Mobile operator Three has launched a range of budget Sim-only and contract tariffs – dubbed 'Essential' plans – which are being billed as a lower-cost option for customers who want to "cut out the stuff they don't need".
The new no frills plans, which Three says will be available to sign up to online later today (28 July), don't include the operator's signature 'Feel at Home' inclusive roaming product, nor do they allow customers to 'tether' (share your data connection with other devices).
MoneySavingExpert.com has had a detailed look at the Essential plans to see whether they're worth switching to compared with other tariffs.
Check out our Sim-only top picks to find out what your other options are.
How are Essential plans different from Three's other plans?
Unlike Three's pre-existing plans – now referred to as 'Advanced' plans – Essential plans don't offer Feel at Home, a feature which lets you use your minutes and texts to contact UK numbers and also allows use of your data (up to a maximum of 12GB/month) when in 18 foreign countries.
Also missing from Essential plans is the tethering – or 'personal hotspot' – capability, meaning you can't share your data connection with other devices (see more on tethering). Advanced plans allow you to do this with your monthly data allowance (up to a 12GB/month maximum).
Essential and Advanced plans come with 4G data as standard, and Three says you'll get the same signal and data speeds in the UK on both. They're available on 24-month contracts bundled with phones, the cost of which vary by handset, or on one-month or 12-month Sim-only contracts.
Here's how the Sim-only Essential plans compare with their more beefed up counterparts with the same allowance (there are many more Advanced plans; see Three's site* for the full range).
Three Sim-only Essential vs Advanced tariffs
In most cases Advanced plans cost £2/month more than Essential plans with the same UK allowance, but you should consider whether the extra cost is worth it for the inclusive roaming and tethering. If you don't often go abroad to one of the Feel at Home destinations, or never tether, you might not need one of Three's Advanced plans.
That doesn't necessarily mean Essential plans are for you – see a comparison with similar deals from other providers below.
What happens if I go to a Feel at Home destination with an Essential plan?
Since Essential plans don't include roaming, you'll be charged if you use your phone anywhere abroad. Pricing varies by destination and is more or less on par with what Three charges in non-Feel at Home countries currently – see the full price list.
If you think you'll be traveling to a Feel at Home destination infrequently, you might be better off getting one of Three's free pay-as-you-go Sims and buying an add-on just to use while you're away.
Is it possible to add tethering to an Essential plan?
Yes, add-ons start from £5/month for a 1GB tethering allowance. However, since this is more than the difference between Essential and Advanced plans, there'd be no point doing this.
Can existing customers switch to an Essential plan?
Yes, but you'll need to be past the minimum term of your contract. You'll also have to go in store to move to one of them.
How do these new plans compare with what's already out there?
Here's how the new Essential tariffs stack up against similar Sim-only deals currently available. Allowances don't match up exactly but we've done our best to keep them close. We've only included plans that come with 4G data (Life Mobile and TalkMobile offer slightly cheaper 3G-only tariffs).
Deals change frequently so always check – our top picks are updated regularly.
|Three Essential tariff||Nearest equivalent|
|200 mins, 500MB||£9/mth||iD Mobile (1)||250 mins, 1GB (2)||£5/mth|
|600 mins, 1GB||£12/mth||iD Mobile (1)||500 mins, 1GB (3)||£7/mth|
|200 mins, 2GB||£12/mth||iD Mobile (1)||250 mins, 2GB||£7.50/mth|
|Unltd mins, 4GB||£21/mth||iD Mobile (1)||2,000 mins, 6GB||£15/mth|
|Unltd mins, 8GB||£24/mth||iD Mobile (1)||2,000 mins, 10GB||£20/mth|
|Unltd mins, 30GB||£27/mth||Giffgaff (4)||Unltd mins, unltd data (5)||£20/mth|
For all usage levels, when compared with Three's Essential plans, piggyback network iD Mobile wins (bar 30GB+, where Giffgaff comes out on top). And what's more, iD runs off the Three network, meaning you should get the same signal with both operators.
Although you'll pay £3/month less than the prices above if you take a 12-month Essential contact with Three instead of a one-month contract, that's still more than iD Mobile's pricing on its equivalent tariffs.
However, if you're a new Three customer taking a 12-month contract you'll get a £50 Amazon voucher when you join (and if someone you know who's on the Three network refers you, you'll also get a £25 voucher, while they'll get a £25 voucher too). When you factor this in over 12 months it just about edges iD's plans.
So, based on price, we'd only recommend Three's Essential plans if:
- You're happy to take a 12-month contract.
- You're new to Three (especially if you have a friend who can refer you).
- At the end of your contract with Three, you're willing to either call up and haggle or switch to a cheaper deal.
What does Three say?
Danny Dixon, director of customer strategy at Three, says: "At Three we're constantly looking at ways of extending the range of tariffs on offer to our customers to ensure we account for all different types of mobile phone users – ranging from the smartphone obsessed, right through to the more infrequent users.
"While we remain extremely proud of the unique perks we offer on our Advanced plans... we appreciate that not all of our customers use their phone abroad regularly or use their phone as a [tethering] hotspot.
"These new Essential plans set out to provide a no frills alternative for these customers, providing them with the option to cut out the stuff they don't need, and get the best value for the stuff they really do."