BT Mobile vs Three 2020: Over 5 Million Free Wi-Fi Hotspots or amazing unlimited data deals?

BT Mobile & Three are two of the biggest mobile networks operating in the UK. In this article we go in-depth comparing them. Read on to learn more!

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Three Black Friday 12GB Offer for £8Black Friday Offer: 12GB of Data for just £8/month

Three is offering customers 12GB of data with unlimited UK minutes and texts for just £10 a month! The deal is a 12-month contract and it’s only available during Black Friday sales so it won’t be around for long!

With this limited time deal you get 5G at no extra cost as well as access to Go Roam and Go Binge. Click through to ensure you don’t miss out!

Who is BT Mobile

bt-mobile-article-logoBT Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) and it uses the EE network to provide 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage in the UK. Having said that, BT actually owns EE and their services.

BT Mobile initially launched as a SIM-only service, but nowadays you can find decent mobile phone deals on the network. However, the network doesn’t offer any type of PAYG services, and all their SIM deals require you to sign a long-term contract, meaning you have to pass a credit check.

If you have a compatible handset, BT Mobile offers 4G Calling and Wi-Fi Calling at no extra cost. Joining BT Mobile will grant you access to more than 5 million free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK. Some plans will also allow you to watch the content on BT Sports mobile app for free.

Pro’s

  • Best 4G network coverage and fastest 4G download speeds.
  • 5G coverage.
  • Over 5 million free Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Great family plans.
  • BT Sport access.

Con’s

  • No PAYG services or 30-day rolling plans.
  • You have to pass a credit check.
  • 5G is only available if you purchase your device from BT.
 

Who is Three

three-article-logoThree is one of the main mobile network operators in the UK and the carrier is known for its competitively priced unlimited data plans, 5G coverage on all offers at no extra cost and a great international roaming scheme. Three’s unlimited data deals offer great value, plus they’re actually truly unlimited, meaning there are no fair usage policies, tethering limits or data speed restrictions.

Three’s UK branch launched back in 2003 and they were the UK’s first 3G mobile network operator. Three’s customers get countrywide 3G and 4G coverage, and their 5G coverage is live in 68 cities and towns, and as stated above it’s free to all including their PAYG users.

Pro’s

  • 5G at no extra cost.
  • Fastest 5G data speeds
  • Base inclusive roaming deal has 71 locations.
  • Competitive SIM only and PAYG.
  • Great unlimited data plans.

Con’s

  • No 2G coverage.
  • Worse 4G coverage than EE and Vodafone, and pretty much on par with O2.
 

Table of Contents

1. Plans & Pricing

– SIM Only Deals

– Pay As You Go

– Pay Monthly Phones

2. Network Coverage & Speeds

– 2G, 3G & 4G Coverage

– 5G Coverage

– Voice Call Quality

– Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling

– Wi-Fi Hotspots

– Tethering

– International Roaming

3. Features

– BT Mobile’s Features

– Three’s Features

4. Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

5. Frequently Asked Questions

Plans & Pricing

SIM Only Deals

Three UK offers a wide range of SIM only contracts and these are available as 1 month, 12 month and 24 month deals. The longer your contract is, the better rates you get. All the pay monthly deals come with unlimited UK minutes and texts, as well as 5G at no extra cost -provided you have a 5G ready handset- and Three’s Go Roam, which allows you to use your UK allowances in 71 destinations across the world. You also get 4G Calling (VoLTE or Super-Voice as Three dubs it) and Wi-Fi Calling, that is of course if your phone supports them.

If you opt for a plan with 12GB or more data you also get Go Binge, which lets you stream content on apps like Netflix without burning through your general data allowance.

Joining BT Mobile requires customers to choose between 12-month or 18-month contract deals. Unfortunately, there are no monthly rolling alternatives. BT Broadband customers get £5 off per month, and having BT Halo grants you double data on all plans.

BT Mobile customers can also take advantage of unlimited data deals, provided they are existing BT Halo customers. Otherwise the largest data plan available is limited at 100GB/month. You can read our BT Mobile Review and learn more about the network and find every deal they’re offering.

While BT Mobile’s deals are a bit more expensive, they also offer great value and since the carrier is powered by EE, they also offer better 4G coverage. With Black Friday being around the corner we’d say also keep an eye out on BT’s Black Friday SIM deals. You might catch some amazing discounts or gifts!

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThis is actually a close race as both networks offer great value for money, however Three offers a wider range of SIM only deals, plus you can join the network on a 30-day contract. Three’s tariffs are better priced & more flexible.

Pay As You Go

BT Mobile doesn’t offer any pay as you go services, so we’ll have to skip the network here. Alternatively you can check out 1p Mobile, which is also powered by EE. The mobile virtual network offers the most wallet-friendly pay as you go rates in the UK. Make sure to read our 1p Mobile Review to learn everything you need to know about them.

Three has both a traditional PAYG service and 30-day bundles on offer. Three’s PAYG data bundles come with unlimited UK minutes & texts. The network lets you use your UK allowances in 71 destinations across the world. You can even get an unlimited pay as you go plan without having to undergo a credit check. The table below shows Three’s current PAYG data bundles:

Three's Data Packs
Minutes & TextsDataPrice
Unlimited5GB£10.00
Unlimited10GB£15.00
Unlimited100GB£20.00
UnlimitedUnlimited £30.00

The network’s pay as you go rates are: Voice Calls: 10p/minute, 10p/text, 5p/MB, 40p/Picture and Video Messages.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThree is the clear winner here since BT Mobile doesn’t offer any pay as you go deals. However, Three’s PAYG service is quite good and only a handful of other networks offer as good value as Three does.

Pay Monthly Phones

You can find a range of premium phones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Sony, Google and other manufacturers on both Three and BT Mobile. Having said that BT Mobile’s handset options are significantly smaller than Three’s.

All Three and BT Mobile phone deals are 24-month contracts, however Three offers major discounts for some of the flagship phones from Apple and Samsung. Plus Three allows you to split your bill into both an airtime bill and phone bill.

We recommend checking phone deals from O2 as the network offers a wide collection of handsets, great flexibility and upgrade options, plus a year long warranty for refurbished phones. Read our O2 Review to discover more!

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThis is another strong win for Three. The network offers a much wider collection of phones, better prices and more flexibility. BT Mobile’s range of devices is quite narrow at the moment.

Network Coverage & Speeds

2G, 3G & 4G Coverage

bt-mobile-coverage-mapBT Mobile uses EE’s network to provide 2G, 3G and 4G coverage. This means their 4G UK population coverage is over 99% and the landmass coverage of BT (or EE) has reached beyond 90%.

BT Mobile’s customers can get up to 30Mbps download speeds, a little less than EE’s average. However, there’s an add-on called BT Mobile Extra Speed and if you purchase it; your download speed may even peak at 60Mbps. This is of course if you’re in an area with good 4G coverage.

three coverage mapThree doesn’t have 2G, and while it’s considered old technology it comes handy as a fallback option. In terms of 3G and 4G coverage Three also offers over 99% population coverage, but its landmass coverage is not as good as EE and the gap between the two networks is increasing. Three’s average 4G download speeds are around 22.2Mbps and upload speed at 8Mbps according to Open Signal’s October 2020 tests. While these numbers aren’t as good as BT Mobile’s, they are more than enough to stream full HD video content be it Netflix or YouTube, or to listen to music on Spotify or Apple Music.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

bt mobile winnerThanks to EE’s infrastructure BT Mobile objectively offers better network coverage and faster download speeds in the UK. This doesn’t mean Three is a bad option, but BT Mobile is definitely the better of the two.

5G Coverage

5gBT Mobile’s 5G coverage is identical to EE’s, which means both networks offer 5G services in 112 cities and towns in the UK. The average download & upload speeds, as well as latency are exactly the same as well. All BT Mobile customers enjoy the network’s 5G service at no extra cost, but unfortunately they must purchase their 5G ready phone directly from BT Mobile or else the service won’t work and BT Mobile’s 5G phone deals aren’t great.

Three’s 5G infrastructure is quite good and the network has 140MHz of usable 5G spectrum. 100MHz of it is being used to provide 5G coverage in the country. EE’s 5G spectrum is 40MHz, which means Three is capable of offering faster 5G data speeds. Looking at OOKLA’s (speedtest.net) October 2020 speed test results we see Three as the fastest 5G mobile network in the UK with average 5G download speeds at 201Mpbs. EE’s average 5G download speeds are at 134Mbps, which means EE and therefore BT Mobile are currently offering the slowest 5G data speeds at the moment.

Three’s 5G coverage is live in 68 cities and towns in the UK and it’s available to all -including PAYG customers- at no extra cost. All you need is a 5G compatible handset.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThis could actually be a close race if BT Mobile’s 5G wasn’t limited to phones directly bought from their stores. Then again, with Three you can get super-fast 5G speeds at no extra cost, even if you’re a PAYG customer. Plus, Three’s 5G is currently the fastest in the UK.

Voice Call Quality

voice call qualityIn terms of voice call quality, we rely on tests performed by Open Signal, umlaut and OOKLA. They’re independent testing bodies and they’re known for their reliability and objectivity.

As we stated above, BT Mobile is using EE’s network and EE has come out on top, outperforming all its rivals when it comes to voice call quality. Among the four major mobile network operators in the UK, Three currently ranks at the bottom with a score of ‘sufficient’. The call setup times of EE/BT Mobile are much shorter than Three’s, and the overall call quality of EE seems to be significantly better than all the other competitors, except Vodafone.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

bt mobile winnerBT Mobile’s host network EE ranks at the top of the list when it comes to voice call quality. This is mainly due to the network having the best 4G network coverage in the UK.

Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling

three-4g-wifi-callingThese two features improve your overall voice call quality in a meaningful way. 4G Calling eliminates many indoor blackspots, plus you can continue using 4G data speeds while making a phone call with this feature turned on.

Wi-Fi Calling will keep your handset connected by utilising an available Wi-Fi connection. If you have a compatible handset and a price plan, Wi-Fi Calling can make you available even when you don’t get any regular phone signal.

BT Mobile is one of the few mobile virtual network operators which has both 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling. On top of that, these two features go hand in hand together, and your calls can seamlessly transition between these two services.

All Three customers -including PAYG customers- have access to 4G Calling and Wi-Fi Calling for free. All they need is a compatible handset and they’re good to go. 4G Calling is also known as VoLTE or as Three dubs it Super-Voice.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerWe’re giving the win to Three here, because both 4G Calling and Wi-Fi Calling are available to all their customers, including PAYG users at no extra cost. BT Mobile offers these features to all too, however, they only offer long-term contracts.

Wi-Fi Hotspots

wifi-hotspotsBT Mobile is the king of free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK. There are other challengers like Virgin Media and O2 Free WiFi, but BT Mobile is definitely at the top of the list. The carrier has over 5 million free Wi-Fi hotspots at cafes, city centres, train stations, hotels and more. The service is available to all, but it’s only completely free to BT customers.

Three customers enjoy free WiFi from O2 WiFi or Sky Mobile’s The Cloud. They also get free WiFi access on the London Underground at over 250 stations. However, neither of these free Wi-Fi hotspots are exclusive to Three customers.

If you’re looking for another alternative, you can read our Virgin Mobile Review to learn more about their free Wi-Fi service.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

bt mobile winnerBT Mobile has the most free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK and the gap between them and the second best network (in terms of free Wi-Fi that is) is measured in millions. Three doesn’t even offer an exclusive Wi-Fi service to begin with, so there isn’t much competition here.

Tethering

bt-mobile-tetheringTethering means turning a smartphone into a mobile personal hotspot so other compatible devices such as laptops, tablets, and other smartphones can use its mobile data. It’s a great feature to have, but comes with the risk of burning through your data allowance, especially if you’re not using a large data plan.

When you’re tethering your data gets eaten up at a much faster rate. Devices such as laptops, video game consoles and PC’s will eat up even more because these devices are not optimised for consuming less data while browsing. On top of that applications and programs running in the background can eat up a lot of data without you realising.

Both BT Mobile and Three will allow you to tether freely, however we strongly recommend opting for a large data plan or even an unlimited data plan if you’re planning to tether on a regular basis and to multiple devices.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThree’s truly unlimited data plans come at a cheaper price with many other useful perks and since BT Mobile’s unlimited data deals are only available to BT Halo customers, we’d say Three is easily the better choice for regular tethering.

International Roaming

All the mobile network providers operating in the UK must provide a basic inclusive EU roaming scheme. This is due to roaming regulation changes, which came into full effect in 2017.

BT Mobile’s base inclusive roaming deal covers 47 countries, meaning you can use your UK allowances in these destinations at no extra cost. The network also has an add-on called ‘Travel Data Pass’ priced at £6/day. Purchasing this add-on, you get 500MB data allowance to spend in the USA, Canada, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey, UAE, Thailand, Andorra, Australia, India and South Africa.

Three’s base roaming deal is by far the best in the UK. You can use your UK allowance in 71 destinations across the world thanks to the ‘Go Roam’ scheme. Go Roam is available to all Three customers at no extra cost, which makes it even greater. Make sure to read our Three Review to learn everything you need to know about the network’s Go Roam scheme and more!

If you’re willing to pay more, Vodafone has the best international roaming deal called ‘Global Roaming’, and it lets you use your UK minutes, texts and data in 81 destinations all around the world. Make sure to read our Vodafone Review to learn more about this scheme! If you want to learn more about what the other networks are offering you can check out Halfcooked’s International Roaming Guide 2020.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

three winnerThree’s Go Roam is objectively a better international roaming deal than anything BT Mobile has at the moment. Plus Three’s rates are considerably more wallet-friendly.

Features

BT’s Features

BT Wi-Fi

BT’s free WiFi service is available to all BT Mobile customers for free. The network has over 5 million hotspots in the UK and they’re spread across the country. BT WiFi is the best free WiFi hotspot scheme at the moment.

BT Sport

If you sign up for a contract with at least 20GB of data, you get the BT Sport mobile app at no extra cost. You can watch Premier League and FA Cup games as well as many other sporting events live and free. One thing to keep in mind, you’ll still burn through your regular data allowance when using the BT Sport App.

BT Broadband and BT Halo Discounts

Existing BT Broadband customers get a £5 discount on all available BT Mobile SIM only contracts. On top of that, if you’re a BT Halo customer you’ll get double data on all tariffs, with the exception of 100GB data plans, in that case BT Mobile will give you unlimited data.

BT Family

BT Mobile’s family plans are some of the best in the UK. They’re quite straightforward, the network’s website has a great tool to help you pick the right plan and calculate the cost, plus as stated above, if you’re an existing BT Broadband or BT Halo customer, you’ll get additional discounts and extra data. With BT Mobile’s family plans you can save up to 20% per plan. You can have a maximum of five SIMs per family plans. If you’re in the market for a different type of family deal, you can always check out our detailed best family mobile plans in the UK guide.

BT Mobile Spending Caps

The network allows you to take full control over your price plan so that there won’t be any nasty shocks waiting for you at the end of a month. You can set up a spending cap via the My BT app.

Three’s Features

Go Roam

three-go-roamThree’s ‘Go Roam Around the World’ scheme is one of the best in the UK. It’s definitely the best free inclusive roaming deal. Their customers can spend their UK minutes, texts and data in 71 destinations across the world.

Go Binge

three-go-bingeThree’s price plans with 12GB or above data come with Go Binge, a feature that gives customers unlimited data on Netflix, Apple Music, Snapchat, Soundcloud, Deezer and TV Player. Just remember, you’re not getting a free subscription to these services, they just won’t eat into your regular data allowance.

Unlimited Data Plans

Three is famous for its amazingly well priced, high value, true unlimited data plans. The network’s unlimited deals come in 1 month, 12 months and 24 months contracts, but if you’re looking for a no credit check SIM only deal, you can also purchase their PAYG Unlimited data bundle.

TariffData, Minutes & TextsPRICE
Three AdvancedUnlimited £26.00 - 1 month
Three AdvancedUnlimited £16.00 - 12 months (Half Cooked Deal)
Three AdvancedUnlimited £17.00 - 24 months
Three PAYGUnlimited £30.00

5G at No Extra Cost

three-5gWe know, we pointed this out already and more than once, but we think it’s a big deal. Three’s 5G service is live in 68 cities and towns and constantly improving, and best part is it’s free for all Three customers. Doesn’t matter if you’re on a contract or using the network’s PAYG services.

Existing Customer Offers

Three’s prices are already quite competitive so we’d say don’t get your hopes up on any major discounts. However, existing Three customers can save you about £2 a month on additional plans. If you’re a student or a parent to one, you might also want to check out Three’s student discount deals too.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

We believe both networks have great schemes and extras and it really comes down to which features are important to you. You can’t go wrong with either BT Mobile or Three, just make sure you get the best out of these extras.

Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

three winnerBT Mobile has the upper hand when it comes to network coverage and data speeds, but Three’s plans are cheaper and they offer more value. Plus you’re given more options, short-term contracts or even pay as you go deals. Three’s phone deals are also better, and all their customers benefit from free 5G!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is BT Mobile powered by EE?

Yes, but BT is actually the owner of EE. EE has the best network coverage and fastest data speeds available in the UK and BT Mobile makes great use of EE’s infrastructure.

Is EE faster than BT?

EE’s 4G data speeds are a bit faster than BT Mobile’s on average. This is because there’s a speed cap on BT Mobile, and you have to purchase the ‘Extra Speed’ add-on if you want to bypass it.

Does BT have 5G Coverage yet?

Yes, BT Mobile customers can enjoy 5G data speeds and coverage, provided they bought their 5G ready handset directly from a BT store.

Does BT Mobile have 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling?

Yes, both 4G Calling and Wi-Fi Calling are available to all BT Mobile customers, but they must also have compatible smartphones, or else these features won’t turn on.

Is BT Sport free for BT Mobile customers?

Yes, but only if you sign up for a price plan with at least 20GB of monthly data allowance. Even then you’ll be burning through your regular data when using the app.

Do I have to undergo a credit check to join BT Mobile?

Yes, unfortunately all BT Mobile price plans are contract offers. You can check out networks such as VOXI and SMARTY if you want to get a decent deal with no credit checks.

Is Three’s 5G really free for everyone?

Yes, there’s no catch here. All you need is a 5G ready phone and any Three SIM plan. The network allows all their customers to benefit from their 5G services at no extra cost.

Does Three offer a data rollover scheme?

No, unfortunately Three is the only major network in the UK without a data rollover scheme.

Is Three a mobile virtual network?

No, Three uses its very own infrastructure, which means they’re a major mobile network operator. However, Three powers networks such as SMARTY, iD Mobile and Superdrug Mobile.

Does Three really offer the fastest 5G data speeds?

According to OOKLA (speedtest.net) Three has the fastest 5G download speeds in the UK. The network's average 5G download speed is at 201Mbps.

Does Three have Super-Voice (VoLTE, 4G Calling) and Wi-Fi Calling?

Yes, in fact Super-Voice is what Three dubs its 4G Calling scheme. The network also offers a decent Wi-Fi Calling feature.

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