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Three vs Vodafone: compare their 5G/4G networks and benefits

Three and Vodafone logos with VS between them

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We look at whether the 5G and 4G coverage and speeds are better on Vodafone or Three, plus compare the other benefits you get on each. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 14th May 2021

In our network comparison

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How Vodafone and Three's networks compare

Is coverage better on Vodafone or Three?

A look at Three vs Vodafone's 4G and 3G signal, plus their 5G rollouts

Three vs Vodafone's mobile networks

Vodafone's 4G/3G/2G network is bigger than Three's

Read why

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

Nationwide for regular calls and texts, the Vodafone network is larger than Three. They have more of the physical landmass of the country covered and marginally more of the places people actually live too.

It's a similar story for 4G data, where the general coverage stats favour Vodafone over Three - although the difference is less noticeable in built-up towns and cities.

Our advice is to use both networks' coverage checkers below before ruling either out. Think about everywhere you'll use your phone. If Vodafone or Three are decent in that area, the national picture is less important.

Useful link: Vodafone's network improvement plans

Both Three and Vodafone now have their 5G networks live

5G locations map from Three

See latest places

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

Each of the UK's four actual mobile networks (EE, Vodafone, Three and O2) have put their 5G networks live in a select number of places in the UK - with the number of locations growing rapidly.

At the time of writing Three say they have 5G in 192 locations, compared to Vodafone's 100+ UK towns and cities. So we're nowhere near the point we can start talking about percentages of the population covered.

It's worth saying that when a network reports a city as having 5G, it doesn't mean the entire place is covered. They're all focussing on busy areas like stations and venues, where increasing capacity has the most benefit.

If you're an early adopter and have a 5G-ready phone, use Vodafone and Three's network maps to see where they have 5G on a street-by-street basis to check there's actually a benefit.

Useful link: Three's plans for their 5G rollout

Checking signal on Three and Vodafone

Here's how to find predicted reception in your area

Three's network map

Three coverage checker

Check Three coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Vodafone's network map

Vodafone coverage checker

Check Vodafone coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Minor win for Vodafone

"Away from places people live, we'd say Vodafone will generally get you signal in more remote locations still. But if you're covered on Three, you're covered. So it's best to check, as Three have loads of other benefits and lower prices."

Compare pricing and deals

Are data speeds faster on Vodafone or Three?

What you can expect from each provider

Three and Vodafone logos with a speedometer

Independent tests put Vodafone's 4G narrowly ahead

Vodafone 5G speeds explained

5G vs 4G guide

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

We can't test both networks everywhere in the country but independent testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla do take millions of measurements and report similar results on Vodafone and Three:

They predict typical 4G downloads on average to be 21.15 - 25.1 Mbps on Vodafone, vs 20 Mbps on Three. Both are decent scores, which are like a mid-range home broadband connection.

Our own limited testing backs this up, although we've found that Vodafone's speeds tend to vary more greatly than Three's, with rural "long-range" 4G dropping to around 7 Mbps but urban 4G hitting peaks of 80+ Mbps.

Three on the other hand in our experience rarely hits more than 40 Mbps but was less likely to drop below 10 Mbps. Overall, we can easily see how the testers say they average out similarly.

Useful link: Vodafone's 5G speed expectations

Three's 5G is coming out fastest in tests

Three's fastest 5G network banner

Read how

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

Now both providers' 5G networks are live, some early testing data from the independent testers is starting to come in. And it's backing up Three's claims that they'll have the fastest 5G network.

Speedtest's testing in London found typical 5G downloads of 196.02 Mbps on Three (peaking at 362.46 Mbps) - while Vodafone's were typically measured at 166.77 Mbps (peaking at 288.17 Mbps).

Both results beat most people's home fibre broadband and are a huge step on from 4G. And as more spectrum is bought for 5G, Vodafone may catch up. But to start off with, it's advantage Three.

Useful link: What to expect from Three's 5G

Our verdict on download speeds:

Too close to call

" Before mass take up and rollout of 5G, both Three and Vodafone boast very healthy typical 4G download speeds. The difference between them is unlikely to be noticeable."

Compare pricing and deals

Extra network features

WiFi calling, 4G calling and free hotspots on Vodafone vs Three

Vodafone and Three logos with a WiFi symbol

We rate Three's WiFi calling as the most flexible scheme

Three's WiFi calling

See supported phones

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

Each of the main four networks (EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three) all now offer WiFi calling. They all let you make and take calls over WiFi instead of mobile signal but there are some differences:

We rate Three's InTouch WiFi calling highly, because it supports the maximum number of phone models (check your phone is supported here) and you get it on every pay monthly and pay as you go plan, unlike Vodafone.

You'll also get 4G Calling (or VoLTE) with Three as long as your phone has it. This brings super clear quality voice calls and improves indoor coverage, as Three's 4G is better at getting into buildings than their 3G.

You'll get some limited free WiFi hotspots on Three too. If you're regularly in London, you'll be able to use the WiFi on the underground network at no extra cost, on any pay monthly and pay as you go phone or SIM.

Useful link: Three's guide to their mobile network

Vodafone offer practically everything Three do

Vodafone's WiFi calling

See supported phones

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

If you join Vodafone on the right pay monthly phone contract or SIM only deal, you'll get pretty much all the same extra network features you'd get on Three:

Vodafone's WiFi calling is similar to Three's but doesn't let you send/receive conventional SMS text messages and you don't get it on Pay As You Go or Basics/Essentials pay monthly (check supported devices here).

There's also 4G calling on Vodafone too, which is a bonus for clearer audio quality of phone calls. 4G calling is less important for improving coverage on Vodafone, as they have 2G for calls too (Three don't).

Unlike Three, you now won't get free WiFi on the Underground with Vodafone. They've stopped offering this and are now the only major network without the benefit.

Useful link: All mobile network features at Vodafone.co.uk

Our verdict on this extra network features:

Minor Three win

"Even though Three and Vodafone basically have identical extra network features, there are more finickity restrictions on Vodafone, and you tend not to get them on cheaper pay monthly deals nor pay as you go, which seems unfair."

Compare pricing and deals

Vodafone and Three's benefits compared

Inclusive roaming:
Three's Go Roam vs Vodafone Global Roaming

Both networks make big claims about their roaming. But which is best?

Vodafone and Three logos with a globe icon

Three's standard roaming scheme is better than Vodafone's

Roaming on Three compared with Vodafone

Latest country list

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

Whether you join Three on a pay monthly phone contract or SIM only deal, or buy their monthly pay as you go add-ons, you'll automatically qualify for their Go Roam inclusive roaming scheme.

This lets you use your plan's minutes and texts back to the UK and data without paying extra in any of the 71 EU and worldwide destinations listed here at Three.co.uk - a list that regularly grows.

All networks have to offer inclusive EU roaming. But where Go Roam really comes into its own is when you go further afield in countries like the USA where other networks have sky-high usage fees.

Go Roam's not faultless. You only get 3G data speeds on some activities abroad and there's a fair usage policy that limits the minutes, texts and data you can use there. But we still rate it the UK's best roaming scheme.

Useful link: Roaming costs in non-inclusive destinations

Vodafone's premium roaming scheme is better than Three

Vodafone's Global Roaming passes

What's so good?

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

If you're willing to spend more on Vodafone, you will get a superior roaming experience to Three's Go Roam with more inclusive destinations and 4G/5G speeds where available. It's just these don't come as standard.

All these plans come with Vodafone's extra roaming:

The majority of Vodafone's pay monthly plans only come with inclusive EU roaming (like every network), with the ability to buy a fixed-cost daily pass that lets you use your regular allowances in 100 more countries.

And if you join on one of Vodafone's ultra-low-frills Basics Plans, you don't get roaming at all. Your SIM card literally won't let you make calls, send texts or use data abroad.

So Vodafone's roaming is highly tiered and complicated in terms of what you get with each plan (so read what you get carefully when choosing). Look out for Red Entertainment plans, which come with the very best roaming package.

Useful link: Full roaming costs on Vodafone

Our verdict on roaming:

Narrow win for Three

"Even though Vodafone's roaming can be superior, only a few of their more-expensive plans include it. Three's scheme is simpler, cheaper and fairer."

Compare pricing and deals

Other benefits compared

What's better on Three or Vodafone than each other?

A giftbox with Vodafone and Three logos

Vodafone have a reward app and Entertainment plans

Vodafone VeryMe rewards apps

See example offers

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

If you're a fan of websites like Groupon, Vodafone have a decent scheme a bit like it for their customers. It's called VeryMe and it works via their decent customer service app.

You select a few things you're interested in and it suggests offers for things like online and high street shopping, food and drink and experiences. There are also occasional total freebies. See full details here.

There's also their Entertainment plans.This isn't a freebie but you can pay a small monthly premium compared to regular plans, to get an entertainment subscription included for the length of your contracts.

All these let you choose a subscription:

The services include YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime (Video) and Spotify. Before signing up, definitely check you're not paying more than just joining them directly, as it can often be pretty close.

Useful link: Full details and terms for Entertainment plans

Three have been scrapping their best benefits

Expired stampVodafone VeryMe rewards apps

Read statement

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

We used to give Three our best network rating in our review of them, because the overall package you got with them included so many nice little sweetners that made it great value. But they've started removing these:

New customers no longer get Go Binge included. That was a service that let you stream particular apps on your phone, without them cutting into your monthly data allowance. Unlimited streaming basically.

Three also scrapped their Wuntu app. This was very similar to Vodafone's VeryMe Rewards that we talk about above. It had all the same types of offers in there but clearly Three decided it was worth its while.

And they've also got rid of their easyJet upgrade scheme: Hands Free, which gave Three customers a few extra hand luggage perks on easyJet and eased your journey through UK airports. That's also gone.

They're now almost a low-frills network.

Useful link: Three's cheaper sub-brand SMARTY

Our verdict on this topic:

Win for Vodafone

"Up until a year or so ago, this would have been an easy win for Three. Now it's Vodafone who have the upper hand over Three's threadbare extra benefits."

Compare pricing and deals

Pricing compared on Vodafone and Three

SIM only plans compared on Three and Vodafone

See if Vodafone or Three are better value for the mins, texts and data you need

A Vodafone and Three SIM card

Networks

Providers:

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ID logo
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SMARTY logo
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Added features

Special offers on Vodafone and Three

Compare promotions running on the two networks

Vodafone and Three logos with a special offer ribbon

Phone contracts on Three vs Vodafone

Compare pricing on popular models between Vodafone and Three

Vodafone vs Three phone contracts

Multiple ways to join both Three and Vodafone for phones

Screenshot of our phone comparison tool

Compare phone contracts

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

We've been through the perks and benefits you get on pay monthly with each network above. On the way Vodafone and Three's phone contracts themselves work, there's not that much difference.

They both offer what we'd call "traditional" phone contracts: 24-month deals, where they combine the cost of the phone and tariff into one payment - and there's no finance or loans (Three have sometimes offered these).

To get the best possible price, we'd definitely recommend using our price comparison tool here. It includes third party retailers like Carphone Warehouse and Fonehouse, who offer Vodafone and Three contracts too.

You can often get a better deal (and the same benefits) from joining via these, because they sell and buy more phones than the networks directly so get them cheaper from the manufacturer and pass on the savings to you.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

More Three guides

More articles about Vodafone

Individual network reviews