back to article UK network Three hikes pay-as-you-go rates by 400% to push punters to buy 'bundles'

Three has announced plans to hike the price of its pay-as-you-go mobile service, with SMS and data prices set to soar by 400 per cent from 16 February. The per-minute cost of making a call, meanwhile, will more than triple. Under the new rates, the cost of sending a text message rise to 10p from the current price of 2p. The …

  1. Duncan Macdonald

    Time for a complaint to Ofcom

    Increases in phone rates should be limited to RPI (at most) or CPI - there is no justification for these increases except that they have no effective competition.

    (Possibly also a reference to the competition and markets authority would be in order.)

    There has been no real increase in the costs to the telecom operators for texts and basic phone calls - this is pure price gouging.

    1. goldcd

      They have a a large amount of active competition...

      The issue with mobile operators, is that their main costs aren't actually related to you using the service.

      If I had to wildly guess is might be pandemic related, with all of us sat near our WiFi more.

      If you pay for a bundle, you've just used less of it. If you're paying per MB of data, then you'll have been using less, paying your operator less - and this less doesn't come close to offsetting the cost of them not carrying that MB.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

      Inflation is just the weighted average price change of 'everything'. No particular reason anything should be linked to it other than income/benefits.

      Leads to the next question - why should mobile prices be increasing at all?

      Main problem is lack of competition. That said, GiffGaff is just £6 per month for unlimited calls. There are other minor networks offering a load of data for £8 per month. Just need to look around.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

      "There has been no real increase in the costs to the telecom operators for texts and basic phone calls"

      Please share your method for replacing all Huawei kit at zero cost.

      1. Steve K

        Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

        Sheets of sticky labels....?

        1. John Doe 12

          Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

          This is less of a joke than it sounds. Any Huawei gear I bought from China lately has been arriving with all the logos covered up with silver sticky labels ha ha :-D I assume this is to reduce the risk of intervention by customs.

          1. Clunking Fist

            Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

            "silver sticky labels"

            You mean, metallic? That's to stop the 5G/Corona transmission. Peel them of at your own risk!

        2. Kane

          Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

          "Sheets of sticky labels....?"

          Gaffa tape, and you know it.

    4. Steve 53

      Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

      I think that's reasonable on contract, but I don't think that's really necessary for PAYG contracts. I'm on three PAYG as my work SIM does most of the heavy lifting, and I'm rather annoyed by the increases, but I'm free to go wherever I want.

      I would prefer if they were obliged to refund any outstanding call credit though. That aspect does feel unreasonable, even if it's only a fiver

    5. AlbertH

      Re: Time for a complaint to Ofcom

      It's really frustrating - they should not charge for SMS - it doesn't cost them anything at all to convey (it's an otherwise wasted part of the phone to base handshaking protocol).

      The UK has always been the second most expensive place in the world to make a phonecall or convey data (I'll leave it a an exercise for the reader to identify the most expensive). There's no reason for this except sheer profiteering.

      A reasonable way of charging would be a monthly "connection" charge of (maybe) £5 - 10. There should be no charges for calls, SMS or data. These cost the companies virtually nothing to connect and convey.

      I think that it's time for one network in the UK to change their charging model, and charge realistically. The rest of the phone companies would fall into line very quickly, as they'd rapidly lose all their business if they didn't.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    two, one ...

    and I'm gone, as soon as my payg credit runs out. Which, I assume, will be rather more quickly than I had anticipated.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Three,

      Me too.

      1. chrisb123

        Re: Three,

        Me three. Planning switch to 1pmobile.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Three,

          They look like a good option for two of my three devices.

          Just the one other to look at - of I could not have a SIM in it I suppose.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Three,

          Cheapest isn't best.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Three,

      I've got three devices which will lose their Three based connections...

      It was nice whilst it lasted - but it's not a sustainable price for those devices. Don't know where I'll go for a cheap connection now :(

      Yes - I know where I'll go to *look*, but that's a different matter.

      1. returnofthemus

        Re: Three, Don't know where I'll go

        Step 1. Search eBay for 'Classic O2 PAYG 321 SIM' you'll probably be able to pick up two for about 99p, the ones I recently received have an activate by date of 11-08-2021

        Step 2. If you are looking to keep your number/s request a PAC by texting 'PAC' from your 3 enabled handset to 65075, you'll receive a text back from 3 asking you to include your date of birth, if you haven't registered with them any data of birth will do e.g., PAC010150.

        Step 3. Once you get your PAC from Three, go to the O2 website and complete the Port-in request form, you will need to provide a name, email address, your new O2 SIM and Mobile Numbers, as well as the number you want to keep. Note that there is no drop-down menu for the Port-in date, so just write in the note section ASAP or a date you would like the transfer to happen.

        As far as I'm aware O2 are still honouring the 3-2-1 PAYG rates for existing customers, but for obvious reasons you cannot get these SIMs direct from O2 themslves anymore ;-)

        A bit like yourself I too have a number of devices and cannot justify bundle offers on all of them.

    3. cpage

      Re: Three,

      I will too, though all the other operators seem to have prices a lot higher than they used to be. And I've got a fair credit balance to be used up first.

      And the price rises are worse than the headline suggests: some roaming charges are going up from 2p to 37p. That a rather large percentage increase.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "which left Brits unable to benefit from the free EU-wide roaming"

    There is no legal right to free EU-wide roaming, but Three and (I think) all other major players have no plans to introduce roaming charges. Three also had no roaming charges well before the EU mandated they should go.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Three also had no ...

      They also had reasonable call and data rates on PAYG. Had. Clearly, the style of their past decisions is not, it appears, binding on their current or future ones.

  4. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Knock on effects.

    5p per Meg = £50.00 per Gig, one or two over the air app updates will cost more than a monthly contract, they're simply out to kill PAYG.

    Free roaming, that's moved from mandated by regulation to merely a selling point, when we get around to actually roaming again it may become an important point for the PAYG crowd but I doubt it and I would posit that being able to roam requires far more available cash than a monthly plan with it built in.

    I see the Boots theory in operation regularly, it's almost impossible to climb out of that particular gravity well as almost any unexpected expense has an impact out of proportion to its actual value.

    1. tony72

      Re: Knock on effects.

      As the article points out, three are still cheap compared to a lot of the competition, so I don't know if "killing off PAYG" is fair.

      Tbh I'm more surprised by how cheap PAYG had gotten, when did that happen? It's not that long ago I was on a plan that charged £5 per MB for data off-bundle, never mind 5p. I suspect even on-bundle dats cost more than 5p, I just avoided using data at all costs.

      1. returnofthemus

        I don't know if "killing off PAYG" is fair?

        Yes, it is unfair, because it penalises extremely 'Light-users', especially when you consider the annual cost of maintenance, this is the ability to keep your number active, by making a chargeable activity every 180-days or 6 months as per the terms and conditions of most PAYG operators, before they cancel your SIM, delete your number with you forfeiting any unused credit.

  5. Franco

    I left 3 some time ago because they kept putting the (contract) prices up and recommending much more expensive contracts than they one I was on as a replacement, rather than recommending the new equivalent of my plan.

    Switched to iD mobile (they are a 3 MVNO, so knew exactly the coverage I could expect) and pay £6 a month for a much better package than I had with 3 at a lower price.

    Wouldn't be surprised though if 3 aren't the last ones to put prices up, although 400% is ridiculous.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I assume we can expect wholesale prices, which the MVNOs depend on, to rise as well.

      1. Steve 53

        Unlikely, this sort of BS happens far less often at the MVNO end of the market.

        1. returnofthemus

          MVNO end of the market

          Extremely likely, the clue is in the acronym Mobile Virtual Network Operator, Not an actual Mobile Network Operator all of which are heavily dependant on the Big Four, no-one should be deluding themselves of this FACT!

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      "although 400% is ridiculous."

      Well, when the smallest possible increase is 100%.... some context is useful, it takes them from being comfortably the cheapest of the big providers to "meh".

      Unfortunately "meh" is more expensive than a contract for many many people.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PAYG customers pushed towards a handful of bundles

    I got text from three yesterday morning. Yes, it pissed me off big time, because I am one of those poor. On the other hand, I've been there before, with BT and their landline rip off charges. I ditched landline and never looked back. I won't be blackmailed into (...) bundles, so Three UK will get literally nothing from me now, and I will find some alternative provider. I usually do calls via skype and others anyway.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PAYG is no longer PAYG

    I have had the family on 3 PAYG for some time coz it has been cost effective and works for us.

    Looking out there no it strikes me PAYG is no longer PAYG as I understand it - pay for what you use.

    The PAYG deals out there now in my view are effectively 30 day contracts as you have to pay a monthly fee and each month you usage is reset.

    So if you dont use the phone for a still pay your monthly fee....

    Smacks of greedy comms companies to me!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Smacks of greedy comms companies to me!

      Are there any other kind ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Smacks of greedy comms companies to me!

        Hmmm ...let me think about that.

        Thought about it


    2. I am the liquor

      Re: PAYG is no longer PAYG

      You can still do normal PAYG, you don't have to buy the 1-month bundles/add-ons. Your cost per minute will be higher now if you're on 3, but you can still choose to pay just for what you use, subject to a minimum usage level of one chargeable event per 180 days to keep it alive.

      1. BenDwire Silver badge

        Re: PAYG is no longer PAYG

        And that's what my Three SIM is used for - a contact number for delivery drivers and other non-descripts. Having a phone with 2 SIMs comes in handy, and as long as they haven't changed the 180day period I won't be too badly affected.

        A 400% rise in one go is a bit steep though?

        1. I am the liquor

          Re: PAYG is no longer PAYG

          They're probably just realigning themselves with the market. Their new price is in line with the likes of Tesco and Asda at 8-10p a minute. Vodafone/EE/O2 PAYG tariffs are 30-35p a minute! They really don't want PAYG customers.

    3. returnofthemus

      Each month your usage is reset.

      Not entirely accurate, most bundles will roll over unused data (EE, O2, Vodafone etc.) and if you consider unlimted voice calls and texts (O2) then it could be worth considering.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sadly the energy industry is the same, if you're on payg you get to pay the most for your energy. I think its criminal. It is interesting that there's supposed to be competition, but it always looks like the companies are colluding on their pricing as they're all just a little too similar in their offering.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But there are costs associated with running the network, upgrades, replacements, etc. that need to be covered. If someone has PAYG and only uses it to make a few calls a year, then there is very little going towards to costs of providing the service.

      However, the people who are hit unfairly are those who can't get a contract (often due to having a poor credit rating) but who do use the services regularly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        a few calls a year, then there is very little towards to costs

        But on the other hand, they are also not placing big demands on the service, e.g. taking up lots bandwidth all the time, making many calls, overloading the call centre trying to fix/update their contract, etc. The corner shop (or whatever) doesn't charge someone extra for milk (or whatever) just because they rarely buy there - but the shop still has fixed costs (staff, rent, admin &etc), to which the occasional customer contributes very little.

  9. nematoad

    Maybe not

    "If you're not loyal to your provider, there are currently some top deals elsewhere..."

    What happens, if like me, you have no choice in provider?

    Where I live we only have one provider. In this case EE. Which to be fair does seem to have a better coverage than the others, but if we are dissatisfied with them what alternative is there?

    No, sometimes it seems you just have to put up with what you can get. And just pay the price.

    1. 080

      Re: Maybe not

      "In this case EE. Which to be fair does seem to have a better coverage than the others, but if we are dissatisfied with them what alternative is there?"

      Plusnet, owned by BT but cheaper.

      1. nematoad

        Re: Maybe not

        "Plusnet, owned by BT but cheaper."


        We can only get a signal from EE, it's due to being in a radio shadow. Believe me if we had an alternative people here might move, but we can't.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Maybe not

          There are EE MVNOs

        2. Martin Howe

          Re: Maybe not

          Plusnet use EE's network.

        3. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: Maybe not

          EE is also owned by BT, so it is the same network.

        4. Anonymous Coward
  10. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Pity you can't buy non expiring data in sensible sizes

    Looking at giffgaff, payg is only viable for a few hundred mb of data. Looking to implement automatic mobile fallback for data for the rare instances where my connection goes down, and to be certain it stays up and you don't run out of credit, it basically means buying a bundle.

    1. Elii
      Thumb Up

      Re: Pity you can't buy non expiring data in sensible sizes

      Three actually do a free 200mb/month mobile broadband SIM. Might be good for you!

      1. mark l 2 Silver badge

        Re: Pity you can't buy non expiring data in sensible sizes

        I am registered for the Three free 200Mb a month bundle to use as a PAYG mobile. I like it because the credit doesn't expire and I topped up around £20 all last year and still have credit remaining. I am a very light usage though as I am WiFi most of the day.

        Be aware though that the SIM would not let me register for the free 200Mb at first because this SIM is designed for using in tablets and dongles and didn't like my phone. So I had to put it into another device to register it and then put it back in my phone. But it then works fine for SMS and calls as well as data

  11. Aladdin Sane

    “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

    Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

    But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

    This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

    ― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

    1. cornetman Silver badge

      Yeah, lots of situations where the poor get royally shafted.

      If you can afford it, buy meat in bulk and stick most of it in the freezer. Save. Otherwise buy your meat in small packages and pay through the nose.

      It certainly is expensive being poor.

    2. Nifty Silver badge

      Pratchet didn't envisage BMWs or other types of vanity consumption then.

      These days the expensive and sophisticated <> the durable.

  12. Mr Humbug


    Presumably, 3 has decided that it needs a bigger "average revenue per user", which is what the "more for more" strategy seems to be aimed at. Someone who makes 10 minutes of calls, send 20 texts and uses 50MB of data per month won't suddenly start using 500 minutes, 1,000 texts and 2GB of data just because they are paying for a £5 bundle that includes all that. But 3 either gets more money from them (through increased PAYG charges or a bundle that they don't use) or gets them off its books. Either way, ARPU increases.

    ARPU seems to be the way that mobile networks measure their value.

  13. heyrick Silver badge

    How do they justify the costs of SMS?

    1048576 bytes of data, 5p.

    140 bytes of SMS, 10p.

    Cost of a megabytes worth of data at SMS rates - £749...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How do they justify the costs of SMS?

      it's nothing to do with real costs. They clearly decided they can do it now, and what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it? They know it will not cause massive desertion to competitive networks (and something tells me we will see similar increases there too). The worst that can happen is that they lose some crusties, like me, while _most_ of their punters, bitching, but hey, who cares these days, will do as planned, and move to bundles and will pay more. And more. Because those bundles, you know, like that game of three cups, they do change rather... unexpectedly. And who has time to keep tabs on all those... tabs? Why don't you go up YET ANOTHER level to get EVEN BETTER deal. People are stupid, people will fall for it, as usual. The only thing to prevent such odious practices is competition. Well, wait and see :(

      1. Chris G

        Re: How do they justify the costs of SMS?


        Ah that's that thing that happens in industries where industry members don't chat about pricing in the pub after a hard day at a convention.

    2. DrewWyatt

      Re: How do they justify the costs of SMS?

      It has been that way for a long time. From 2008:

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How do they justify the costs of SMS?

      Because regulators are chocolate teapots.


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huawei costs? Don't care - bill Trump.

    5G - that's for your benefit, not mine.

    400% price hike? - bye three, BYE.

  15. Mike 137 Silver badge

    This ain't the first time by far

    I still use a 10 year old PAYG SIM in an emergency phone (only used when out and about) and that keeps its balance indefinitely until used. Two years ago I had to set up a new phone with a new SIM from the same provider, advertised as "PAYG", but this one drops its balance once a month regardless of usage, so it's not really pay as you go, just a monthly rolling contract in disguise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This ain't the first time by far

      Have a look at

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This ain't the first time by far

        Looks good until you realise it's £30 a year regardless of whether you use it or not.


        To keep your account and SIM active, just make at least one £10 top-up every 120 days

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This ain't the first time by far

          I posted that link, as I'm a three subscriber and just found out about them.

          Yeah, it's not perfect, I guess it's basically a £2.50 a month contractless contract with £2.50 uncharged use :-)

          I'm all ears if you know of any better deal... I'm not saying that sarcastically / negatively - I just want the best deal possible too!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This ain't the first time by far

          "Roger says:

          January 14, 2021 at 3:45 pm

          1p mobile has a nice feature where you can use your credit balance to cover the next 120 days of service rather than have to add additional credit to the account. So £10 gets you 240 days of access to an EE based sim. Firstly you pay in £10 to get 120 days and yo then use the £10 to purchase the next £120 days.

          It still means that payg sims where you just need to make a 1 min call every year to maintain a service are far cheaper if you only expect to use them in an emergency"

  16. Licenced_Radio_Nerd

    They want rid of users like me!

    I have been with Three for several years after Vodafone started charging stupid amounts of money for their data. I have been very pleased with Three as I could add £20 in PAYG credit and that would last months. I rarely call, rarely text, and mostly use data over Wi-Fi. I am clearly someone they want rid-off as they cannot make enough money from me. That is fine. I will run down my credit, and go elsewhere! Not only will I go, I will also encourage friends and family, who I advised to migrate to Three, to move as well. There are plenty of cheap MVNOs out there!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They want rid of users like me!

      Pretty similar situation to me. I've just signed up with - I was going to port my number, but for 2 quid I managed to get my old landline number (apart from the exchange code, of course!)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They want rid of users like me!

        I am suddenly rather weary when a company I previously not heard of, gets mentioned at least three times in this thread, including links :(

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge

          Re: They want rid of users like me!

          There are only _two_ references, in two adjacent threads, both AC.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: They want rid of users like me!

            link twice, reference in another post :(

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: They want rid of users like me!

              They were all posted by me. I'm currently with Three. After reading this article, I searched, and discovered 1mobile.

              As I then continued to read thr forum, I then replied to people in a similar situation to me, because, let's face it, once you've read/posted the comments to an article, when do you ever go back and read further replies if they aren't to your thread?

              Note, I didn't poay any affiliate links.

              If I knew it was this easy to turn people off something, I'd have been posting pro-brexit links...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just in time to change my mind

    I've been looking for a suitable SIM for a vehicle tracker, and had pretty much chosen to go with 3's PAYG... good job this article came along before I got round to ordering it.

    There must be quite a few M2M applications that will send maybe around one SMS per day, that they'll lose out on now.

    1. Elii

      Re: Just in time to change my mind

      Double post but Three do a SIM that's free 200mb/month perfect for something like a vehicle tracker:

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its partly to cover the cost of the massive mess their 'new' IT refresh has become. The amounts of money that have been wasted is quite frankly mind-boggling.

    Heads have already rolled for the mess - just look at who's 'moved on' in the last 6 months or so. Ignore the spin, and look how high the cull went....

    Then look at the technical staff that were let go, and you'll realise why things have become so shit.

  19. Refugee from Windows

    Has to be said


  20. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    A relative

    mentioned he was on a PAYG deal with his phone, a quick look showed that he was paying about £25-30 month for it. And not being technically very alert, thought that was a good deal.

    Sim only contract from 3 (surprisingly) 12 quid a month 12 gig of data and a shedload of texts/phone calls, and I'm damn sure theres better deals to be had out there.

    Oh and steal the work's wifi for updates/ large games ;)

  21. Muppet Boss

    >Speaking to El Reg, Karen Egan, senior telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, said this is an industry-wide strategy across the UK mobile sector.

    In other words, a cartel?

  22. Snowy Silver badge

    If only there

    Was a cheap deal with a limited amount of minutes/text/data rather than these so called unlimited plans!

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