Three clamp down on tethering as other networks lighten up

28 July 2014   By Jemma Crutchlow-Porter

THE UK's smallest network, Three, has made tethering available to more of its customers, but has clamped down on allowances in order to do so.

three shop sign
Credit: William Barton/

Previously, only One Plan customers could use Three's Personal Hotspot to use their phones as a modem, otherwise known as tethering.

But the network has now opened the service up to all new customers on their new SIM 2014 plans.

However, in order to give more people access to their Personal Hotspot, Three have capped tethering allowances on unlimited data plans to 4GB.

More on tethering

This is the second time that the network has clamped down on tethering this year. In February they capped the previously unlimited allowance on the One Plan to just 2GB for new customers with unlimited data.

Three used to be one of the only UK networks allowing unlimited tethering. However, in recent months it has become more stringent, just as almost all of the other major networks have lightened up.

Tether away!

While it's great to see Three giving its Personal Hotspot to more customers, a 2GB cap for pay monthly customers and a 4GB cap for SIM only customers is a little tight.

People regularly using tethering are likely using their phone's data in place of having fixed broadband, so is 2GB or 4GB really sufficient? Unlikely.

For those that simply read the news, do a bit of online shopping or banking, go on social media and check emails, without watching or listening to video and audio streams, a light package, such as 2GB or 4GB, may suit.

However, users wanting to catch up on their favourite TV shows on platforms like BBC iPlayer, watch cat videos on YouTube or listen to music on Spotify will eat through that allowance in just a few hours.

That, much heavier, usage tends to result from tethering and so has typically been charged as an extra by the networks, or banned altogether.

Three was the one network that offered this incredibly useful feature for free, but just as they have tightened up their policies, EE, O2 and Vodafone have loosened theirs.

Tethering is unlimited on all these networks although, just as with normal data plans, those that use up the allowance and face being charged extra.

The new customer gap

The networks might be sharing the love and either giving more people access to tethering (Three) or lifting previous restrictions on using phones as modems (EE, O2, Vodafone) but these changes will take a while to actually be useful for a lot of people.

Existing customers are still bound by the rules of their original contracts.

For example, Three customers on old contracts, aside from the One Plan, still can't tether without buying a £5 monthly 'add on' to their contract. This includes 1GB of data, but it must be used within 30 days or it disappears.

Similarly, those with Orange Dolphin, Canary and Racoon contracts, which are no longer available to new customers, have to pay a £1 a day surcharge to tether.

In some ways, an add on is worse than a cap. Not only do existing customers have to shell out £5 a month for something that other customers are getting for free, but the 1GB cap is even lower than the 2GB or 4GB cap for people on new Three plans.

What else has changed at Three?

2014 has been a busy year for Three. Aside from messing around with tethering limits, they also added free 0800 calls to their new plans in March.

This is good news for some, as calling the supposedly freephone number can cost up to 40p a minute on a mobile, resulting in a £60.19 annual premium for the average mobile user.

However, confusing advertising has left some customers baffled about who exactly gets free calls.

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