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Three vs Vodafone: which has the best 5G/4G network and benefits?

Three and Vodafone logos with VS between them

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We see if you're better off joining Vodafone or Three, by comparing their 5G rollout plans, 4G speeds and coverage, plus their extra benefits. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 23rd March 2020

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 68 locations, compared to Vodafone's 44 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 Three and Vodafone's 4G about level

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 60+ 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 are saying their 5G will be the UK's fastest

Three's fastest 5G network banner

Read why

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

With both providers' 5G networks live, the independent network testers will start to get some reliable data on the typical speeds you can expect on each network. At the moment, it's Three making the biggest claims:

They're saying that because they've bought the most spectrum together that their 5G will prove to be the UK's fastest. And that other networks' 5G won't be "real 5G", because they haven't.

In theory that is true, but going forward the networks are getting the opportunity to buy up more spectrum, so it's hard to say whether Three will keep a long-term 5G speed advantage.

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 that 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).

Similar to Three, you'll also get free WiFi on the Underground with Vodafone, as long as you're a pay monthly customer or are on pay as you go with an active monthly bundle (see also our guide to the best free WiFi).

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.

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

Perks you get on Three but not on Vodafone

Here's what makes it better to be a Three customer than a Vodafone one

Three logo with a crown on top

Unlimited streaming data with Three's Go Binge

Three's Go Binge free streaming banner

See all covered apps

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

If you use your phone for streaming video or music, you'll know it's a sure-fire way to rip through your monthly data allowance quickly. Three think they have the answer:

On pay monthly phone and SIM only deals with over 12GB, they'll include their Go Binge unlimited streaming service for no extra cost. It means streaming on certain apps won't eat into your data (see the list here).

Included among those apps for video is Netflix and Apple Music for music, and you can even use messaging service Snapchat as much as you like too. Our full Go Binge review has more details about how it works.

Vodafone and their sub-brand VOXI used to have something similar for unlimited video streaming, music streaming, social media or chat data. These cost extra and were quietly dropped for new customers.

Useful link: All Go Binge FAQs and usage terms at Three.co.uk

Free upgrades on easyJet for Three customers

Three easyJet offer banner

How it works

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

In the roaming section above, we've already said that we rate Three's inclusive scheme more highly than Vodafone's, and there's another way Three make going abroad a little better: easyJet upgrades!

If you take a pay monthly deal from Three (phone contract or SIM only), every time you fly from a UK airport with easyJet, you can use easyJet's Hands Free scheme, designed to make your experience quicker.

You dump hand luggage at a special desk, to go through security faster without it. You get on the plane just after Priority Boarding. And your bags are first on the arrivals carousel because they're marked Priority.

You can only use it for yourself, not other passengers, and it only works from UK airports. But when it's worth £5 per leg, it's nice little perk for being with Three that Vodafone can't match.

Useful link: Full terms and conditions of Three's easyJet offer at Three.co.uk

Perks you get on Vodafone but not on Three

Here's where Vodafone has the benfit over Three's benefits

Vodafone logo with crown on top

Get a TV, music or subscription included with your Vodafone deal

Vodafone included subscriptions

See the choices

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

On SIM only and phone contracts, Vodafone offer premium plans called Red Entertainment Bundles that come with more roaming destinations and your choice of a subscription to one music, TV or sport service.

On SIM only, we found the plans to come in around £5 a month more than basic ones with the same amount of data, so it's not like the subscriptions are totally free. But it is like getting a discount.

The choices available are Amazon Prime Video (worth £7.99), a NOW TV Entertainment pass (worth £7.99), Spotify Premium (worth £9.99) or Sky Sports Mobile TV (worth £5.99). You can only choose one.

The subscription lasts as long as your contract, so on phones it's 24 months and SIM only it's 12 months. A nice touch is that you can any of the apps apart from Sky Sports Mobile TV on other devices like your TV too.

Useful link: How to claim your subscription at Vodafone.co.uk

Our verdict on extra perks:

A win for Three.

"While Vodafone's extras cost extra, Three pack more value into more of the plans as standard. Ultimately, it's about which of the services you'll actually use."

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
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Choose which networks you'd consider:

Three logo
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Special offers on Vodafone and Three

Compare promotions running on the two networks

Vodafone and Three logos with a special offer ribbon

Hidden £18 unlimited data deal on Three

Three's hidden unlimited data deal

See full offer

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

Pay just £18 a month for Three's hidden unlimited data SIM only deal:

This deal is better value than the 24‑month plan currently being advertised with six months at half price, which averages out to £19.25 a month over the course of the contract.

Or if you don't need that much data, it's worth looking at Three's hidden 8GB for £8 offer or 12GB for £10 deal.

If it's a phone contract you're after, be sure to check you can't get a better deal with our hidden phone offer page here.

Useful link: See all latest Three offers

Phone contracts on Three vs Vodafone

Compare pricing on popular models between Vodafone and Three

Vodafone vs Three phone contracts

Choose a manufacturer

Which make of phone do you want?

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giffgaff logo
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Compare Three with other networks

Comparing Three and EE

Three vs EE

Read Three vs EE guide

Comparing Three and O2

Three vs O2

Read Three vs O2 guide

Comparing Three and BT Mobile

Three vs BT Mobile

Read Three vs BT Mobile

Comparing Three and giffgaff

Three vs giffgaff

Read Three vs giffgaff guide

Comparing Three and SMARTY

Three vs SMARTY

Read our Three vs SMARTY guide

Comparing Three and Virgin Mobile

Three vs Virgin Mobile

Read our Three vs Virgin Mobile guide

Compare Vodafone with other networks

Comparing Vodafone and EE

Vodafone vs EE

Read our Vodafone vs EE guide

Comparing Vodafone and O2

Vodafone vs O2

Read our Vodafone vs O2 guide

Comparing Vodafone and VOXI

Vodafone vs VOXI

Read Vodafone vs VOXI

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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