Three UK

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Three UK
IndustryMobile telecommunications, Broadband internet access
Founded3 March 2003 (2003-03-03)
Area served
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Key people
David Dyson (CEO)
OwnerCK Hutchison Holdings
Parent3 Group Europe

Hutchison 3G UK Limited, doing business as Three UK, is a British telecommunications and internet service provider operating as a subsidiary of CK Hutchison Holdings, operating under the global Three brand. The company launched in March 2003 as the United Kingdom's first commercial video mobile network. It provides 3G, 4G and 5G (certain areas) services through its own network infrastructure.


The Three mobile service was launched in the UK on 3 March 2003 (03-03-03, for publicity purposes),[1] with handsets going on sale (such as the NEC e616 and Sony Ericsson Z1010) later that year. This made Three the UK’s first commercial video mobile network. On 9 December 2004, Three announced that it was the first network to meet its regulatory requirement of 80% population coverage in the UK.[2]

A Three UK store in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England

Three's first retail stores (3Store) opened at the same time as the network launched, on Oxford Street and Kensington High Street, both in London, and at the Birmingham Mailbox. Three's handsets and contracts are also sold by mobile telephony chains and independents throughout the UK, as well as online retailers. In 2005, an expansion of the 3Store portfolio saw stores opened in larger shopping centres throughout the UK, such as the Bluewater and The Mall at Cribbs Causeway near Bristol.[3] On 24 October 2006, Three announced that it had purchased 95 high street shops from O2 and The Link.[4]

Three launched SeeMeTV, allowing its customers to submit their own video content that other subscribers could watch. Users would make a small micropayment (the price decided by the video's creator) to watch these videos. The user who created the videos would get paid 10% of the amount of money paid by other users to watch the video. Users were paid once they had accrued £10.[5]

In 2010, Three became the fourth network in the UK to launch the iPhone 4 after O2, Orange and Vodafone,[6] and was voted Best Network for Mobile Broadband in a YouGov survey for the second year in a row.[7]

In July 2014, Three introduced 3 inTouch app[8] enabling Three customers within the UK to route calls and text messages via a local Wi-fi network where the Three mobile signal is intermittent or unavailable. The initial registration of the app requires a connection to the Three mobile network for authentication after which customers can utilise any connected Wi-fi network. Since Three customers can access the Virgin Wi-Fi network implemented at over 130 London Underground stations,[9] three inTouch app permits voice, data and text messaging to continue without loss of service. Currently, the inTouch app does not perform a handover between Wi-Fi and mobile networks thus a call in progress via Wi-Fi will be dropped if the user moves out of signal range regardless of whether a usable mobile network is available.

On 24 March 2015, Three's parent company Hutchison Whampoa announced it would acquire the UK operations of O2 for £10.25 billion, subject to regulatory approval.[10] On 11 May 2016, EU commission blocked the purchase of O2 on the grounds that it would affect competition in the UK market.[11][12]


In order to provide coverage parity with other networks in the UK, Three initially maintained a national roaming agreement with an established 2G network operator. Until 2006, O2[13] operated this service for Three customers. However, Orange was selected as the new national roaming partner from 10 May 2006.[13]

Since Three invested heavily in 3G technology since its inception and wanted to run a 3G only service (which in turn would make infrastructure costs cheaper,[citation needed] which could be passed onto the consumer) it was criticised in the early days[by whom?] for offering a very patchy 2G service in favour of 3G, when 3G had not fully caught on enough to achieve mass adoption, and Orange 2G (acquired by EE in 2010) [14][15] was adopted in areas as a fallback where 3G wasn't available. The 2G fallback coverage provided by Orange has since been removed as Three believes 3G and 4G technology is now sufficient for mass adoption - and as a result, older phones that support only 2G networks are not compatible with the Three network.[16] From 2013, Three no longer provided a significant 2G fallback for most of the United Kingdom.

On 18 December 2007, T-Mobile and Three launched a 50:50 joint venture called Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) which aimed to combine both of their 3G networks and provide almost complete 3G population coverage by the end of 2008.[17] On 12 November 2010, MBNL announced that the network had reached a total of 12,000 combined sites.[18]


Three's 4G Ready logo

Three began a limited rollout of 4G LTE services in December 2013 in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Reading[19] expanding to over a further 450 locations by the end of 2014.[20][21] In August 2012 Three was given permission to use part of the 1,800 MHz spectrum used by EE's 4G network.[22] On 20 February 2013 Ofcom announced that Three had been awarded 2 x 5 MHz (10 MHz) of 800 MHz to use for its 4G rollout.[23] Three planned to launch 4G in the second quarter of 2013, however it delayed the rollout until Q4, saying that it wanted to analyse the performance of other networks' 4G coverage first.[24] The network provides LTE and DC-HSDPA service as a standard feature to all its subscribers using "Ultrafast" to describe both technologies, making it the cheapest price for 4G and the only unlimited 4G in the UK.[25][26] On 23 April 2015, Three announced that VoLTE would be rolled out along with 800 MHz spectrum from September.[27]

International access[edit]

Until 2009, Three subscribers in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Hong Kong and Australia could use their service on Three networks around the world for no extra charge with "3 Like Home".[28] The service was relaunched on 30 August 2013 as "Feel At Home" for UK customers visiting Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy and Sweden where calls, texts and data consume the same amount of purchased airtime "minutes" as for communication within the UK. Since then, additional countries have been added to "Feel At Home" including: Finland, France, Indonesia, Israel, Macau, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the USA.[29] The service was expanded to a further 24 European countries in September 2016.[30] This does not include calling from the UK to these or other countries. Fees can reach 46p per minute for calling most European countries from the UK.[31]

Radio frequency[edit]

Frequencies used on the Three UK network
Frequency Band Protocol Class
800 MHz 20 LTE/LTE Advanced[32] 4G/4G+
1800 MHz 3 LTE/LTE Advanced[21] 4G/4G+
1500 MHz 32 LTE Advanced[33] 4G+
2100 MHz 1 LTE/LTE Advanced[21] 4G/4G+
3500 MHz n78 5G NR 5G

3700 MHz

n77 5G NR 5G

Superdrug Mobile[edit]

In June 2018, Three UK and sister company Superdrug entered an MVNO partnership to launch Superdrug Mobile, which is exclusive to members of Superdrug's "Health & Beautycard" loyalty scheme.[34]


  1. ^ "3G goes live in the UK". BBC News. 3 March 2003. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  2. ^ "3 first to hit regulatory requirement for 3G coverage" (Press release). 9 December 2004. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  3. ^ "3 brings next generation of mobile stores to life" (Press release). 18 November 2005. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2005.
  4. ^ "3 acquires 95 prime-location stores from the Link and O2" (Press release). 24 October 2006. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
  5. ^ "People's channel 'SeeMeTV' tops 4 million downloads" (Press release). 8 March 2006. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Three UK will launch iPhone 4" (Press release). Three UK. 10 June 2010. Archived from the original on 22 November 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  7. ^ Parker, Joe. "Three tops latest independent YouGov survey". Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  8. ^ "Three inTouch". Three UK. Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  9. ^ "Free Wi-Fi on London Underground". Three UK. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Telefonica finalises £10bn sale of O2 mobile phone firm". BBC News. 24 March 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  11. ^ "EU blocks Three's takeover of O2". BBC News. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  12. ^ "EU blocks Three's takeover of O2". Europa. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  13. ^ a b "3 selects Orange as new national roaming partner" (Press release). 10 May 2006. Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  14. ^ Wray, Richard (11 May 2010). "Orange and T-Mobile settle for Everything Everywhere". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
  15. ^ Clark, Nick (12 May 2010). "Mobile giants promise Everything Everywhere". The Independent. London. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
  16. ^ "3 starts killing off 2G coverage". 8 November 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  17. ^ "T-Mobile and 3 create Britain's largest 3G network" (PDF) (Press release). 18 December 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2012.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Three and Everything Everywhere joint venturereaches 12,000 shared 3G sites" (PDF) (Press release). 12 November 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2012.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Orlowski, Andrew (5 December 2013). "Three offers free US roaming, confirms stealth 4G rollout". The Register. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  20. ^ "When will I get 4G". Three. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  21. ^ a b c Woods, Ben (28 August 2013). "Three finally unveils 4G rollout plans: The stage is now set for UK's 4G future". The Next Web. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  22. ^ "4G timetable agreed by UK mobile network operators". BBC News. 2 October 2012.
  23. ^ "Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction". Ofcom. 20 February 2013. Archived from the original on 5 September 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  24. ^ "Three UK Delays 4G Mobile Broadband Launch to Q4 2013". Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  25. ^ "Get ready for 4G at no extra cost". Three UK. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  26. ^ "Three to offer latest technology as standard with no price premium" (Press release). Three UK. 4 February 2013. Archived from the original on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  27. ^ "VoLTE comes to Three". Three UK. 23 April 2015. Archived from the original on 28 April 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  28. ^ "3 has no place Like Home". 20 May 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  29. ^ "Feel At Home". Three UK. 15 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  30. ^ "Three says auf wiedersehen to roaming charges in even more destinations". Three UK. 11 August 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  31. ^ "Calling and texting abroad from the UK". Three UK. 22 August 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  32. ^ "Three Super-Voice". Three UK. 15 September 2015. Archived from the original on 17 September 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  33. ^ "Three UK and Vodafone Grab 1.4GHz Band to Boost 4G Speeds". ISP Review. 26 August 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  34. ^ Brigden, Steve (20 June 2018). "Superdrug launches new mobile network - here's how it stacks up". MoneySavingExpert. Retrieved 12 October 2018.

External links[edit]