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

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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. Last updated: 1st August 2023

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How Vodafone and Three's networks compare

Is coverage better on Vodafone or Three?

Do Three or Vodafone have the better mix of 5G/4G/3G coverage?

Three vs Vodafone's mobile networks

Vodafone still ahead for 4G data and calls

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Read why

at vodafone.co.uk
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In terms of call signal (2G/3G) Vodafone cover more of the UK’s landmass than Three, including more areas where people actually live. So you’re more likely to stay connected on Vodafone than on Three.

Three have massively expanded their 4G data coverage but Vodafone still cover more of the UK’s landmass for 4G. You can get it in some very rural areas on Vodafone, but urban 4G is similar between the two networks.

You may or may not have heard that there are plans for Vodafone and Three to merge into one company. This hasn’t been approved by regulators yet, so it’s not a certainty. But it might happen in the future.

For now it’s important to know that the two networks are still separate. You don’t get Three coverage with Vodafone. You don’t get Vodafone coverage with Three.

But we could see the two networks combined at some point in the future. These things tend to take a while, so we wouldn’t take a contract on either, thinking you’ll be access the other network soon.

It’s more important for a network to offer good 4G coverage, as you’ll spend more time on it than on 5G and it gives you better data speeds than 3G. So Vodafone’s better 4G coverage is a big advantage for them.

So it’s best to check coverage using either network’s map below before joining. If you get good coverage in your area on one network and not the other that’s more important than which has better coverage overall.

Useful link: Vodafone's network improvement plans

Three provide 5G in more places than Vodafone

5G locations map from Three

See latest places

at Three.co.uk
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Every main UK network (Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE) are rapidly expanding their 5G networks to more and more locations around the country, while also working to improve their coverage in these places.

Three currently have 5G live in 484+ UK towns and cities, while you’ll get 5G on Vodafone in 141+ UK towns and cities (the least of all main UK networks). But how well do either network cover their locations?

When networks say 5G is live in a location that doesn’t mean you’ll get 5G everywhere in that location. It’s on a street-by-street basis. But Three tend to offer better coverage in their locations than Vodafone.

But you might still get 5G on Vodafone and not on Three (or vice-versa), it’s just you’re more likely to be covered on Three. So use either networks’ coverage checkers to see which provides better 5G near you.

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

Checking signal on Vodafone and Three

Here's how to find predicted reception in your area

Three's network map

Three coverage checker

Check Three coverage

using their official map
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Vodafone's network map

Vodafone coverage checker

Check Vodafone coverage

using their official map
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Our verdict on coverage:

Minor win for Vodafone

“As it stands, Vodafone provide significantly better call signal and a bit more widespread 4G data which means you’ll stay connected more often as you move around. Three have better 5G, but you still won’t get it often as 4G/3G while moving around. Vodafone win this one.”

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Are data speeds faster on Three or Vodafone?

Which provider offers better 4G/5G speeds?

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Three have faster typical 4G speeds than Vodafone

Vodafone 5G speeds explained

5G vs 4G guide

at vodafone.co.uk
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While we can’t test speeds in every part of the country, we can use results from independent network testers Opensignal in order to see what typical 4G data speeds look like on each network.

Their latest report revealed typical 4G speeds on Three around 30.7 Mbps while Vodafone’s were 21.2 Mbps. The difference between them has got bigger as Three’s results have gone up and Vodafone’s have gone down.

We tested speeds on Vodafone and found a bigger variation compared to other networks. We went as low as 5 Mbps in rural areas, while speeding up to 110+ Mbps in the city centre. So we can see how it averages out.

On Three we rarely went below 7 Mbps, but then we hardly ever got speeds higher than 70 Mbps. Still, we think 4G speeds are usually more consistent on Three, so they just take the win here.

Useful link: Vodafone's 5G speed expectations

Three’s 5G speeds are much faster than Vodafone’s

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Read how

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Three’s claims of being the fastest 5G network are backed up by the results recorded by independent network testers.

According to results from Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, typical 5G speeds on Three between 228.4 Mbps - 248.16 Mbps, while speeds on Vodafone were 105.2 - 133.54 Mbps. That’s a huge difference between them.

Speedtest’s results showed peak speeds of up to a blistering fast 687.14 Mbps while they got up to a still impressive 322.91 Mbps on Vodafone. So Three can be up to around two times faster than Vodafone.

As such we think Three’s 5G network is coping a bit better than Vodafone’s with the influx of customers getting 5G-ready phones and is by far the superior network when it comes to 5G speeds.

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

Our verdict on download speeds:

Win for Three

“Three are by far the fastest network for 5G, so heavy data users will prefer them. And for 4G you’ll tend to get more consistent speeds than you would on Vodafone, which for us beats having faster peak 4G speeds. So Three take this one.”

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WiFi calling on Three vs Vodafone

Here’s what Three and Vodafone offer to help you stay connected

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WiFi/4G calling is more flexible on Three

Three's WiFi calling

See supported phones

at Three.co.uk
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All four main UK networks (Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE) include WiFi calling as a standard feature on their plans. This allows you to make and receive calls using WiFi signal where conventional call signal is weak.

Three have one of our favourite WiFi calling schemes of all networks. They include it on every pay monthly and pay as you go plan and it’s compatible with lots of different phones (see if yours is supported here).

And you get 4G calling (or VoLTE) on Three if your phone supports it. This also improves indoor coverage since Three’s 4G is better at getting through building materials than their 3G and can improve call quality.

On Three you can switch from a WiFi call to a 4G call without it dropping if you lose WiFi signal (if you lose 4G it will drop). Overall, it’s a great feature that works on lots of phones. Not a lot to dislike here.

Useful link: Three's guide to their mobile network

Vodafone support fewer models for WiFi calling than Three

Vodafone's WiFi calling

See supported phones

at Vodafone.co.uk
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Vodafone’s WiFi calling is similar to Three’s in terms of how it works as a feature. They let you send SMS texts using WiFi/4G signal, include 4G calling and let you move from WiFi to 4G without dropping your call.

The biggest disadvantage is that they don’t include it on their Pay As You Go or Basics plans. These are no-frills SIM only deals only used for calls and data (read more about Basics plans here).

Most newer iPhone models are supported for Vodafone’s WiFi calling. But Android users might find Vodafone’s support for Android models to be a bit underwhelming compared to Three’s.

So while the two networks have similar features in terms of how they function, you don’t have to worry as much about whether your plan supports it or your plan includes it.

Useful link: All mobile network features

Our verdict on WiFi calling:

Three win

“The two networks are equal in terms of how their WiFi calling schemes work as features. But Three’s scheme is compatible with more devices and comes on all of their plans, while that’s not the case on Vodafone. Three take this one.”

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Free WiFi hotspots compared on Vodafone and Three

Which network gives you free WiFi in more places?

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Three offer free WiFi hotspots on the Underground

Free Wi-Fi on London Underground Three banner

Read full guide

at Three.co.uk
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It’s handy when networks offer free WiFi hotspots as they can help you hold onto your data and stay connected where you’d otherwise get no signal. Three let you connect to free WiFi on the Underground.

They offer free WiFi at Underground stations and ticket barriers, but not in the tunnels themselves. And once you log in to any of their 250+ hotspots you’ll automatically be logged in next time you’re near one.

London commuters will like this scheme and it pairs nicely with their excellent WiFi calling for staying connected on the Underground. But only London inhabitants will get any real use out of it.

You get the benefit on all of their pay monthly and Pay As You Go plans at no extra cost. It’s a nice little extra to get on your deal, but nothing mind blowing.

Useful link: Our guide to the best free WiFi hotspot networks

Vodafone don’t offer any free WiFi hotspots any more

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Their old guide

at Vodafone.co.uk
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Despite also being a broadband network, Vodafone don’t offer any free WiFi hotspots around the country. That now makes them the only main network with no WiFi hotspot scheme.

They used to have free WiFi on the Underground, similar to Three’s scheme. But they removed it from their plans (and from their sub-brand VOXI’s plans) a while ago.

In fairness, free WiFi is more common around the country these days. But ultimately the Underground is one big blackspot for Vodafone users that Three users don’t have to worry about.

Whether or not it’s a huge difference between the two comes down to how often you move around London. But since it’s something Three have and Vodafone don’t we have to count it against them.

Useful link: The costs for going over your allowance on Vodafone

Our verdict on WiFi hotspots:

Three win

“Three’s free WiFi on the Underground is a genuinely handy feature for London commuters that Vodafone users don’t get access to. Three take this one by default.”

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Vodafone and Three's benefits compared

Inclusive roaming on Vodafone and Three

Do either network still let you use your SIM abroad at no extra cost?

Vodafone and Three logos with a globe icon

Three include EU roaming on premium plans

Roaming on Three compared with Vodafone

Latest country list

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

Three have changed their roaming scheme again by offering daily roaming passes on their Plus and Premium plans. These are higher end deals than their regular ones and let you roam in these 71 worldwide destinations.

On Plus plans you get 14 daily roaming passes a year on a 12-month contract and 28 a year on a 24-month contract to roam. On Premium plans you get 28 a year on a 12-month contract and 56 on a 24-month contract.

We think people won’t like being limited to how many days you can roam, or the fact that you’re limited to 12GB of your allowance while abroad even though you’re paying a premium price to roam.

If you go abroad often then you could run out of passes and if you don’t go abroad often you’re paying a higher price for not much return. But it’s better than paying their £2 daily rate in the EU or £5 beyond it.

Useful link: Roaming costs in non-inclusive destinations

Vodafone only have inclusive roaming on highest end plans

Vodafone's Global Roaming passes

What's so good?

at Vodafone.co.uk
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Like Three, Vodafone only offer inclusive roaming on their higher end plans. You can only get the maximum 83 inclusive worldwide destinations on their highest end Unlimited plan with 3 Xtras.

You can only get roaming on these plans:

The amount of locations where you can use your allowance depends on your plan. Their Unlimited 3 Xtras plan lets you roam in all those locations. Their non-unlimited 4 Xtras plans let you roam in 51 EU destinations.

Joining on any other kind of plan will mean you’ll have to pay £2 for every day you roam in the EU and £6 a day beyond the EU. That includes their lowest end Basics SIMs that you can now use abroad.

Either way, roaming comes at an extra cost on Vodafone. If you’re going beyond the EU then this might be worth it, but you’ll still be paying for a much pricier contract to do so. Vodafone’s roaming is poor overall.

Useful link: Full roaming costs on Vodafone

Our verdict on roaming:

Depends what you want

“Both networks make you pay a premium cost to roam in the EU and beyond. Three’s Premium and Plus plans are better for moderate roamers as they’re lower in cost, while Vodafone’s 3 Xtras plans are mostly good for roaming very often, but at a high cost.”

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Other benefits compared

What benefits do you get on one network that you don’t on the other?

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Vodafone have a rewards app and Entertainment plans

Vodafone VeryMe rewards apps

See example offers

at vodafone.co.uk
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If you’re a fan of sites like Groupon that give you special offers on different services, we think you’ll like Vodafone’s “Very Me” rewards. You’ll be able to access these via their helpful customer service app.

There you can choose things you like, including high street food and shopping, to start receiving unique discounts on these. Sometimes you even get total freebies. All the details are on Vodafone’s page here.

You can also take an Entertainment plan on Vodafone, which let you choose an entertainment subscription that lasts the entire length of your contract without you paying anything outside of your plan’s price.

All these let you choose a subscription:

The choices are a subscription to Amazon Prime Video, Youtube Premium and Spotify Premium. It’s typically better value than paying for your plan and subscription separately, but just make sure beforehand.

Useful link: Full details and terms for Entertainment plans

Three have a rewards app and premium benefits too

Three plus rewards app

See example offers

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

Three have a handy rewards app called Three+ that gets you special discounts on shopping, restaurants and other services. And they offered presale tickets for the Reading and Leeds festivals this year.

It’s good to check now and again what they’re offering, but we’d say Three+ is a little bit behind other rewards apps for the sheer amount of services covered. But still, it’s a helpful scheme in our eyes.

And on their Plus phone contracts you get a 3 year extended warranty, which is handy if it is faulty but doesn’t cover other damages. And you get a Paramount+ trial for half the length of your contract.

Their Premium plans give you one phone screen repair for £25 during your contract, which can save some money. And you get Paramount+ for your whole contract. So you get a nice bit of extra value on these plans.

Useful link: Our guide to Three’s Plus and Premium plans

Our verdict on extra benefits:

Depends what you want

“Three+ can be better for getting presale tickets while VeryMe can be better for special offers on high street shopping. And whether you want a Premium or Plus plan vs an Entertainment plan depends on which benefits look better to you. We call this a draw.”

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Pricing compared on Vodafone and Three

SIM only plans compared on Three and Vodafone

Do Three or Vodafone provide better value on SIM only?

A Vodafone and Three SIM card



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Our verdict on SIM only pricing:

Three win

“Three’s regular pay monthly contracts are typically the lowest cost of all UK networks, making Vodafone’s look expensive in comparison. But this does depend on which kind of plan you take, and there are sometimes special offers that are better value on either.”

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Special offers on Vodafone and Three

Compare promotions running on the two networks

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Phone contracts on Vodafone vs Three

Comparing either networks’ phone contracts on price and flexibility

Vodafone vs Three phone contracts

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Vodafone offer great flexibility on phone contracts

Vodafone EVO

Read full details

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Vodafone offer a great deal of flexibility in how you set up your phone contract with their EVO plans. These are much more flexible than the traditional 24-month contracts you still get on some networks.

You can set the length of your phone contract anywhere between 3 and 36 months depending on how much you want to pay per month. But your usage (mins, texts, data) has to be either on a 12-month or 24-month contract.

Vodafone base their contracts around finance, meaning you can pay lump sum amounts to reduce your monthly bill. Or if you’d prefer you can pay off your loan early to end your contract or upgrade to a new device.

They are on the higher end in terms of price, but you can join via a reseller like Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk as they offer lower prices at the cost of the added flexibility of joining Vodafone directly.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

Three also offer flexible phone contracts

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Compare phone deals

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Three now offer more flexible phone contracts based on finance agreements. These split the cost of paying back your phone and your usage plan (mins, texts, data) into separate payments to make your monthly bill.

They let you choose a contract length of 12 months, 24 months or 36 months and set an upfront cost how you like it (or choose not to have one). And you can upgrade whenever by paying off the rest of your loan.

But if you want a cheaper deal we’d recommend going with a licensed reseller such as Fonehouse or Samsung, who can get you onto a Three phone contract for much cheaper than going with Three directly.

Use our phone comparison tool to see whether Three, Vodafone or the resellers offer the better deal for your desired phone. Remember Three tend to offer better value usage plans too, so you can save money that way.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

Our verdict on phone contracts:


“Three do offer more flexibility now than they used to, but you still can’t choose your own contract length like you can on Vodafone. However, Three are the better value choice in most cases. It ultimately comes down to what you prefer out of your contract.”

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More Three guides

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