Three UK claims population coverage crown from EE

UK mobile operator Three reckons its 5G network now covers 54% of the population, which is a bit better than EE.

Scott Bicheno

May 23, 2022

3 Min Read
Three UK claims population coverage crown from EE

UK mobile operator Three reckons its 5G network now covers 54% of the population, which is a bit better than EE.

There’s not a lot more substance to the announcement than that, but the timing of it is intriguing. Not only does it come just a couple of weeks after rival EE did a spot of coverage chest-beating, but it also coincides with the day Three is reintroducing roaming charges. It’s almost as if the Three comms team were charged with manufacturing a distraction.

“We are relentlessly focussed on delivering the UK’s biggest and fastest 5G network for the UK,” said David Hennessy, Chief Technology Officer of Three UK. “Millions of mobile, business and home broadband customers across more than half the UK’s population are able to access our superfast speeds enabling them to live their digital lives to the fullest.”

EE only went so far as to claim its 5G network covers ‘more than 50%’ of the UK population, so Three’s claim does seem reasonable. It is based on the fact that Three now has over 3,000 5G sites across the UK, most of which are presumably in major cities and towns. On top of that Three flagged up Ookla’s finding that it was well ahead of the rest on speed in the second half of last year too.

Whether all this 5G virtue-signalling will be enough to offset the negative effect of the reintroduction of roaming charges remains to be seen. This is an especially sensitive subject for Three, which used to make free roaming a cornerstone of its marketing. It seems fair to assume that some of the subscribers it attracted with that offering will now be having a rethink.

“With roaming charges coming back into effect across different mobile operators this year, Three customers will be next to feel the frustration as these kick in, and it’s important for them to be prepared when taking their phones abroad,” said Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at “It will be a particularly bitter pill to swallow as the network had previously offered some of the most generous roaming allowances, with its Go Roam service covering 71 worldwide destinations, including Australia and the US, as well as Europe.”

Of course Three is not alone in this respect, with only O2 among UK MNOs so far resisting the urge to profiteer from Brexit. Uswitch provided a handy summary of the new charges below and it’s worth stressing that they only kick in once you upgrade or switch providers. Since that provides a strong disincentive to do either. it feels like a bit of an own-goal by those MNOs, but time will tell.


Table: Roaming charges by provider


Introduction date

Applies to customers who joined / upgraded after

Daily charge



31st January 2022

11th August 2021

£2 a day

£1 a day for 8-day or 15-day multipass [1]


3rd March 2022

7th July 2021

£2 a day

Users who pay £10 a month for Roam Abroad don’t pay daily fee[2]


23rd May 2022

1st October 2021

£2 a day

Data Passport offers unlimited and unrestricted data for £5 a day[3]





Can use existing data allowance up to 25GB[4]



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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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