunately, it’s not possible to use your smartphone SIM card within a MiFi (it’s possible from a technical perspective but doesn’t comply with Three’s terms and conditions). Also, you can’t tether abroad in a Feel At Home country (hence using the data on devices apart from your phone).
      One thing you could do is to get a Mobile Broadband SIM card before you go on holiday. £15 gets you 10GB of data on a 1 month contract. You can use this SIM within a MiFi or also in your phone (albeit with no calls & texts included). Mobile broadband packages are fully compatible with the Feel At Home offer (see the info from Three’s website).
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  6. Jay Mac said:

    One Plan scrapped a week before i was able to upgrade have now replaced that contract with BT for broadband for the house.
    When my other remaining one plan contract expires it too gets the chop. Three say coverage 98% of country. I’m a truck driver and to be honest i have a Vodaphone sim as back up as three’s mobile internet signal is rubbish for at least 50% of the country and I do need a phone even if no internet available.

  7. Paskwal said:

    Working very well for me, the 4G is so fast that I prefer it to my home wifi. For the price, even if there might be some throttling sometimes, I don’t see which other contract I could take for unlimitted data at the moment.

  8. Shaun said:

    here are the new sim only plans from 3, no where near as good as the one plan i feel…

    http://store.three.co.uk/view/searchTariff?deviceType=SIM_ONLY&priceplan=PAY_MONTHLY

  9. Shaun said:

    This weekend is the last time all you can eat tethering is available in the UK from any network. the brilliant one plan tariff from 3 will be updated on Monday night. the new yet to be revealed 3 tariffs are a real disappointment.
    if you are a heavy data user & like to tether to other devices sign up now to the one plan before its too late…

  10. James Heath said:

    There’s certainly much confusion about what’s on offer with three.But i can only comment on my own experience. I’ve been on The One Plan September last year and have had no problems whatsoever. Download speeds are brilliant, regularly running at 20mbps to 30mbps and teather my laptop and NowTv box too.
    If all of the information in this article are true then the only important bit is

    “On certain masts that are congested, Three applies a traffic management system called TrafficSense. Between 6pm and midnight, P2P services and software updates may be slowed down.”
    And “Three’s all-you-can-eat data plans do not have a download limit or a fair usage policy.”

    Brilliant. :)

  11. malika said:

    hi , i just took the ultimate internet 500 contract on the iphone 5s , but i have no service in my house can’t get a home signal box because i dont have broadband . i pay 37 per month called up three . they said they would let me pay 30 per month since it is not possible for me to use my data but i feel i should pay 27 since i can’t use the internet . should i haggle for 27 ?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Malika,
      Thanks for your comment! I’d certainly haggle and try to get the best price possible from Three – obviously the internet connectivity is a big part of your service and if you aren’t able to use it then you should try to get the lowest price possible.
      Alternatively, it would be even better if you can escape the contract and to choose another network which offers coverage in your house. The biggest problem is you’re probably locked in to a 24 month contract – with no way of escaping (except from paying early termination fees). As such, you have limited bargaining power when arguing with Three and you might be forced to pay whatever they offer. So I’d certainly try for £27/month but there’s no guarantee they’ll offer it to you!
      Ken
      Ken

  12. zombie_jesus said:

    Good thing I found this as I was just about to pull the trigger on ‘The One’. But these comments are ancient so perhaps it’s been resolved now? Also, I use Tmobile payg and it DOES permit tethering. Hell, I’m tethering as I type this.

  13. sunjaybhogal said:

    I can confirm that Three Network are throttling speed during 3pm and Midnight, I notice that when I am streaming movies. I am more like to use streaming during that time especially during the weekend and evening. What is the point all all much as you want data when you getting download steaming speed.

  14. Julia said:

    Is there the Micro-sim card available for the pay as you to, all you can eat data from 3?

  15. Hector said:

    I am on the same plan and I can confirm what Dean is saying, I have also asked Three if they could tell me what the limits are before you get throttled and they will not give me a straight answer. All the tell me is well if you use your phone for web browsing it is ok but if you use it for streaming video such as You tube that would be considered a high date consumption, Oh my god!!!!
    We need to take Three to court, this is totally unbelievable I am not even using the internet that much, but they will not tell me any figures, not to mentioned that no one has attempted to contact me to let me know that my connection was been throttled.
    They are so shameless is beyond belief!!!!! Avoid!!!

  16. dean said:

    Dean Piper
    DO NOT TAKE OUT THE ONE PLAN!!! I AM PERSONALLY ON THE ONE PLAN AND I AM BEING THROTTLED!!!! unlimited data yet they have introduced throttling as of 12 may 2012 for top 5% of users. pathetic, illegal, ive emailed ceo david dyson and am looking elsewhere PS 3UK-YOU CANT SELL ‘UNLIMITED WITH NO THROTTLING CONTRACTS AND THEN THROTTLE PEOPLE-ITS ILLEGAL!!! I am now looking for alternative contracts

  17. Justin said:

    Just sgined up to this and when it works its amazing. Having some very odd connectivity issues though where some days there is simply no data connection despite saying full strength signal and the hsdpa symbol is there. 3 don’t want to help or investigate so be cautious and don’t sign up to any long term deals until issues like this are solved. I was considering their 3 cube too which effectively removes the need for a phone line at home but alas I may have to think again.

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