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Vodafone vs SMARTY: coverage, speeds and benefits compared

Vodafone vs SMARTY

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Are you better off joining SMARTY or Vodafone? We compare their networks, plans and benefits to help you decide. Last updated: 19th October 2022.

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Mobile networks compared

Network coverage on SMARTY vs Vodafone

Which of the two networks offers the best 5G/4G/3G/2G signal coverage?

SMARTY and Vodafone logos with signal bars

Vodafone have the better overall mix of coverage

Vodafone Our best ever network banner

See their improvements

at vodafone.co.uk
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SMARTY are a sub-brand of Three and so use their network to provide signal. Vodafone operate their own network rather than relying on another for signal. Vodafone’s overall network is much larger than SMARTY’s.

That’s the case on basic calls and texts. Vodafone have more of the physical landmass of the UK covered for them. And you’ll find that their signal is generally better at getting indoors than SMARTY’s.

Vodafone also win in terms of 4G data signal coverage (see 5G below). They cover some surprisingly rural areas with 4G, which is still a bit of weakness on SMARTY’s hosts Three.

If you live in a big city or town though, SMARTY easily go toe-to-toe with Vodafone for coverage. So it’s important to check both providers’ network maps, before ruling one or the other out.

Useful link: Read about SMARTY’s network improvements

SMARTY offer 5G in many more locations

5G yippee! banner

See latest news

at smarty.co.uk
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With 5G now available for SMARTY customers, we can compare their 5G network against Vodafone’s. SMARTY cover 300+ locations while Vodafone only cover 120+ locations.

But we can’t just rely on those numbers to say which network is better. No network covers their listed locations entirely with 5G, it’s still on a street by street basis.

Typically, SMARTY are better for covering larger parts of their locations for 5G. Vodafone’s 5G reach within the listed places tends to be more limited. But both networks are behind the rest in terms of how they cover their locations (EE and O2 are better for this).

Still, it’s always worth checking in your local area to see which is better. The national picture is less important if one has better 5G coverage in your area than the other.

Useful link: Three’s latest 5G rollout news

Coverage checkers for Vodafone and SMARTY

Don’t just check your home, check anywhere you’ll use your phone

SMARTY’s network map

SMARTY coverage map

Check SMARTY signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Vodafone network map

Vodafone coverage map

Check Vodafone signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Win for Vodafone

“It’s more important to have better 4G and call signal coverage, as 5G is still very limited. SMARTY’s 5G coverage is impressive, but it doesn’t make up for their inferior call signal and 4G coverage. Vodafone wins this one.”

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds: 5G/4G on Vodafone vs SMARTY

Which network offers faster data?

SMARTY and Vodafone logos with speedometer

SMARTY offer both faster typical 4G and 5G speeds

SMARTY powered by Three banner

What this means

at smarty.co.uk
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Using the results of independent network testers Opensignal, we expect average 4G data speeds at around 25.2 Mbps on SMARTY and around 21.6 Mbps on Vodafone. That’s a pretty insignificant difference.

We’ve personally found that Vodafone’s speeds could vary wildly depending on location. In urban areas we got speeds over 110 Mbps on Vodafone vs 75 Mbps on SMARTY, but we got speeds as low as 7 Mbps in rural areas.

According to Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, SMARTY again come out on top with 5G speeds between 103.9 Mbps and 221.8 Mbps against Vodafone’s strangely low 73.3 Mbps and good 149.9 Mbps.

The massive variation in speeds on Vodafone might be caused by people using 5G on the fringes of 5G signal. In any case, SMARTY are a lot faster for 5G speeds than Vodafone who typically look sluggish in comparison.

Useful link: SMARTY’s promise not to slow you down

Our verdict on data speeds

Win for SMARTY

“You might get faster urban 4G on Vodafone, but you’ll likely get more consistent speeds on SMARTY as you move around. The massive difference in 5G speeds is what gets SMARTY the win in our eyes. It’s one clear advantage they have over Vodafone.”

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Extra network features on SMARTY vs Vodafone

SMARTY and Vodafone logos with phone

You get WiFi calling and 4G calling on both networks

Big news - WiFi calling is here banner

Check supported phones

at smarty.co.uk
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WiFi calling allows your phone to connect to calls via WiFi signal if conventional call signal (3G/2G) connection is weak: say you’ve got a blackspot indoors or you’re underground.

Both networks support the feature. With SMARTY you get it no matter which plan you choose. On Vodafone, only their pay monthly deals include the benefit (not pay as you go or Basics plans).

Essentially both schemes work the same way. It kicks in automatically when signal is poor giving you good quality calls. Both networks also support 4G calling (the same as WiFi calling but with 4G) and let you send SMS messages over WiFi.

The main differences are in which phones both providers support. SMARTY’s list of supported devices is probably a bit defensively short (we’ve found more models than listed work). Vodafone’s list is much longer.

Useful link: Our guide to the best WiFi calling networks

SMARTY now offer WiFi hotspots on the Underground

SMARTY free WiFi banner

How to connect

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If you typically eat through your entire allowance of data, then you’ll probably prefer a network that offer free WiFi hotspot access with your deal. Vodafone don’t offer this any more, but SMARTY have introduced this recently.

SMARTY offer WiFi hotspots on the Underground, but only at ticket barriers and stations, not the trains themselves. If you need WiFi on Underground trains or you’re not a London resident, then you’re out of luck here.

You can’t have your phone automatically connect to your nearest hotspot. But other than that, we think SMARTY’s scheme is largely the same as Three’s. There are a few limitations, but it can help save a bit of data.

If you’re not London based and are worried about going over your allowance, then both networks offer unlimited data deals:

Otherwise, you can see all the networks that offer free WiFi hotspots here.

Useful link: Our free WiFi hotspots guide

Our verdict on network features

Small win for SMARTY

“While SMARTY list fewer devices as compatible with their WiFi calling, we think they support more devices than they claim. Vodafone might have the better WiFi calling scheme, but their lack of hotspots means that SMARTY probably just edge this one.”

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Added benefits compared

Inclusive roaming on Vodafone vs SMARTY

Which network offers the better roaming scheme?

SMARTY and Vodafone with globe

Vodafone offer inclusive worldwide roaming on some plans

Text banner with roaming changes

Read what’s changed

at vodafone.co.uk
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Vodafone no longer include EU roaming at no extra cost on all of their plans. But you can still get inclusive EU roaming in 52 destinations on their 4 Xtras plans, some of which come with some extra roaming destinations on top of that:

If you take their Unlimited data with 4 Xtras plan gets you inclusive roaming in 83 worldwide destinations. But you are limited to how much data and time you can spend abroad.

If you join on any other plan, you will now pay extra to use your plan while in the EU. Almost all main networks do something similar these days. There’s either a daily or a weekly charge to access your allowances.

Once you’re roaming, Vodafone are excellent. You’ll get 5G and 4G data wherever they’re available and everything just works. It’s more your entitlement to roaming with your plan that’s a pain with Vodafone.

Useful link: Our guide to the best roaming networks

SMARTY offer free EU roaming but no worldwide options

EU flag and travelling in the EU lettering

How to activate it

at smarty.co.uk
(opens in new window)

We think EU roaming is more important to most UK travellers than roaming outside the EU. If you’re looking to take a short trip to the continent, then SMARTY are the better choice. All of their plans still include EU roaming at no added cost.

The one downside on SMARTY is you have to configure your phone and SIM card manually before you go abroad to make them work (follow SMARTY’s instructions here). But once you have, it all works fine.

There’s no extended worldwide roaming on SMARTY but you can still do it. You’ll just pay per minute, text and data that you use there (top up with credit and it will be charged out of that at these rates).

Finally, they have reduced their fair usage policy down to 12GB a month while you’re abroad. But otherwise we think SMARTY have a pretty fair EU roaming policy, especially on such great value deals.

Useful link: SMARTY’s guide to their roaming

Our verdict on roaming

Win for SMARTY

“Most people will want a holiday in the EU, rather than somewhere further afield. Roaming can get expensive on Vodafone, as you’re either paying a daily rate or for an expensive plan. SMARTY is the much better value choice for EU roaming.”

Compare pricing and deals

SMARTY’s better benefits than Vodafone

What do SMARTY offer their customers that Vodafone don’t?

SMARTY > Vodafone

No credit checks or contracts to join SMARTY

SMARTY unused data

See qualifying plans

at smarty.co.uk
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SMARTY’s plans work similarly to pay as you go, as your minutes, texts and data are paid for up front. You put in your card details and SMARTY will charge the cost to the card rather than setting up a direct debit.

And if you want to spend extra on things like premium rate numbers, certain roaming or whatever, you’ll have to top up with credit and pay from that. All of which means there’s no credit check to join SMARTY.

There are no contracts to join SMARTY. If you find you’re not happy with them you can leave without notice, or just cancel the auto-renewal of your plan. And you can switch plans every month as you like.

So generally, this is a way more flexible way to do a SIM only plan. Especially compared to Vodafone, where you’ll sign up to anything like a 24-month contract, with a credit check and little ability to change plan.

Useful link: Why there’s no credit check on SMARTY

A few SMARTY plans give you money back for unused data

SMARTY unused data

See qualifying plans

at smarty.co.uk
(opens in new window)

You’ll rarely ever use the same amount of data every month. On most networks you’ll lost any leftover data you have at the end of the month, while some networks offer data rollover that lets you keep that data for a month.

But certain SMARTY plans go further and pay you back what your unused data cost to buy. If it costs £1 per GB, you’ll receive that back as a discount off your next month. And they work it out to the MB and penny.

These plans all give you money back for unused data:

It’s a really fair system and it’s something Vodafone don’t offer (they do have data rollover on pay as you go SIMs though). We’ve used it ourselves and it’s nice not to pay for something you’ve not used.

It’s important to know that not all SMARTY plans offer plans without this benefit that typically get you much better value for every GB of data. We’d compare all of SMARTY’s deals before joining them in any case.

Useful link: SMARTY’s help guide on their data discount

Vodafone’s better benefits

What do Vodafone offer that you won’t get on SMARTY?

Vodafone > SMARTY

Vodafone offer added benefits with their Xtras plans

Vodafone Xtra plans banner

See available plans

at vodafone.co.uk
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It tends to be the case that you pay more to get more with Vodafone. They offer a range of “Xtras” plans on phone and SIM only contracts that are designed around doing this.

We’ve done a full review of Xtra benefits here. They’re essentially a set of added perks on top of what you’d always get on Vodafone. Your plan will say how many of these you’re entitled to (mostly between one and four).

All of these plans get you at least one Xtra:

Some of these benefits aren’t realistically that useful: things like inclusive MMS picture messages and free in-store device checkups. There are some useful ones though, like unlimited data boosts if you’re low on data and half off smartwatch connectivity.

The best Xtra benefit is by far their inclusive worldwide roaming. But it’s only the most expensive plans on the entire network that offer this. Read Vodafone’s guide to Xtra benefits to see if they’re right for you.

Useful link: Vodafone’s Xtra plan help guide

Their entertainment plans come with subscriptions

Vodafone entertainment banner

See all choices

at vodafone.co.uk
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Vodafone also offer what they called “Entertainment plans”. These are premium plans that get you one subscription to a few entertainment services in exchange for a higher monthly cost.

That subscription can be either to Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Premium or Spotify Premium. It lasts the entire duration of your contract. So if you sign up for 24 months, it’s included for all that time.

Unlike on some networks, using these apps will still come out of your data allowance. And also, you should probably calculate whether the extra price of the plan is worth it against paying for your entertainment subscription separately.

Mostly it will be, but don’t consider Vodafone’s Entertainment Plans as a freebie. SMARTY don’t offer anything similar to this.

Useful link: Full terms and conditions for Entertainment plans

Vodafone offer over-the-phone customer service

Ofcom complaints data

Read their report

at ofcom.org.uk
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The larger networks typically have a big advantage over the smaller networks when it comes to offering more avenues of customer service. Vodafone offer over-the-phone, online and in-store help to their customers.

This means that customers can get help in a way that suits them. With SMARTY, you can end up waiting a long time for help with their online chat, as they don’t have the funding to maintain call centres.

So, how good is Vodafone’s customer service then? Well, according to government regulators Ofcom, they receive 3 complaints per 100,000 customers about Vodafone. That’s a bit more than the current average of 2 complaints.

You might be more likely to run into issues getting help with them than with a network with a better record. But 3 is still relatively low, and they still offer far more ways to get help than SMARTY.

Useful link: How to get help on Vodafone

Our verdict on added benefits

Depends what you’re into (draw)

“It’s difficult to compare which network offers the better extras as it really depends on what you want and need out of your plan. Vodafone get you more for higher costs, while SMARTY offer a more low-frills, low-cost experience.”

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Plans and prices compared

SIM only plans on SMARTY vs Vodafone

Which offers better value on pay monthly SIMs?

A SIM card with Vodafone and SMARTY logos



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