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Three vs Vodafone: coverage, 4G speeds & roaming deals - who's best in 2019?

Three vs Vodafone compared

Our network comparison of Three and Vodafone pits their 4G speeds, coverage and roaming deals against each other to see who's best. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 9th December 2018

In our network comparison

Vodafone and Three's networks
Three vs Vodafone's mobile networks

4G and 3G coverage
Download speeds on 4G
Extra network features

Three and Vodafone's networks

Benefits on Three and Vodafone
Perks and benefits on Vodafone and Three

Inclusive roaming
What's better on Three?
What's better on Vodafone?

Benefits on Three vs Vodafone

Pricing on Vodafone and Three
Three and Vodafone deals

SIM only plans
Special offers
Phone contracts

Compare Three and Vodafone deals

Latest deals notification

Three's 100GB for £20 SIM

Three 100GB for £01 a month

This month, Three have the joint-biggest capped data SIM on the market with their huge 100GB for £20 SIM only deal on a 12-month contract.

See all Three's offers > (opens in new tab)

Vodafone's 100GB for £20 SIM only deal

Vodafone 100GB SIM only banner

There's the largest amount of data ever in a Vodafone SIM only deal, for their best price we've seen too:

100GB for £20 SIM only (12-month contract)

Available only until 21st March.

See all Vodafone offers > opens in new tab

How Vodafone and Three's networks compare

Who has the best coverage? Vodafone or Three?

A look at Three vs Vodafone's 4G and 3G signal

Three vs Vodafone's mobile networks

4G population coverage is similar on both

Vodafone logo
Three logo
99%
99%

If you look at the stats for bringing 4G to places to where people live, it looks pretty even between Three and Vodafone (99% vs 99% UK residences). But we'd take that with a bit of a pinch of salt.

With so much WiFi about nowadays, we'd argue having 4G signal is more important when you're away from residential areas, like on roads and train lines and other public spaces (known as geographical coverage).

We'd expect Vodafone to have 4G in more of those types of places than Three. It's definitely a good idea to check signal everywhere you'll use your mobile using the coverage checkers below.

3G coverage is similar on Three and Vodafone too

Vodafone logo
Three logo
99%
98%

No mobile network has universal 4G coverage, so there will always be times when you need to fall back on 3G data to stay connected, and it's used for making calls / sending SMS text messages.

As with 4G, there's barely anything to split Three and Vodafone for 3G population coverage: it's 99% on Vodafone and 98% on Three. Again, this info is just for places people live.

To get a full picture of coverage when you're away from residential areas, use the coverage checkers below to investigate in the places you'll know you'll go.

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

What 4G speed performance do Vodafone and Three deliver?

We check if downloads are faster on Three or Vodafone

4G speeds are basically neck and neck on Vodafone and Three

Vodafone logo
Three logo
21 Mbps
20 Mbps

In terms of expectations of typical 4G download speeds, we'd say there's now remarkably little to split Vodafone and Three (although both are still behind leaders EE).

Vodafone customers can expect 4G downloads around the 21 Mbps mark, which is a fraction ahead of Three on 20 Mbps.

Both speeds are respectable and will support data-heavy things like streaming HD videos. We wouldn't expect the minor difference between the two to be noticeable for every day usage.

Three mostly beat Vodafone for 3G speed

Vodafone logo
Three logo
4.5 Mbps
8 Mbps

We still think 3G speeds are important today, even though a lot of internet usage will be over 4G. That's because no network has universal 4G coverage.

On the times when you do end up on a 3G connection, we'd expect downloads at around the 8 Mbps mark on Three and 4.5 Mbps on Vodafone.

Neither will let you do things like watch HD videos without buffering a lot. But general web page browsing will be comfortable on both.

Our verdict on download speeds:

Too close to call

"Both Three and Vodafone boast very healthy typical 4G download speeds. The difference between them is unlikely to be noticeable. Price and overall benefits could be more important."

Compare pricing and deals

Extra network features

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

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, compared to all the other providers, including Vodafone. Check your phone is supported here.

You'll also get 4G Calling (or VoLTE) with Three as long as your phone has it. This brings the beneift of super clear quality voice calls and improves the number of places you can make calls on Three.

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 a 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 scheme works exactly the same as Three's, although it doesn't let you send conventional SMS text messages and it doesn't work on Pay As You Go (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 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?

Three's list of standard free roaming countries is bigger

Roaming on Three compared with Vodafone

Latest country list

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

Three's best-known benefit for years has been Feel At Home (now called Go Roam), which lets you use your normal UK minutes, texts and data for no extra cost in selected countries abroad:

In our best roaming networks guide, we still rate it on top, despite stiff competition from Vodafone. It's all to do with the sheer volume of destinations and the fact you won't pay extra to get it on Three.

Take either a pay monthly phone contract or SIM only deal, or a pay as you go bundle, and you'll be able to use up to 15GB data, 3000 mins and 3000 texts in any of the 71 countries listed here without paying extra.

This goes way beyond the standard EU roaming you get with every other network, including Vodafone. It includes places like the USA where roaming is notoriously expensive with other providers.

Useful link: Full details about free roaming on Three

Vodafone make you pay to access their extra worldwide destinations

Vodafone's Global Roaming passes

See countries list

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

Like every provider, Vodafone include EU roaming as standard on all their pay monthly phone and SIM only plans. But they do offer something above and beyond too if you want to go further afield.

It's called Global Roaming. And on the face of it, it's actually better than Three: there are more destinations (77 compared with Three's 71), and you'll always get 4G when it's available (Three is 3G only).

The snag is you only get Global Roaming included with more-expensive Red Entertainment plans, which typically cost around £5 more monthly than standard ones (but do get you an entertainment subscription).

If you don't take one of those, you're looking at a £6 daily charge to use your regular allowances in those places, which could rack up very quickly. And sort of defeats the purpose of inclusive roaming.

Useful link: Full roaming costs on Vodafone

Our verdict on roaming:

A win for Three

"Yes you're getting 4G and more destinations on Vodafone but only if you shell out for a more expensive plan or pay a daily charge. 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 do have something similar called Vodafone Passes for unlimited video streaming, music streaming, social media or chat data. But unlike Three's scheme, each pass adds an additional monthly cost to your bill.

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

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

Cancel your contract after 30 days if you're unhappy on Vodafone

Vodafone 30 day service guarantee

Read full details

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

This isn't strictly a perk but having a 30-day returns period is something that's almost unique to Vodafone (only BT Mobile have something similar).

On most mobile networks, including Three, you only get 14 days to return your phone or quit a SIM only contract if you're unhappy. Vodafone now give you even longer to decide.

The idea is that you give their network a run for its money, test the speeds, make sure the coverage is what you were expecting. And if anything disappoints, you can cancel without extra charges or questions.

You still have to pay for what you've used out of minutes, texts and data (you can't just use it to get free usage on Vodafone!). But if you have doubts, it's a great way to try Vodafone risk-free.

Useful link: Full details, terms and conditions 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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Special offers on Vodafone and Three

Compare promotions running on the two networks

Vodafone's 100GB for £20 SIM only deal

Vodafone SIM offersSee this deal

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

We've been following Vodafone for 4 years, and we've never seen them launch a SIM only deal with as much data at such a low price. Their previous best was 20GB for £20. Order by 21st March and get:

100GB for £20 SIM only (12-month contract)

Meanwhile, you've been able to get an entertainment subscription included with Vodafone's Red Entertainment bundles for quite a few years. But you've previously still effectively paying extra for it (vs plans without it).

This month's SIM only pricing means that you're now getting this much more of a genuine freebie. The following plans include a subscription and are not more expensive as a result:

20GB for £20 SIM only (12-month contract), 40GB for £25 SIM only (12-month contract) and 60GB for £30 SIM only (12-month contract).

If you're looking for a phone contract, take a look at Vodafone's offers page here with the latest deals.

Useful links: See all Vodafone offers

Three's 100GB SIM is the joint-biggest on the market

Three 100GB for £20 a month

See the deal

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

It's a good month to join Three, with price drops across a lot of their SIM only plans. The standout deal is:

100GB data, unlimited minutes and texts on a 12-month contract

But there's also unlimited data for £27 £24 a month, and a hidden offer that gives you more data at a lower price than advertised on the main part of Three's website:

4GB 8GB for £11 £10 a month

Meanwhile on Android phones, Three have just launched the brand-new Samsung Galaxy S10 models.

Useful links: See all latest Three offers

Phone contracts on Three vs Vodafone

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Three vs EE

Read Three vs EE guide

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Three vs O2

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Three vs BT Mobile

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Three vs giffgaff

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Three vs SMARTY

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Three vs Virgin Mobile

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Vodafone vs O2

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Vodafone vs Talkmobile

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