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Three UK

Hutchison 3G UK Ltd
Industry Mobile telecommunications, Broadband internet access
Founded 3 March 2003
Headquarters Maidenhead, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Key people
David Dyson (CEO)
Parent Hutchison Whampoa
Slogan When stuff sucks, #makeitright.

Three UK is a telecommunications and internet service provider operating in the United Kingdom as a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa. The company launched in March 2003 as the UK's first commercial video mobile network. It provides 3G and 4G services through its own network infrastructure, with an agreement to provide 2G services using the network of Orange.


  • History 1
  • Network 2
    • 4G 2.1
    • International access 2.2
    • Radio frequency 2.3
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The Three mobile service was launched in the UK on 3 March 2003 (03-03-03),[1] with handsets going on sale later that month. This made Three the UK’s first commercial video mobile network. On 9 December 2004, Three announced that they were the first network to meet their regulatory requirement of 80% population coverage in the UK.[2]

A 3 store in Banbury, England

Three's first retail stores (3Store) opened at the same time as the network launched, on Oxford Street and High Street Kensington, 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 malls throughout the UK, such as the Bluewater Shopping Centre, 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 pay a small micropayment (the price decided by the video's creator) to watch these videos. The user who created the videos will get paid 10% of the amount of money that is paid by other users to watch the video. Users are paid once they have made £10.[5]

In 2010, Three became the fourth network to launch the iPhone 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 the 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] the 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]


In order to provide coverage parity with other networks in the UK, Three maintains a national roaming agreement with an established 2G network operator. Until 2006, O2[11] operated this service for Three customers. However, Orange was selected as the new national roaming partner from 10 May 2006.[11]

Since Three invested heavily into 3G technology since its inception and wanted to run a 3G only service (which in turn would make infrastructure costs cheaper, which could be passed onto the consumer) it was criticised in the early days 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 was adopted in areas as a fallback where 3G wasn't available. The 2G fallback coverage provided by Orange has since greatly diminished, while still available, it is being removed in some areas as Three believe 3G technology is now sufficient enough for mass adoption - and as a result, many (often at the cheaper end) phones that support only 2G networks are not compatible with the Three network.[12] As of 2013, Three no longer provides 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.[13] On 12 November 2010, MBNL announced that the network had reached a total of 12,000 combined sites.[14]


Three's 4G Ready logo

Three began a limited rollout of 4G LTE services in December 2013 in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Reading[15] and will expand to over a further 450 locations by the end of 2014.[16][17] In August 2012 Three were given permission to use part of the 1,800 MHz spectrum used by EE's 4G network.[18] On 20 February 2013 Ofcom announced that Three had been awarded 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz to use for their 4G rollout.[19] Three planned to launch 4G in the second quarter of 2013 however they delayed the rollout until Q4 citing that they wanted to analyse the performance of other networks' 4G coverage first.[20] 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.[21][22] On 23 April 2015, Three announced that VoLTE would be rolled out along with 800 MHz spectrum from September.[23]

International access

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".[24] 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.[25]

Radio frequency

Frequencies used on the Three UK network
Frequency Protocol Class
800 MHz LTE[26] 4G
1800 MHz LTE[17] 4G


  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. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "3 brings next generation of mobile stores to life" (Press release). 18 November 2005. Retrieved 25 February 2005. 
  4. ^ "3 acquires 95 prime-location stores from the Link and O2" (Press release). 24 October 2006. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "People's channel 'SeeMeTV' tops 4 million downloads" (Press release). 8 March 2006. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Three UK will launch iPhone 4." (Press release). Three UK. 10 June 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Parker, Joe. "Three tops latest independent YouGov survey". Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "Three inTouch". Three UK. 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. ^ a b "3 selects Orange as new national roaming partner" (Press release). 10 May 2006. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  12. ^ "3 starts killing off 2G coverage". 8 November 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  13. ^ "T-Mobile and 3 create Britain’s largest 3G network" (PDF) (Press release). 18 December 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  14. ^ "Three and Everything Everywhere joint venturereaches 12,000 shared 3G sites" (PDF) (Press release). 12 November 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  15. ^ Orlowski, Andrew (5 December 2013). "Three offers free US roaming, confirms stealth 4G rollout". The Register. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "When will I get 4G". Three. Retrieved 2015-04-30. 
  17. ^ a b 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. 
  18. ^ "4G timetable agreed by UK mobile network operators". BBC News. 2 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction". Ofcom. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  20. ^ "Three UK Delays 4G Mobile Broadband Launch to Q4 2013". Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  21. ^ "Get ready for 4G at no extra cost". Three UK. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  22. ^ "Three to offer latest technology as standard with no price premium" (Press release). Three UK. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "VoLTE comes to Three". Three UK. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  24. ^ "3 has no place Like Home". 20 May 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  25. ^ "Feel At Home.". Three UK. 15 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  26. ^ "Three Super-Voice". Three UK. 15 September 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 

External links

  • Official website
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