|Incredibly fast. Average speeds tested of 445Mbps.||Reliant on 5G coverage|
|Simple setup with no engineer visit, or landline required||Requires mains power|
|Up to 64 connected devices||Latency slightly higher than fibre|
|30-day money back guarantee|
Three 5G Broadband is proof that 5G is useful for more than just phones. In fact, it's a true alternative to fibre broadband. While it can’t quite match full fibre for speed, it comfortably beats most fibre to the cabinet plans, all at a potentially lower cost and with a simpler setup.
5G home broadband is a lot like fibre broadband, but rather than your connection reaching your router through fibre cables, it travels through the air from a nearby 5G mast. Three 5G Broadband (which includes the Three 5G Hub router) is an example of this, and it promises the sorts of speeds you’d expect from fibre, even in places where fast broadband hasn’t typically been an option.
On paper then, it sounds very promising, and when you consider that Three’s plans come with unlimited data it sounds even better.
So is Three 5G Broadband what you should be opting for? Well, very possibly, but it’s not quite a perfect option. Below we’ll dive into all the good things about it, and the few not so good ones.
|Supported speeds||5G and 4G|
|Router||Three 5G Hub|
|Coverage||More than 588 towns and cities. Check coverage|
|Contract length||1-month or 24-month|
|Price||From £20 a month|
Three 5G Broadband is one of several 5G home broadband options, but the core technology is much the same for all of them.
5G home broadband then, involves using a router to bring Wi-Fi to all the devices in your home, just like fibre broadband, but it’s how the signal reaches the router that differs.
Rather than a cable, it’s sent wirelessly over the air from the nearest mobile mast, in much the same was as 5G signals reach smartphones. As such, you need to be in a 5G area to get 5G home broadband (though 4G home broadband is also available if you’re not).
|Three 5G Broadband||Fibre broadband|
|Affordably priced||Prices vary but full fibre can be costly|
|No need for an engineer visit||An engineer will usually be required|
|Next day delivery and set up||Likely to be waiting weeks to get up and running|
|Short term plans||Plans vary but are typically long term|
|Can take it with you||Can only use it in your home|
|Good speeds (150Mbps – 1Gbps)||Full fibre offers great speeds (up to 1Gbps+), but other fibre can be slow (often under 100Mbps)|
|Not available everywhere||Fibre is available to most of the UK, but full fibre isn’t|
|Bad weather and congestion may affect it||Unlikely to be affected by the weather or congestion|
If you’re considering Three 5G Broadband – or 5G home broadband in general – then you’re probably debating whether to use this, or whether to stick with traditional fibre broadband. So what’s better about Three 5G Broadband?
Well, for one thing it’s far quicker and simpler to set up. You don’t need to organise an engineer visit, and you certainly don’t need any cables drilling in the wall (as you might when installing full fibre). Instead, you just order Three 5G Broadband, and when the 5G Hub router arrives you essentially just plug it in and switch it on.
We’ll get into more detail about the setup below, but it basically is just plug and play, and with next day delivery available too, you can get it up and running the day after you place your order.
Three 5G Broadband is also optionally available on short 30-day rolling plans, so there’s no long term commitment, while with fibre broadband you’re often tied in for a year or more.
Plus, because Three 5G Broadband is so simple to set up, you can easily get up and running again if you move home, or even take the Three 5G Hub router with you when staying in a hotel or holiday home, to bring fast 5G internet wherever you go – just as long as there’s a signal and a power supply.
5G broadband is also extremely fast, and particularly on Three’s network. We’ll do a deep dive into speeds below, but it can be almost competitive with full fibre (also known as fibre to the premises), and tends to be significantly faster than anything other than full fibre.
Full fibre also often costs more, and isn’t available everywhere, so you might not have access to the fastest fibre broadband options anyway.
That said, 5G home broadband isn’t perfect. It’s also not available everywhere, and certain weather conditions or heavy congestion are more likely to impact its speeds (and whether it even works) than with fibre broadband. The very fastest full fibre packages are also likely to be faster, and latency on fibre can be lower.
One big advantage of Three 5G Broadband is that’s it’s incredibly simple to get up and running. You’ll find a full Three 5G Broadband unboxing and setup video above, but we’ll run you through the process and what you’ll find in the box here too.
While you don’t get any real accessories with the Three 5G Broadband router, there are a few things in the box beyond the router itself. You also get a SIM card – which is required for it to connect to a 5G network – and a power cable, which of course is needed to actually turn it on and use it. Then there’s a small manual too, to guide you through setting up and using the Three 5G Hub, though we’ve also included setup instructions below.
Step 1: Turn the Three 5G Hub router upside down, and you’ll find a SIM card slot hidden away on the bottom. Lift the flap to expose the slot.
Step 2: Put the SIM card in that slot. Make sure to push it in until you hear a click, then close the flap. The SIM card you receive will be a trio SIM – Three always sends a trio SIM, as this houses all three possible SIM card sizes, but it’s the middle size (a micro-SIM) that you want here.
Step 3: Plug the power cable into the back of the Three 5G Broadband router and then plug the other end into a socket. Think about placement though before choosing a socket – somewhere fairly central in your home could be a good idea, so you get even coverage, and an upstairs windowsill is also often a good spot, so there are fewer obstacles between the router and the nearest mast.
Step 4: Press the power button on the back, and you’ll see indicator lights appear on the top – just wait a few minutes for them to switch on and turn blue. If the signal light (the 3 bars) is blue that means you have a good signal (green is medium and red is poor), while the internet symbol (the globe) being blue means the device is connected to 5G (green means it is using 4G). The other light is the WPS indicator, which is an easy way to connect devices to your Hub without having to enter your Wi-Fi name and password.
Step 5: The Three 5G Hub is now ready to go, and you can connect devices to it using the supplied network name and password – these can be found on a sticker on the back of the router.
If you get stuck or want to change the password then you can refer to the simple manual for additional help. There’s also a handy Three 5G Broadband app that you can use to manage most settings.
You might also want to try moving the router around to a few different spots and testing the speeds you get.
Ultimately though, other than putting the SIM card in this is a true plug-and-play device, making it vastly simpler to get up and running than with fibre broadband, especially as there’s no landline or engineer visits required.
The Three 5G Broadband router is a large, curvy white block with a black top and bottom. It has an indicator light near the bottom and several more on the top. The ones on the top are the important ones, as they tell you the status of your Wi-Fi signal.
At 132.5 x 134 x 230mm it’s a similar size to rival devices, though a rather different shape to, say, the Huawei B535.
There is also a selection of ports – such as one for the power cable (as this is a mains-powered device), a USB port, external antenna ports, and a couple of Ethernet ports – but these are all neatly tucked away at the back. The power button is also at the back.
Finally, you’ll find a SIM card slot and reset button on the bottom of the Three 5G Hub.
As for features, The Three 5G Broadband Hub supports both 2.4Ghz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. The first of those can provide a signal over longer distances, while the second is faster at short range. There’s also support for Wi-Fi 6, which results in higher speeds and lower latency.
We found range to be excellent in our testing, although the further away you get from the router the more speeds will fall off. However, the good thing about the Three 5G Broadband router is you can easily move it to a different room as and when required.
It also supports 4G (though if you only have a 4G signal at home this is probably overkill), and has two Ethernet ports for wired connections, and extension ports for external antennas, so you can boost performance if you find you are having signal problems. If you do purchase an external antenna you simply plug it into the back of the 5G Hub and flick the switch on the back from “Int” to “Ext”.
The Three 5G Hub can also connect up to 64 devices to the internet at once, so you should be able to get even the techiest of homes fully online. That’s in line with the best rival devices, and better than the 30 offered by the previous generation model.
As noted above, there’s also a dedicated Three 5G Broadband app, which provides information on signal strength, connected devices, Wi-Fi settings, and more. You can download this from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, and log in using the supplied QR code or details on the router.
You can also manage the router using a web panel, accessed via 192.168.1.1 in your browser. This gives you control of Wi-Fi settings, lets you view connected devices, and configure the likes of DNS, a firewall, parental controls, NAT (port forwarding), and much more.
The latest version of the Three 5G Broadband router is a rebranded Zyxel NR5103E. That’s worth noting as there have been previous generations of the device too. The previous model for example was a ZTE MC801A 5G Hub.
|Latency||35.8 ms||43 ms||29 ms|
In any case, the latest Three 5G Broadband router (or Three 5G Hub) theoretically supports download speeds of up to 4.7Gbps and upload speeds of up to 2.5Gbps, both of which have the previous model beat.
However, in reality your speeds won’t be close to that at the time of writing. Three for its part claims you’ll get top speeds of 1Gbps and average speeds of 150Mbps, with that second figure applying to at least 50% of 5G broadband customers between the peak hours of 8pm and 10pm.
If anything though Three might be being conservative here, because in our own tests for this Three 5G Broadband review we recorded an average download speed of 445Mbps, a maximum of 656Mbps, and even the minimum was in line with Three’s stated average, at 139Mbps. Of course, location will be a major factor in the speeds you get, but the good thing is Three offer a 30-day money back guarantee with Three 5G Broadband.
As a comparison, the top theoretical download speeds offered by the Three 4G Plus Hub are 600Mbps, and real-world speeds typically top out at around 100Mbps – and that’s the fastest 4G router Three offers.
Even compared to fibre broadband, Three’s 5G Broadband holds up well. BT’s most widely available packages for example all top out at under 100Mbps, making them far, far slower than Three’s 5G Broadband service. At the top end there are things like Virgin Gig1, which has an advertised average download speed of 1,130Mbps, but that’s not widely available at the time of writing, and is extremely expensive.
Anecdotally, this reviewer has Toob full fibre 900Mbps broadband, which is also among the fastest fibre options and not widely available, and average speeds actually hover around the 550-650Mbps range in most rooms, which is only a little faster than we’ve experienced with the Three 5G Broadband router. Still, it is faster, so if these sorts of services are available then they could be a better option if you need the top possible speeds.
But don’t forget – theoretically the Three 5G Broadband router can get far faster than even Virgin Gig1, just as soon as Three’s network supports its full power. We doubt it ever will hit its theoretical max speeds in real world use, but there’s certainly room for improvement as Three’s 5G infrastructure improves.
Upload speeds in our testing averaged out at 15Mbps, which is a large drop-off compared to the download speeds. However, it is perfectly adequate for most users who are simply looking to upload photos and videos.
The latency (which is a measure of how long the network takes to respond to a request) averaged 35.8ms. That is a significant improvement on the 50ms average offered by 4G devices and is more than adequate for online gaming, although you get a slightly lower ping on a fixed-line connection (around 20ms).
That means full fibre broadband is a better option for serious online gaming, and as it tends to average slightly higher speeds you’ll also be able to download games and updates faster with full fibre.
But for offline and casual gamers, Three 5G Broadband should be more than good enough.
Three has kept things simple with the pricing of Three 5G Broadband – you can get it on a 24-month contract for £20 per month or a rolling one-month plan for £24 per month. In both cases you get unlimited data and there’s no upfront cost.
That makes for some extremely good pricing. EE for example – which at the time of writing supplies the same hardware – currently charges £45 per month with £60 upfront and that only gives you 500GB of data on an 18-month contract. For unlimited data you’ll pay £50 per month, with £45 upfront and an 18-month contract.
Looking at full fibre and it’s a similar story, with Virgin Gig1 for example costing £45 per month. So to get comparable or better speeds than Three is offering here, you’ll typically have to pay a lot more elsewhere.
The situation on Three is further aided by the presence of a 30-day money back guarantee, so trying out Three 5G Broadband is risk-free.
Plus, not only is the data here truly unlimited, but Three doesn’t use aggressive traffic management, so you shouldn’t find yourself slowed down. Though it does note that “in times of high congestion or network issues, we might need to take steps such as rerouting bandwidth from quieter places to places with higher demand.”
Three 5G Broadband is a true alternative to fibre broadband. With its simple setup, high speeds, and competitive pricing, it’s arguably actually a better option than many fibre plans – assuming you have strong 5G coverage.
At the time of writing that last bit rules many people out, but over time we could well see 5G broadband become a very popular service, based on the strength of Three 5G Broadband.
That said, full fibre can still beat this for speeds and latency, so if you have that available and cost is no issue, then you should consider that instead.
The only other real issue we have – if you can even call it that – is that it’s reliant on mains power. So if you need your broadband to be more mobile, you’ll have to look elsewhere, and sadly there aren’t many 5G mobile broadband devices.
That aside, if you have the requisite coverage then Three 5G Broadband comes highly recommended, especially if you’re unhappy with the speeds or price of your current home broadband – and with Three’s 30-day money back guarantee you have nothing to lose by giving it a try.
Three 5G Broadband is in a class of its own – especially when it comes to Three’s offerings – as the network doesn’t offer any other 5G routers. Your choice is a 4G router, or to get 5G broadband from elsewhere (with your options again being quite limited), or to stick with conventional fixed line broadband.
Compare the Three 5G Broadband router to any 4G options and there’s no contest – Three 5G Broadband is far faster for both uploads and downloads.
That said, the Three 4G Broadband router (a rebranded ZTE MF286D), does include twice as many Ethernet ports, so it’s good for wired connections, and it can get the same number of devices online wirelessly. The Three 4G Plus Hub has similar perks and a higher average speed than the Three 4G Broadband router – but still far lower speeds than the Three 5G Broadband router.
As for conventional broadband, we covered that in the performance section above, but Three 5G Broadband should be able to rival or beat fibre to the cabinet for speed – assuming you have the requisite 5G coverage.
What it can’t quite match is full fibre, which offers higher speeds in general, and lower latency. That makes full fibre a better choice for online gaming or downloading gigantic files, but it also tends to cost more.
Three 5G Broadband though rivals alternate 5G home broadband devices from other networks. In fact, the current model is the same hardware as the Smart 5G Hub offered by EE.
It also has battery-powered mobile broadband devices beat in most ways, as they tend to top out at 4G, such as with the Three 4G+ MiFi. However, they do benefit from a battery, meaning you can take them with you and use them anywhere.