Three 5G coverage and roll-out

Three 5G

Three has always been something of an underdog, but that could soon change, as its 5G network is landing in August and it’s supposedly set to be faster than rivals. It could quickly become more widespread too.

This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. Three has a lot of 5G-capable spectrum, and the network has long said that it believes this puts it in the strongest position for an early 5G lead in the UK.

Full details of Three’s upcoming 5G network are below, including everything we know about speeds and future coverage.

Coverage

Three hasn’t switched on its 5G network yet, but it will do in August. Initially only London will have coverage (and only for 5G home broadband), but many other cities are due to get 5G soon after, and a 5G mobile service is set to be made available.

Which cities will have Three 5G at launch?

At launch you’ll be able to get Three 5G in parts of:

  • London

Don’t expect comprehensive London coverage on day one, but we’d expect many of the busiest parts will have Three 5G. Camden and Wandsworth might be among the launch locations, as Three is currently carrying out trials in these locations (more on this in the trials section below). We’ll update this section once we have more details.

How do I check Three 5G coverage?

Three has an online coverage checker, allowing you to enter a postcode to see a coverage map for that area, complete with both indoor and outdoor 3G and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage sure to be added once any is available.

You should check 5G coverage in your area before buying a 5G phone or plan, as it won’t initially be available in most places.

How does Three's 5G coverage compare to the other mobile networks?

Three doesn’t have any 5G coverage yet, but so far only EE does. It has coverage in parts of London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester.

Vodafone will also have 5G coverage before Three though, as it’s launching its 5G service on July 3rd in seven locations. O2 will also be launching 5G at some point in summer 2019, initially in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.

5G launch cities plus imminent launches

Cities

EE

Vodafone

Three

O2

Belfast

Launched

2020

2020

Summer

Birmingham

Launched

3rd July

2019

?

Bristol

2019

3rd July

2019

?

Cardiff

Launched

3rd July

2019

Summer

Edinburgh

Launched

2020

2019

Summer

Glasgow

2019

3rd July

2019

?

Liverpool

2019

3rd July

2019

?

London

Launched

3rd July

August

Summer

Manchester

Launched

3rd July

2019

?

If your location is not listed in the table above, then check below to see if you will get Three 5G in 2019 or later.

What locations will Three 5G roll out to next?

Three has revealed that by the end of 2019 it plans to have brought 5G to parts of the following locations:

  • Birmingham
  • Bolton
  • Bradford
  • Brighton
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Coventry
  • Derby
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow
  • Hull
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Middlesbrough
  • Milton Keynes
  • Nottingham
  • Reading
  • Rotherham
  • Sheffield
  • Slough
  • Sunderland
  • Wolverhampton

That, notably, is more locations than any other UK network has currently committed to bringing 5G to this year.

Which other locations are scheduled to get Three 5G?

Three hasn’t said where will be next in line for 5G beyond the announced locations above. However, it looks like its network will expand quickly, as it has said that over the next three years it expects its 5G network to cover 80% of its network traffic.

Three has also revealed that it plans to invest over £2 billion in 5G.

We’ll update this section as soon as we know any specifics, but as a general rule of thumb, large towns and cities will likely get 5G before smaller and more rural locations.

Note also that we’d expect coverage to quickly improve in the cities that already have 5G from Three.

What happens if I’m not in a 5G coverage area?

Three customers who aren’t in a 5G coverage area will get 4G or 3G, even if they’re on a 5G plan, so the experience will be similar to how it is now. You’ll find an overview of Three’s 4G coverage below.

4G coverage / comparison

Three has around 99.8% UK population coverage with 4G, along with roughly 98.3% 3G coverage. That’s largely comparable with rivals, based on the latest available data, as you can see in the 4G coverage comparison below.

Network

4G population coverage

EE

>99%

Three

99.8%

Vodafone

99%

O2

99%

5G coverage abroad

Three hasn’t yet announced whether it will offer 5G speeds when roaming abroad, but we suspect it won’t initially, or at least not in many locations, as right now most of Three’s roaming locations don’t even allow 4G speeds.

Speed and latency

We don’t yet know exactly how fast Three’s 5G network will be, as it hasn’t launched yet, but you’ll find some estimates below, along with information on latency.

Current speeds

At launch, Three has revealed that it should offer peak 5G speeds that are twice as fast as any rival. Given that EE claims users could see peak speeds that exceed 1Gbps, that might mean Three’s network can exceed 2Gbps.

It can seemingly achieve this because Three has far more ‘5G spectrum’ than rivals (more on that in the spectrum section below). It’s also the only UK network with more than 100MHz of the stuff, which is the amount that according to the ITU (the global standards body on 5G technology) is required for ‘true’ 5G.

That would be a massive boost on its 4G speeds, which according to data from OpenSignal average 18.78Mbps, while peak real world 4G speeds are unlikely to reach 100Mbps. Of course, Three’s 5G speeds probably won’t reach those 2Gbps peaks most of the time either, but they should still be far, far higher than anything you’d get on 4G.

Future speeds

As fast as Three’s network will be at launch, it’s likely to get even faster over time as the company acquires more spectrum and improves its infrastructure.

We’re not sure how fast, but some estimates have put 5G speeds at over 10Gbps eventually, which could be a truly transformative speed and enable all sorts of advanced 5G use cases, such as truly smart cities.

Latency

Latency – measured in milliseconds (ms) - is how long the network takes to respond to a request. A high latency can make things feel sluggish to respond, even if download speeds are high, and the good news is that with 5G, latency could be as low as around 1ms, though we don’t yet know exactly what it will be on Three 5G.

That’s compared to around 40-50ms on 4G.

Three spectrum

Three came away from the first 5G spectrum auction with less winnings than any other network, specifically just 20MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum, covering the 3460 – 3480MHz range, and paying £151,296,000 for it.

EE and O2 meanwhile each got 40MHz (with O2 also scoring 40MHz of 4G-ready 2.3GHz spectrum), while Vodafone secured 50MHz in the 3.4GHz band.

However, Three has lots of spectrum ideal for 5G overall, as while it only came away with a small amount at Ofcom’s 5G spectrum auction, it already had a lot thanks to its purchase of UK Broadband.

Specifically, it has 40Mhz in the 3.4GHz band (namely the 3480 – 3500MHz and 3580 – 3600MHz range), plus 164MHz in the 3.6GHz - 4GHz range, on top of the 20MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum that it won at auction (covering the 3460 – 3480MHz range).

Three has specifically said that it believes all this spectrum makes it the best placed of the four main UK networks for early 5G leadership – a claim that it has since got into more detail about, saying that it’s the only UK network that can offer ‘true’ 5G at launch, as it’s the only one with more than 100MHz of spectrum that’s ideal for 5G.

Three’s position has improved slightly too, because it's had permission from Ofcom to adjust the location of some of the spectrum that it owns through UK broadband, with the 164MHz now being split between 3600-3680MHz and 3925-4009MHz.

The first of those blocks is the one that's changed here, as it now links up with the 3580-3600MHz spectrum which Three also has the rights to. That gives Three a 100MHz block of contiguous spectrum, which could allow for greater speeds and wider coverage when Three uses it for 5G.

Immediately useable spectrum

3.4GHz held

3.6 – 4GHz held

Total spectrum held

90MHz

60MHz

164MHz

314MHz

Note: 'Immediately useable spectrum' refers to spectrum in various bands that’s already been put to use for 4G, 3G and 2G. Three holds this spectrum in the 800MHz, 1.8GHz, and 2.1GHz bands.

And this won’t have been its last chance to secure 5G spectrum, as there will be future 5G auctions for spectrum in the 3.6GHz - 3.8GHz bands as well as the 700MHz band, and likely also the 26GHz and 8GHz bands.

Plus, Ofcom is also looking at other potential bands that could be used for 5G.

Current trials

Ahead of Three’s 5G network launch, the company is currently trialling its 5G home broadband service in Camden and Wandsworth – suggesting that these might be among the launch locations in London.

Three claims this trial is designed to ensure it can offer the best possible 5G home broadband experience to customers at launch.

Three is also currently getting all 3,500+ of its staff members to test its new 5G-ready core network, which is being fully launched soon and will help the company manage the data demands of its 5G network.

O2 and European Space Agency trial autonomous vehicle connectivity 25 June

O2 and European Space Agency trial autonomous vehicle connectivity

'Project Darwin' hopes to pave the way for new connectivity...

e.GO car factory deploys 5G manufacturing with Vodafone and Ericsson 25 June

e.GO car factory deploys 5G manufacturing with Vodafone and Ericsson

The e.GO factory, powered by a private 5G network,...

New battery tech could keep 5G devices powered twice as long 24 June

New battery tech could keep 5G devices powered twice as long

Nokia Bell Labs and AMBER have developed battery technology...