|Very fast for 4G||5G is faster still|
|Supports up to 64 devices||Not as quick as faster fibre options|
|Short term plans available|
Three 4G Broadband is as good as a 4G home broadband service and router can get. The only question is whether you want a 4G router, or if 5G broadband or fibre would be a better option for you.
Three 4G Broadband is the network’s 4G home broadband service, and if you sign up for this you’re getting both a monthly data allowance and a Three 4G Home Broadband Hub router, so it’s both the device and the service that we’ll be reviewing here.
We’ll also be looking at 4G home broadband as a whole, so you can get a clearer idea of whether it’s right for you, or whether you’d be better off with 5G home broadband or fibre.
|Download speeds (tested)||35.9Mbps|
|Router||Three 4G Home Broadband Hub|
|Coverage||More than 99% UK. Check coverage|
|Contract lengths||24-month plans|
|Price||From £20 a month|
Three 4G Broadband – like all 4G home broadband – is powered by the same 4G networks as you access on smartphones, but rather than your phone receiving a 4G signal, a router in your home does, and it then beams that signal out to all your other devices as a Wi-Fi network.
So, as with fibre broadband you have a router that broadcasts a Wi-Fi network, but the difference is simply in how the router itself receives a signal. With fibre, it’s carried through wires, whereas with 4G home broadband (and 5G home broadband) it’s carried wirelessly from the nearest mast.
|Three 4G Broadband||Fibre broadband|
|Very affordable||Can be a lot more expensive|
|Get up and running the very next day||Could be waiting weeks for an install|
|Plug and play||Will likely need an engineer to install it|
|Portable (as long as you have access to a socket)||Only useable in one place|
|Widely available||Widely available|
|Ok speeds (around 35.9Mbps)||Great speeds, but depends on plan|
|Higher latency||Lower latency|
Three 4G Broadband and 4G home broadband in general have a lot of advantages over fibre broadband, but they also come with some downsides, so it’s worth working out which option is best for you.
The positives of Three 4G Broadband include extremely affordable pricing, which undercuts most fibre plans.
Three 4G Broadband is also very simple and fast to get up and running with. The network offers next day delivery of the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub, and once it arrives you can easily set it up yourself, as you need to do little more than plug it in. This is in stark contrast to fibre broadband, where an engineer typically needs to set it up for you, and the wait for an appointment can be weeks.
Because Three 4G Broadband is plug and play (with no need for an engineer or a landline), you can also easily take it with you when you move home, or even bring it with you on holiday or anywhere else where you have access to a socket. Fibre broadband meanwhile can only be used in the place it’s installed – you can often transfer your plan to a new home (assuming the company provides broadband there), but you’ll likely need to arrange another engineer visit.
One general benefit of 4G home broadband is that it’s also in some cases available on short-term 30 day plans, making it a great temporary solution. However, at the time of writing Three 4G Broadband is only available on 24-month plans, so that doesn’t apply to this specific service.
Three 4G Broadband is widely available too, but so is fibre broadband. On the more negative side, the average speeds on Three 4G Broadband aren’t anything special. We’ll cover this more below, but in our own tests we averaged download speeds of 35.9Mbps. For fibre, speeds vary a lot depending on your plan, but with full fibre you can get up to around 1Gbps, so it can be a lot faster.
Latency tends to be lower on fibre too, making it better for online gaming. Note that both speeds and latency are better with 5G broadband than 4G broadband, but even then full fibre is typically better still.
If you’ve set up a 4G router before then you’ll be in familiar territory here, and if not, you should still have no issues, as the ease of setup is one of the selling points of 4G routers, as you don’t need a landline (meaning you can also save money) and you don’t need an engineer to come out and hook your property up to the internet.
Instead, it’s designed to be plug and play, but we’ll run you through the full process below, along with what you’ll find in the box.
The main thing in the box is – unsurprisingly – the actual router. Beyond that you just get a SIM card (which you need to put in it), a small manual, and a power cable.
Step 1: Remove the SIM card from its packaging and insert it into the slot on the side of the router, pushing it gently until it clicks into place.
Step 2: Connect the power cable to the router and a socket and switch it on at the wall.
Step 3: Push the router’s power switch (next to the port for the cable on the back) upwards to turn it on, and wait for the lights to come on.
Step 4: Optionally you can now install external antennas (sold separately). Do this by opening the two circular lids on the back of the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub, and then screwing the antennas into the slots (turning them clockwise). Then bend them upwards so the antennas are sticking out of the top of the router.
Step 5: You’re now ready to connect devices to the internet using the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub. You can use the supplied network name and password for this, or change them to something of your choosing (the latter generally being more secure). Refer to the manual for assistance with this.
Like most 4G home broadband routers, the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub (which is actually a rebranded ZTE MF286D) is basically a white box, with a signal indicator and other status lights on the front, and all of the ports on the back.
It’s more of a square shape than some routers, such as the previous router Three stocked (the Huawei B535 WebBox) and the Three 4G Plus MiFi (a battery-powered mobile broadband router). Those two are more rectangular. But otherwise the design is very similar, though the blue central section here gives it a bit of a visual edge.
The Three 4G Home Broadband Hub comes in at 180 x 170 x 30mm, which means it’s reasonably compact overall, with a narrow depth, though it stands taller than some. Still, stick it on a table or a shelf and it will quickly fade into the background, as any good router should.
One feature of note here is the four Ethernet ports on the back of the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub. We’re fans of having lots of these, so you can plug devices into it for a potentially even faster and more stable connection.
Speaking of the connection, there are also two external antenna ports, which can be leveraged to boost your signal if you’re struggling to get a decent one from the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub on its own. These specs are in line with the previous Three 4G Hub, so not really an upgrade, but we praised that device for them and we’ll praise this one for them too.
In terms of software, you’ll be able to access a web interface for configuring the various router settings. You can’t access this from the router itself as there’s no display, but that’s pretty standard.
Other features of the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub include the ability to get up to 64 devices online at once (which is a common spec, but should be plenty), and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands, which again is fairly standard, but some older 4G routers only support 2.4GHz, so it’s nice to see.
|Latency||29.5 ms||36 ms||23 ms|
The Three 4G Home Broadband Hub is extremely fast for a 4G device, supporting download speeds of up to 600Mbps – though real world 4G speeds on Three’s network are much lower.
In our tests, Three’s 4G Broadband service achieved average download speeds of 35.9Mbps, with peak speeds only being slightly higher at 39.1Mbps. It’s quite consistent though, with even the lowest speeds not being drastically lower.
Those sorts of speeds are good enough for web browsing and many other basic online tasks, but are less good for 4K streaming and online gaming – the latter of which will also suffer due to the 29.5ms average latency we recorded.
For comparison, Three’s 5G Broadband service delivered average download speeds of 445Mbps in our tests, though interestingly its latency was no lower, even though it theoretically can be on 5G.
Fibre broadband meanwhile offers speeds that range between roughly 30Mbps and 1Gbps. So 4G broadband is a little faster than the slowest fibre plans, but far slower than the fastest – and you typically get lower latencies of around 20ms on a fixed-line fibre connection.
Of course, getting fast fibre plans can cost a lot more than Three 4G Broadband, and while both fibre and 4G broadband are widely available, there will be places – particularly some rural areas – where 4G broadband is the faster option.
Three 4G Broadband is an excellent 4G home broadband option, beating most 4G rivals for speed, with impressively low prices and a decent selection of ports.
The only real mark against it is that unless you’re in a rural location that’s unlikely to get 5G for a long time, then the days of 4G broadband being the best wireless option will be numbered for most people, and it’s also a lot slower than full fibre. But then not everyone needs the speed or expense of 5G broadband or full fibre, as this is still fast enough for many use cases.
So if you’re happy with 4G then Three 4G Broadband comes highly recommended.
Three 4G Broadband
Three 5G Broadband
4GEE Home Router 3
|Download Speeds||Up to 600Mbps||Up to 4.7Gbps||EE's fastest 4G|
|Upload Speeds||Up to 150Mbps||Up to 2.5Gbps||TBC|
|Maximum Connected devices||64||64||64|
Dual Band 802.11ac
(2.4GHz and 5GHz)
a/b/g/n/ac/ax (Wi-Fi 6)
4 x 4 MIMO (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
|External Antenna||Yes (sold separately)||Yes (sold separately)||Yes (sold separately)|
|Power||Mains Power||Mains Power||Mains Power|
|-||Three 5G Broadband review||-|
If you’re looking for home broadband on Three then there’s only one real alternative at the time of writing – Three 5G Broadband. That of course is far faster (if you have 5G coverage), with theoretical download speeds of up to 4.7Gbps (though real-world speeds will be much lower than that, averaging 445Mbps in our tests).
Like the Three 4G Home Broadband Hub, the 5G Hub provided with this supports up to 64 simultaneous connections, but it actually only has two Ethernet ports, rather than the four of the 4G Home Broadband Hub, so it’s worse off there. Still, if you have a 5G signal in your home then it’s definitely going to be the better option.
If you’re not set on Three then there are other alternatives too, notably the EE Smart 4G Hub. This offers average speeds of 30-40Mbps on EE’s network, along with support for 64 simultaneous connections, and two Ethernet ports. It’s largely a comparable device other than the Ethernet ports, so it’s worth considering if you have better coverage with EE than Three, though it's also a lot more expensive.
Outside of 4G and 5G home broadband, there’s also fibre to consider of course. Three 4G Broadband can match or beat the slowest fibre plans for speed, but many homes will have access to significantly faster fibre options, with full fibre topping out at over 1Gbps – albeit often at a high price.
And if you’d rather have a battery-powered device that you can use anywhere, consider the Three 4G Plus MiFi, which is designed to bring Wi-Fi to your gadgets when out and about, but isn’t quite as capable when used as an always-on home broadband solution.