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Three UK has launched a very limited London-based version of its 5G network at the moment, but will be rolling it out to many key UK towns and cities over the coming weeks and months.
Three is claiming it will have the UK’s fastest 5G network because it has more spectrum than the other UK operators.
Those claims are still unsubstantiated until we’ve had chance to check it out, although early signs are that it will be able to achieve some excellent peak speeds even now at over 400Mbps.
Three 5G cities
Three’s home 5G broadband is already available in certain parts of London - see below for more details on which areas are covered.
But 5G technology will be coming to these cities imminently: Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Reading , Rotherham, Slough, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Sunderland.
Expect these places to have a Three UK 5G service by the end of 2019 - although we don't have exact dates. We believe Three's main mobile 5G launch will take place during late October or November.
Three 5G phones
Three has said it will launch initially with four 5G phones - currently the same selection as Vodafone is using. Although Three is offering 5G at no extra cost to existing consumers, you'll need a 5G ready SIM.
So if you decide to buy a SIM-free 5G phone but want to use an existing Three contract, you'll still need to go into store and change your SIM.
Three is using a '5G ready' badge on phones on its website, so even though Three is not yet offering 5G services, you'll know which phones are 5G capable and which aren't.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
This entry-level 5G handset still packs a major punch - it has some top-end specs with a 6.4-inch display and Qualcomm's top-end Snapdragon 855 powering things along. You get a pop-up dual front camera plus there's also dual 12 megapixel cameras on the rear. The camera tech is a force to be reckoned with as it has every function going including slow-mo and night mode. Three has the roomy 128GB version and it comes in onyx black.
Samsung A90 5G
The third 5G handset from Samsung to come to Three after the below Galaxy S10 5G and the Note 10+ 5G. With a 6.7-inch display, it's the same size as the S10 5G and packs most of its punch with an octocore processor, 48 megapixel main camera, 4,500mAh battery, fast 25W charging and 128GB of storage. Samsung is definitely being aggressive on price with this handset and it's a much more appealing option than some of the other 5G handsets available. It really isn't that far off the capability of the S10 5G at all.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Samsung’s first-ever 5G handset is a terrific-looking device that's actually very different internally than the standard S10 and has a quad camera on the rear. It's also bigger than the standard S10 and even the S10+, partly to accommodate the extra 5G goodness and the required cooling - it clocks in at 6.7-inches and has a clever front dual camera array that's cut into the corner of the display. That screen size is only just shy of the 5G version of the Mate 10 you can see below. Power comes from Samsung's own Exynos 9820 in Europe (US variants use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855).
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G
Although we're expecting a version of the upcoming Huawei Mate 30 to be 5G-capable, this was Huawei's first 5G phone and it's not long been out in the UK due to the company's ongoing trade war with the US. It's a huge 7.2-inch device that's available from Three with 256GB of storage and in a rather fetching emerald greeen. The phone has a long-life 4,200mAh battery and is based around Huawei's self-designed Kirin 980 platform with its Balong 5000 5G modem.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
Available from Three in its largest 256GB capacity, the Note 10+5G comes in aura glow, which is basically grey or aura black which is, er, black. As with every other Note device the phone comes with the S Pen stylus - if you don't want this, then plump for the S10+ 5G or A90 5G instead. It's barely any smaller than this handset's huge 6.8-inch size. The Note 10+ is also powered by Samsung’s latest Exynos 9825 processor and 5G modem. There's a high-capacity 4,300mAh battery, too.
Three UK 5G coverage
As we mentioned, Three believes it will be able to have the UKs fastest 5G network because of its allocation of 5G spectrum – networks have to bid for spectrum in a spectrum auction. Part of the reason three says it will be able to be so fast is that it has the biggest chunk of contiguous spectrum – in other words, it’s mainly together in one 100Mhz block.
Other networks – specifically O2 – think Three is at a competitive advantage because of this as it almost certainly means the network will be able to achieve higher peak speeds.
However, Three has traditionally held less spectrum than its rivals and Ofcom believes it is working to balance up the market. However, there is another spectrum auction incoming between 3.6 and 3.8GHz and Ofcom has drawn up several proposals to defragment the networks’ spectrum holdings then.
Three's coverage checker doesn't yet have 5G included but we expect it to be added very soon.
Three 5G deals
We're expecting the network to launch its mobile 5G service in October or November. Three hasn't yet said what any 5G-specific deals will be but its SIMs are 5G ready as it is.
That means you won't need to upgrade if you're on an existing tariff as Thee is making 5G available at no extra cost. The catch, of course, is that you will need a new 5G phone to take advantage of 5G speeds.
Given that Three's traditional strength has been data-driven tariffs, expect it to focus on this again. It already offers an unlimited tariff (£20 a month SIM-only, currently only £10 a month for six months).
Key rivals O2 and EE have already announced unlimited data 5G deals after Vodafone leapt first to join Three in the unlimited data 5G battle.
Three 5G broadband
Three’s first foray into 5G has been to introduce a home broadband service using Huawei’s 5G CPE Pro router, which is also being used by Vodafone for its home 5G offering.
At present Three’s service is only limited to a handful of London areas - Camden, Camberwell, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington - but we’re expecting this to increase fairly rapidly as it opens up 5G services elsewhere.
If you've had 4G broadband before, or used a separate portable hotspot that wasn't on your phone, chances are that device was made by Huawei, too.
The 5G CPE Pro router works just like the fixed line router that's many of us have in our homes now, save for the fact it has a microSIM card inside. You even get wired network ports so you can connect it to a Powerline network or to a games console or other device that doesn't have Wi-Fi - not that there are too many of these devices available on the market these days.
The home broadband offering is plug-and-play with next-day delivery.
Previously Three confirmed that it would also offer HTCs 5G Mobile Smart Hub, too, although it hasn't yet launched. EE is also stocking that device.
Three 5G business
Currently Three 5G offers numerous benefits to business customers including free subscriptions to WeWork, Moo business card discounts and site creation with Wix.com.
Three offers stacks of phones on its business tariffs, but currently it isn't pushing 5G phones on business plans per se.