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Various logos of UK mobile networks

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

Three and Vodafone logos with VS between them

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

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: 7th August 2019

In our network comparison

Latest deals notification

Three's 6 months half price offer

Three unlimited data SIM

Get 6 months half price on Three's 24-month unlimited data plan:

Unlimited data, mins and texts for £10 a month for 6 months, then £20 a month (24‑month SIM only contract)

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

Vodafone's new unlimited 5G data plans

Vodafone unlimited data SIMs

As well as turning on their new 5G network, Vodafone have launched a range of unlimited data plans including:

Unlimited 5G data, minutes and texts for £30 a month (12-month deal)

See full unlimited SIM range opens in new tab

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

4G population coverage is similar on both

Vodafone logo
Three logo
99%
99%

The population coverage stats for 4G coverage put Vodafone and Three neck and neck on 99%. But this just means signal in places where people live.

When you're away from residential areas, like on roads and train lines and other public spaces you need decent signal too (this is called geographical coverage).

We'd expect Vodafone to have better 4G geographic coverage than Three, so you'll spend more time on 4G. Definitely use the coverage checkers below to check signal everywhere you'll use your phone.

3G coverage is similar on Three and Vodafone too

Vodafone logo
Three logo
99%
99%

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 99% 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)

5G on Vodafone vs Three

How do Three and Vodafone's 5G networks compare?

Vodafone's 5G network is already live

Vodafone 5G speeds banner

Read rollout plans

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

You can actually already get 5G on Vodafone if you have a 5G-ready smartphone and use it in one of the few cities where their network has been turned on already (see latest list here).

Vodafone are already selling all their pay monthly plans as 5G (apart from Basics and where otherwise flagged). And they've launched a range of unlimited data 5G plans too.

Speed-wise, Vodafone are expecting average downloads of 150 - 200 Mbps, which is top-whack home fibre optic broadband fast and would easily handle ultra HD streaming and download huge files in no time.

The key thing to remember though is that the 5G network is still in its early days and you're still going to spend most your time on 4G as you travel around the country.

Useful link: The next cities on Vodafone's 5G rollout plan

Three are expecting their 5G network to be UK's fastest

Three's 5G network banner

Why it's the fastest

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

Three haven't yet switched on their 5G network but they are selling all their plans as 5G-ready, meaning you'll get 5G at no extra cost when they go live with the new faster technology.

And they're confident they're building the UK's fastest 5G network, because they've got double the radio bandwidth of any provider and they're using an exclusive technology to drive their 5G too (full details here).

Like Vodafone, Three's 5G rollout focusses on just a few cities to start off with. Within the year, Three are looking to bring 5G to 25 in total (the full list can be found here).

So even though Three are behind Vodafone in turning their 5G network, it could be worth waiting it out of their 5G ends up being a better experience.

Useful link: Get the latest on Three's 5G rollout

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 (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?

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 while abroad and there's a fair usage policy that limits the minutes, texts and data you can use on each trip. 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 had something similar called Vodafone Passes for unlimited video streaming, music streaming, social media or chat data, which cost extra. Their sub-brand VOXI still have them.

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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Special offers on Vodafone and Three

Compare promotions running on the two networks

New unlimited 5G data plans available now

Vodafone unlimited data SIMs

See unlimited plans

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

Vodafone have just launched a range of 5G-ready SIM only plans with unlimited data that we think are going to be very popular.

Some of them do have speed caps built in that mean you'll only get mediocre 4G speeds. But this deal gets you 5G and 4G at Vodafone's top possible speeds:

You'll need a 5G-ready phone and be in an area with 5G coverage. If you have neither, you'll still get 4G at Vodafone's top speeds.

The unlimited plans have also launched on a range of Vodafone's phone contracts too (see the models here on their website).

Useful link: Vodafone's 5G rollout latest

Three's 6 months half price unlimited data offer

Three unlimited data SIM

See current offer

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

Three are currently offering 6 months half price on their 24-month unlimited data plan (unknown offer end date):

Or if you don't want to commit to such a long contract, their 12-month unlimited data SIM is now £20 a month too. And there's also a huge hidden 100GB data deal:

Useful links: 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

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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

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Comparing Vodafone and EE

Vodafone vs EE

Read our Vodafone vs EE guide

Comparing Vodafone and O2

Vodafone vs O2

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Comparing Vodafone and VOXI

Vodafone vs VOXI

Read Vodafone vs VOXI

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