In this article, we compare Three and it’s low-cost sub-brand SMARTY. Let’s find out which network offers better SIM deals, coverage and benefits.
Unlimited Data for only £11 a month for the first 6 months, the cheapest unlimited data deal in the market! This 24 month contract gives you access to 5G speeds & access to Three’s reward app Three+, which includes discounts on Uber Eats and at selected restaurants.
Having launched way back in 2003, Three is the UK’s youngest major mobile network operator. The carrier may not have the fastest 4G download and upload speeds, but it’s got one of the best 5G services in the country available to all customers and it’s free of charge. The network is also known for its super competitive prices and unlimited plans with no restrictions.
We think Three is the best all around mobile network provider in the UK, however, this doesn’t mean it’s definitely the best network for you to join, but we’re here to help you decide if you’re better off joining Three, SMARTY or perhaps another network operator.
SMARTY is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) powered by the Three network. It’s a low-cost sub-brand of Three Mobile and the operator’s main goal is to attract customers looking for cheaper monthly deals than those available with the Three Network. SMARTY offers monthly rolling SIM only deals and the carrier proposes to buy back unused data by means of a bill discount.
We rate SMARTY as the best low-cost MVNO in the UK, as well as a great all around operator for customers looking to get well priced, well rounded SIM only deals. The network also won Uswitch’s Best Value SIM Only 2020 award.
Similar to iD Mobile, SMARTY runs on the three network. However, SMARTY is owned by Three itself. This is similar in the way giffgaff is owned by O2. As a result, whether you are using the 3G or 4G network you will get identical coverage with a SMARTY or Three SIM. Three’s has rolled out its networks across the majority of the UK with population coverage of 99.8% and 98% for 4G and 3G respectively. The same can be said of data speeds. Per P3 comms data Three’s average download speed on 4G is 23 MB/s, second only to EE who has an average download speed of around 30MB/s. As a SMARTY customer, you will get identical data speeds on a SMARTY SIM.
|SMARTY (Money Back)||1GB||£6.00 - 1 month|
|SMARTY (Money Back)||2GB||£7.00 - 1 month|
|SMARTY (Money Back)||3GB||£8.00 - 1 month|
|Three Advanced||4GB||£16 - 1 month|
|Three Advanced||4GB||£10.00 - 12 months|
|Three Advanced||4GB||£9.00 - 24 months|
|All SMARTY and Three plans come with unlimited minutes & texts.|
|SMARTY||4GB||£6.00 - 1 month|
|SMARTY||8GB||£7.00 - 1 month|
|SMARTY||12GB||£8.00 - 1 month|
As we move towards mid-range deals and unlimited data plans, we see Three taking the lead. While SMARTY still offers lower prices than its parent network for the same amount of data, the latter offers many perks and free of charge 5G becomes more valuable on larger data allowances. On top of that, SMARTY’s ‘All the data you need for less’ deals don’t have the ‘money back’ offer.
|SMARTY||30GB||£10 - 1 month|
|SMARTY||50GB||£15 - 1 month|
|SMARTY||Unlimited||£20 - 1 month|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited||£26.00 - 1 month|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited||£16.00 - 12 Months (Half Cooked Deal)|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited||£10.00 first 6 months - £20 from month 7 - 24 months|
|All SMARTY and Three plans come with unlimited minutes & texts.|
SMARTY proposes amazingly priced SIM Only deals, even when they’re up against Three Mobile, a network known for its competitive prices. Another major advantage for SMARTY over Three is; all the plans are on a flexible 1-month contract.
The Three Network provides two different pay as you go alternatives to its customers. You can either use the operator’s service on a traditional PAYG basis or buy a Data Pack and top-up monthly. The mobile network operator revamped its PAYG service in the UK in March 2020, therefore 321 Plans are no longer available to new customers. However, new PAYG rates are actually better, so even if you’re on a 321 Plan you might want to consider upgrading to a new plan.
All Data Packs come with Three’s Go Roam perk, as well as free 5G service and 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling.
SMARTY in its core isn’t really different from pay as you go, but sadly you can’t use the network on a traditional PAYG basis. If you wish to keep your SIM active, you must renew your plan regularly. Besides that, you can top-up credits and use them when you’re out of data, or for international call purposes.
Three’s PAYG bundles are a bit more expensive but they hold more value given the features included within them. You may also use Three on a classic PAYG basis. SMARTY doesn’t support this.
Three’s store has a wide range of mobile devices and many interesting deals & offers accompany them. You can find contracts on low-end mobile phones to premium manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung.
SMARTY on the other hand doesn’t offer any handset deals, so there’s not much to compare here. However, we’d recommend you to check out EE’s refurbished phone deals as they come with lifetime warranty with affordable prices.
Three wins this category given the fact that SMARTY doesn’t have a handset plan option.
Three Mobile has over 99% population coverage for its 3G & 4G spectrum. SMARTY piggybacks off the Three Network, so the virtual network operator offers the very same coverage to its customers. You may have noticed that we didn’t mention anything about 2G coverage, this is simply because Three doesn’t have it.
Population coverage doesn’t tell the whole story and Three lags behind the likes of EE and Vodafone when it comes to landmass coverage in the UK.
When we examine Open Signal’s April 2021 data speed test results, we see Three in third place among the four major network operators in the UK. EE proves to be the fastest operator time and time again, followed by Vodafone. Three’s average 4G download speed is around 19.3Mbps and average upload speed is measured at 6.8Mbps. These speeds are more than enough to stream HD content, watch videos on YouTube or listen to music on your favourite app.
EE may be the best network in terms of network coverage and data speeds, but Three shines in other areas. We strongly advise you to read our EE vs Three Network review if you wish to discover which operator would suit you better. You should also make sure to check both networks’ coverage maps before you make your final decision.
SMARTY is powered by the Three Network, therefore they share the very same infrastructure. Their network coverage and data speeds are identical.
This is one of the main differences between the two carriers. Three offers 5G to all its customers at no extra cost, with no exceptions. If you’re a Three member, have a handset which supports 5G and in one of the areas with Three’s 5G service, you’ll benefit from it. SMARTY published an official statement stating that the network will provide 5G coverage as soon as possible, but it is yet to come.
Three’s 5G spectrum is the largest in the UK with 140Mhz. The network is currently using 100Mhz of it to provide 5G in 194 cities and towns across the country. This is twice more than Vodafone’s 5G spectrum, while EE and O2 currently offer 40Mhz. On top of having the most spectrum available for 5G, Three offers decently fast 5G download speeds in the UK at 116Mbps per Open Signal.
This is yet another easy win for Three as SMARTY doesn’t offer any 5G coverage yet. However, even when it does it can’t be better than Three’s.
Due to not having a 2G spectrum, Three’s network at times suffers. This happens especially in rural areas. 2G may be an old service but all the networks besides Three (and it’s virtual networks) still use it for voice calls and texts.
In the most recent voice call tests done by umlaut, Three scored ‘sufficient’ and the network is now in the last place between the four major network operators in the UK. According to these tests the call setup times of Three were noticeably longer than those of EE and Vodafone, and a bit worse than O2’s. However, these tests were done before Three’s 5G network launched. 5G isn’t used for voice calls or texts, at least not at the moment, but as it continues to grow, it will free up room for 3G and 4G calls.
SMARTY itself wasn’t tested by any testing bodies, however, sharing the same network with Three, it would score the same.
Being on the same network, the voice call quality for both Three and SMARTY feels identical. 4G Calling would be the tie-breaker, but we study them under their own category.
4G Calling (also known as VoLTE) is a service which aims to eliminate indoor blackspots by allowing you to make higher definition phone calls over a 4G spectrum. This feature is known as Super-Voice on Three and it’s free for all customers.
Wi-Fi Calling is a free feature for all Three customers. This service allows your phone to make HD voice calls by utilising a Wi-Fi network, so you can stay connected even when your area doesn’t have any mobile network coverage. We’d like to remind you that without a compatible device you can’t benefit from Super-Voice or Wi-Fi Calling.
Being a low-cost alternative to Three, SMARTY doesn’t support 4G Calling, but as of November 2020 it has Wi-Fi Calling. Three’s prices are already competitive as it is, and to offer even cheaper deals SMARTY has to sacrifice on some perks like 4G Calling.
Three has cleverly built in key differences between itself and SMARTY, so that if you wish to have 4G Calling you’ll need to join Three and either pay a bit more or sign up for a long-term commitment.
In terms of Wi-Fi Hotspots you don’t get much joining Three, but there is at least one benefit. All Three members get free Wi-Fi on London Underground Stations. The service actually belongs to Virgin Media. If you’re a member of one of the four main network providers in the UK (EE, Vodafone, O2 & Three) you can use this service for free as part of your plan.
Sadly, SMARTY doesn’t have any Wi-Fi Hotspots for you to connect to and save some of your data. However, there are some other networks in the UK, which provide free Wi-Fi Hotspots. You might want to check them out to make sure you’re not missing out on any good deals.
Three doesn’t have that many free Wi-Fi Hotspots and they’re all in London, but considering SMARTY offer none at all, Three gets the win here.
You can freely use your mobile device as a personal hotspot on both Three Mobile and SMARTY. There are no speed restrictions or limitations on how many devices you can tether to on either operator. Basically you are entitled to use your mobile data however you like, regardless of which of the two networks you’re on or whichever plan you may choose.
The only exception to this on both Three and/or SMARTY is their unlimited plans and if you’re roaming outside of the UK, where you’ll be limited to 20GB/month. There’s also a fair usage limit of 1TB data on SMARTY’s unlimited data plan, but that’s quite a lot of data to burn through every month.
Your data gets eaten up at a much faster rate when you’re tethering to other devices, therefore we recommend you to check our detailed Unlimited Data Plans in the UK guide.
Three gets a minor win here. The only difference between the two networks under this category is the fair usage limit. There are no fair usage limits on Three, but there’s a 1TB/month one for SMARTY.
At Half Cooked, we believe Three has the best international roaming deal in the UK. The operator provides inclusive roaming (dubbed as Go Roam) in 71 destinations around the world and all customers get to benefit from this perk, including PAYG.
Go Roam has the most inclusive roaming destinations available out of the UK operators, except from Vodafone’s ‘Global Roaming Plus’ which has 81, but it’s exclusive to Unlimited Max customers. You can click here to see the full list.
SMARTY is great if you’re planning to stay in the EU zone. You can use your UK minutes, texts and data in all the countries listed here, just like at home. However, Three’s awarded Go Roam perk is much better and no extra charges are involved.
If you want to dig deeper and learn more about international roaming in the UK, read our extensive roaming abroad review!
If you prefer to stay in the EU during your travels and holidays then SMARTY will be enough for you. However, Three’s Go Roam is hands down the best international roaming package in the UK.
Three Mobile’s ‘Go Roam Around the World’ scheme allows you to roam freely in 71 destinations, just like at home. Go Roam is available to all contract handset, SIM only and PAYG customers.
Three Go Binge is no longer available.
If you’re on a 12GB or above deal on Three Mobile you are eligible for the Go Binge feature. Go Binge will allow you to use apps like Netflix, Apple Music, Snapchat, Soundcloud, Deezer and TV Player without having to worry about your data usage.
However, Three doesn’t offer free subscriptions to these services, only allowing you to use them without eating up your data.
Three is known for its unlimited data plans in the UK. The network offers 1 month, 12 month and 24 month contracts. There’s also a PAYG bundle with unlimited data, but when it’s not on sale it’s a pricier option.
Three’s unlimited data plans don’t have any speed restrictions or data caps.
|Tariff||Data, Minutes & Texts||PRICE|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited - 1 month||£26.00|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited - 12 months||£16.00 (Half Cooked Deal)|
|Three Advanced||Unlimited - 24 months||£10.00 6 Months - £20 from month 7|
Three makes a bold claim and calls its 5G services the fastest in the UK. The network launched 5G quite recently, so we can’t verify this as we don’t have enough data to go by yet. However, the carrier’s 5G service is indeed free to all customers unlike all other operators.
Existing customers on Three get some discounts, but they aren’t really that exciting. These discounts might save you around £1 to £3 a month. However, considering how low Three’s prices already are, a standard priced Three deal might prove to be cheaper than other operators under a family/group discount.
A data rollover feature allows customers to continue using their leftover data from one month to the next. For instance, if you’re running on a 2GB data plan and only used 1GB of your allowance, the next month you’ll have 3GB to use.
SMARTY takes this to a whole new level by offering customers money off their next bill for any leftover data they have. The virtual mobile network operator is one of a kind in the UK when it comes to money back for unused data. If you’re using one of SMARTY’s money back data plans, the network will calculate your unused usage out of your current month and then deduct it from your next bill. We’d like to emphasise that this offer is only available on data discount plans and not on their high data plans.
If you’d like to keep your unused data for even longer, Sky Mobile offers a great deal, allowing customers to hold onto their leftover data for up to three years. Sky Mobile is powered by the O2 Network.
SMARTY won’t allow you to go beyond your tariff’s data allowance unless you buy add-ons. The same applies for calling premium numbers or roaming abroad. Any additional spending can only be done by purchasing add-ons. This means the network sort of comes with a built-in spending cap, which is good considering the alternative might be facing nasty bill shocks at the end of the month.
We think SMARTY offers one of the best unlimited data plans on the market. SMARTY’s unlimited data plan is priced at only £20.00 and it’s a monthly deal, meaning if you’re unsatisfied with the service or if you decide that the plan isn’t for you, you can just switch to a new plan or even completely leave the network. Unless there’s a discount deal available, you won’t find a cheaper unlimited data deal than this.
SMARTY has a referral programme called ‘Refer-a-friend’. Referrals work by sending a special link from your account’s dashboard to a friend or a family member. They’ll use your referral link to sign up to the network. Once a referred person starts using their SMARTY SIM for a minimum of 14 days, both accounts get a free month at the next payment date. There’s no limit to how many people you can invite so technically speaking, you can even get a whole year free on SMARTY.
Joining SMARTY is very simple, you just get your SIM and a tariff and you’re done. You don’t have to undergo a credit check at all. Considering there are no phone plans on the network, nor long term commitment options one can even say SMARTY offers the simplest deals on the UK’s mobile market. Even if you are under 18, have a poor credit record or have recently moved into the UK you can get yourself a SMARTY SIM.
If you’re considering a low-cost alternative, Half Cooked recommends iD Mobile. Just like SMARTY, iD Mobile is also powered by the Three Network, therefore both networks offer the same network coverage and data speeds. To learn more about this network, you can read our extensive iD Mobile review.
SMARTY manages to stay competitive at low price points for all its tariffs and on top of this, now adds a family/group plan option.
Including the group owner, you can have a maximum number of 8 SIMs in a SMARTY Group and all members save an extra 10% on every SIM. Owner of the group can manage all the payment details, edit all plans and see activities of other group members.
We have an extensive guide on family and group mobile plans in the UK, if you wish to learn more about what other networks offer.
Even though SMARTY is a low-cost virtual mobile network operator at the end of the day, it still has some nice features. However, these aren’t enough to compete with what Three brings to the table.
SMARTY is basically Three’s low-cost alternative with even more affordable prices, but without the extra features.
Three’s prices are still quite competitive and its plans have better value. We think Go Roam, Wi-Fi Calling, 4G Calling and 5G at no extra cost gives Three Mobile the win.
Yes, Three launched its 5G in February 2020 and currently the service is active in 193 cities and towns. The operator has the largest usable 5G spectrum amongst the four main mobile network providers in the UK. The operator has 140Mhz and it’s using 100MHz of it to provide 5G coverage in the UK at the moment.
No, Three Mobile doesn’t offer any 2G service. The operator relies on its 3G and 4G for voice calls and texting.
Yes, Three has 4G Calling and it’s called Super-Voice. The feature is free to both SIM only and PAYG customers alike, but you’ll need to have a compatible handset.
Yes, Three offers Wi-Fi Calling and it’s included in all the deals offered by the network. However, you also need a compatible mobile device at hand.
No, Three doesn’t have any data rollover features, but it’s low-cost sub-brand SMARTY and iD Mobile do have it.
Three has the largest amount of 5G frequency spectrum in the UK, however, having a large 5G spectrum is one of the key factors coming into play in regards to data speeds. Considering how the network’s 5G is quite new, we don’t have enough data to make a healthy comparison, at least not yet.
Three’s inclusive roaming scheme (Go Roam) works in 71 different destinations across the world.
No, SMARTY currently doesn’t offer any 5G services, but the network made an official announcement that 5G is coming.
Yes, SMARTY offers Wi-Fi Calling as of November 2020. However, the network still doesn’t have 4G calling (VoLTE). Being a low-cost virtual mobile network, SMARTY has to make cuts here and there to offer the most competitive prices on the UK mobile market.
No, SMARTY doesn’t have 4G Calling (VoLTE). The network wishes to include this at some point, but currently the service isn’t available to SMARTY customers.
Yes, SMARTY allows tethering and the network’s fair usage is capped at 1TB, which is quite generous. There are no speed restrictions or limitations to how many devices one can tether to on SMARTY.
No, SMARTY doesn’t have an app, you can access all your personal information and plan details through their online dashboard, but we expect the network to eventually offer an app.
Yes, you can. Just go to smarty.co.uk and log in to your dashboard. This should show you how much data you’ve got left at any point in the month.
SMARTY doesn’t offer any handset plans. If they ever propose phone deals we’ll update this review.
Joining SMARTY is simple and there are no credit checks! You can easily get a SMARTY SIM and start using it right away.