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Virgin Mobile vs Three: comparing their networks and benefits

Virgin Mobile and Three logos

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We look at whether you're better off joining Three or Virgin Mobile when it comes to network coverage, speeds, prices and benefits. Last updated: 15th February 2022

In our Virgin Mobile vs Three comparison

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How their mobile networks compare

Do Virgin Mobile have better coverage than Three?

How Virgin compares with Three for signal

Virgin Mobile and Three mobile network icons

Virgin's overall mix of 4G/3G/2G coverage is better than Three’s

Read why

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin have switched networks again. They now use O2’s network to provide signal (they used to use Vodafone and even EE way back when). That’s definitely a good thing when it comes to coverage for calls (2G/3G) and 4G data (see 5G here).

More of the UK’s landmass is covered with call signal on Virgin than on Three, meaning you’re more likely to stay connected while you’re on the go, even in some pretty surprising locations.

Rural 4G is pretty close between the two. We think Three have a bit more of the UK’s landmass covered, but 4G signal should be stronger in small to mid-size towns on Virgin.

In any case, you should use both networks' coverage checkers below to see how coverage is in your area. Check everywhere you’ll actually use your phone, that’s more important than the national picture.

Useful link: More about Virgin Mobile's network

5G live in more cities on Virgin

Virgin Mobile's 5G

Read their 5G guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

If your phone is 5G-ready, then you can get 5G on both Three and Virgin on all of their plans. Both are on rapidly expanding 5G networks, so what are the differences between them?

Three have 5G live in 484+ UK towns and cities, while Virgin have 5G live in a massive 750+ UK towns and cities. But no network can cover their locations entirely, so which network is better at this?

We think Three tend to offer better coverage, but this does vary per location. So it’s worth using their signal map to see which network offers better 5G coverage in your area.

Both sell 5G at no extra cost. You'll get it on every SIM only plan or phone contract, as long as the model itself has 5G data as a feature.

Useful link: Latest news on Three's 5G rollout

Check coverage before you sign up

Don't just look at your home postcode but where you work, your commute, where you go for pleasure: anywhere you'd use your phone

Three network map

Three coverage checker

Check Three signal

with their coverage checker
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile network map

Virgin Mobile coverage checker

Check Virgin signal

with their coverage checker
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Win for Virgin Mobile

"You’re more likely to stay connected on the go with Virgin’s mix of 4G/3G, and you’re more likely to get 5G in your area with them. But you may get better coverage on Three in your area, so it’s worth using the coverage checkers below to make sure."

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Data speeds: are Virgin Mobile or Three faster?

We look to see if Three or Virgin Mobile have quicker downloads

Three and Virgin Mobile's 4G logos

Peak 4G faster on Virgin, typical speeds faster on Three

Virgin don't let anything slow you down banner

Read why

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

To see which network offers the faster 4G speeds we use the results from independent network testers Opensignal who take millions of measurements from volunteer phones up and down the country.

Their latest report showed typical speeds of 30.7 Mbps on Three, while typical speeds on Virgin’s hosts were 16.8 Mbps. That’s a big difference between them, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

On Virgin’s hosts we were able to get peak speeds up to 95 Mbps. Since there are no speed caps on Virgin, you’ll get identical speeds to their hosts. Three on the other hand got us peak speeds up to 70 Mbps.

We’d say you can get higher peak speeds on Virgin, but if you’re out in the sticks you might get better 4G speeds on Three. If you’re not satisfied you can always return your SIM within 14 days of receiving it.

Useful link: Three's 4g+ Big Network Build news

5G speeds are lightning fast on Three compared to Virgin

Three's fastest 5G banner

Why they're faster

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

Since 5G has been live for a while on both networks, we can make some pretty accurate predictions of typical 5G speeds using results from Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla.

Typical 5G speeds on Three were between 228.4 Mbps - 248.16 Mbps with peak speeds up to a blistering 687.13 Mbps. Typical speeds on Virgin were between 80.57 Mbps - 92.3 Mbps with peak speeds of 214.2 Mbps.

Both offer much faster speeds than would be possible over 4G. But it’s night and day comparing the two. If you need the fastest possible speeds for mobile gaming or file-sharing, Three are much better option.

Three can provide faster 5G as they use more of the radio spectrum than other networks, letting them broadcast 5G on more optimal wavelengths. But we could see other networks start to catch up in the near future.

Useful link: What speeds might Three's 5G achieve?

Our verdict on data speeds:

Easy win for Three

“Three provide faster typical 4G speeds and way faster peak and typical 5G speeds. You can potentially get faster peak 4G speeds in the centre, but other than that Three will provide much faster speeds. An easy win for Three here.”

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Extra network features on Three vs Virgin Mobile

Here we look at other things Virgin and Three offer to keep you connected on your phone.

Virgin and Three extra network features

Three's WiFi calling supports more phones than Virgin’s

Three's WiFi calling scheme called InTouch

See supported phones

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

Three’s overall call signal is weaker than Virgin’s and tends to suffer more indoors, as their frequencies aren’t as good at getting through building materials. But indoor signal can suffer on all networks.

To help out, both networks have got WiFi calling (lets your phone make calls via WiFi where no mobile signal) and 4G calling (utilises more types of signal for calls, so better chance of having reception).

Three’s is much better overall. With Virgin’s you can’t transfer a call from WiFi signal to 4G signal without your call dropping. Their list of supported devices is also quite short, and if your phone isn’t on there it’s not likely to work.

We think Three's list of supported phones is actually a little defensive (the phones the guarantee rather than the models that might work). It kicks in easily when needed and supports SMS texting too.

Useful link: Our guide to the best WiFi calling networks

Virgin Mobile offer more WiFi hotspots than Three

Free WiFi on Virgin Mobile

How to get free WiFi

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile customers get a real advantage from joining a mobile provider that's also part of a broadband supplier: Virgin Media. You can tap into their broadband expertise.

On any of Virgin’s pay monthly plans you’ll get access to a network of 4.3 million+ hotspots, which are usually located in places like restaurants, transport hubs (including the London Underground) and on the high street.

This is useful as it saves on using up your mobile data allowance. You get unlimited usage. Using less data means you could in theory choose a smaller, cheaper plan (although the actual savings are hard to predict).

Three don’t offer nearly as many hotspots, but you do get free WiFi on the London Underground, which pairs well with their great WiFi calling to keep you connected (here's how to get that on Three).

Useful links: Free UK-wide WiFi on Virgin Mobile | Three's free WiFi on the Underground

Our verdict on extra network features:

A win for Three

"You’ll probably have better luck getting WiFi calling to work on Three and they also have a better feature. WiFi hotspots on Virgin are nice, but there’s plenty of free WiFi out there anyway. Three have the upper hand overall."

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Virgin Mobile and Three's benefits compared

Free data schemes: Virgin Mobile vs Three

Both Three and Virgin Mobile have free data schemes, so which is more generous?

Virgin and Three logos with speedometer icon

Three have scrapped their Go Binge streaming benefit

ExpiredThree's Go Binge promotional banner

Read statement

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

There used to be an excellent benefit on Three called Go Binge. It gave you an effectively unlimited data allowance to stream a selection of apps on your phone, even if you were on a plan that had a data cap.

There are a few networks still offering similar schemes, which you can read about here. But Three aren't one of them. Virgin do have something similar, for social media messaging data, which you can read about below.

Normally, video and music streaming are some of the data-hungriest activities you can do on your phone, so not having this count towards your data usage on Three was a real advantage.

Overall, Three are getting in danger of becoming a bit of a low-frills provider. They've stripped out other benefits too recently, like their Wuntu Rewards app and their easyJet upgrade offer.

Useful link: Read Three's existing customer guide for Go Binge

Virgin Mobile's free data focusses on social media apps

Data-free Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter

See all free apps

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin don't have anything quite as generous as Three's Go Binge was in terms of writing off the cost of data for specific apps but they do still have something:

If you're on a pay monthly phone or SIM only contract, they'll not charge you for data you use for pictures and texts via the messaging apps Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. And also the social network Twitter.

It effectively means you can use these as much as you like without worrying about the data. In our guide to networks that offer free data, we point out that you use this type of app a lot but that they're not really the biggest consumers of data.

We're basically saying it's a nice feature if you use your phone with these apps a lot but don't expect it to save you huge amounts of data.

Useful link: Data-free messaging on Virgin Mobile

Our verdict on free data schemes:

Win for Virgin

"Now Three don't offer Go Binge to new customers, this is a win for Virgin Mobile by default."

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Free roaming: Three vs Virgin Mobile

Is roaming on Virgin Mobile as good as Three's Go Roam?

Virgin and Three roaming icons

Three no longer offer free inclusive roaming

Expired stampRoaming on Three compared with Virgin

See all free countries

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

On any of Three’s pay monthly plans you used to be able to roam in 71 worldwide destinations and this was one of our favourite roaming schemes. But you no longer get access to this if you’re new to Three.

Instead you have to pay a daily charge while you’re abroad to be able to access your regular UK allowance. It’s currently £2 per day in the EU and £5 worldwide.

It’s not too terrible for worldwide roaming, but there are still a lot of networks that offer inclusive EU roaming. It’s sad to see our former favourite for roaming Three not even offer EU roaming now.

Nowadays, £5 a day doesn’t sound too bad when compared to some of the really expensive rates you’ll have to pay in worldwide destinations. Virgin’s rates are particularly high. But either way it’ll get expensive fast.

Useful link: Full details on Three's free roaming scheme

Virgin Mobile promise to keep inclusive EU roaming

Virgin Mobile free EU roaming banner

See all free countries

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

While mobile networks no longer have to offer free inclusive EU roaming, Virgin Mobile have promised to keep their roaming scheme in place. You can check all their roaming destinations here.

Virgin Mobile don’t go beyond this basic provision though. And have quite a few finickity rules about how much of your normal data you can use abroad (see their roaming calculator here to work it out).

So if you mainly travel within the EU, you’re covered with Virgin. But if you regularly go further afield, you might want to check Virgin’s extra roaming costs here as you could end up paying a lot for even using a little bit of data.

You can set a cap to make sure you don’t accidentally overspend. While Virgin’s roaming scheme isn’t anything special, it’s still nice that they offer it. And it’s a lot better than Three’s scheme for EU roaming.

Useful link: Virgin's guide to all their roaming costs

Our verdict on inclusive roaming:

A win for Virgin

"We think the majority of people do their roaming in the EU. The fact Virgin still include it and Three don’t, means Virgin with this category by default."

Compare pricing and deals

Other benefits you get on Virgin Mobile but not on Three

Here's what you'd miss out on by joining Three instead of Virgin

Virgin Mobile better than Three

Virgin Mobile offer free social media data

Virgin Mobile data free socialising

See all free apps

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin offer a decent benefit that helps you save a bit of your data when using certain social media apps. It won’t save you quite as much as a free data streaming data scheme would, but it’s still nice to have.

If you're on a pay monthly phone or SIM only contract, they'll not charge you for data you use for pictures and texts via the messaging apps Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. And also the social network Twitter.

This means you can browse these apps without having to think about how much data you’re using. As we said in our guide to free data schemes, this won’t save you a lot of data, even if you use these apps a lot.

We're basically saying it's a nice feature if you use your phone with these apps a lot but don't expect it to save you huge amounts of data.

Useful link: Data-free messaging on Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile offer data rollover on all plans

Virgin Mobile data rollover scheme

Read full ins and outs

full details at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Most people's data usage varies from month-to-month, depending on what you've been doing with your phone. Sometimes you'll get right near your data-limit or over, sometimes you'll get nowhere near.

Virgin offer a solution to the annoyance of losing your unused data and help you get the most of what you paid for (see all the networks that offer it here).

It's called Data Rollover on Virgin, and it comes with every pay monthly SIM only plan or phone contract. It lets you keep unused data to use next month instead. It's a second chance to use it.

We think it pairs well with their WiFi hotspot network and free social media data as you can save a lot of data then roll it over for your next month. Three don’t offer any form of data rollover, not even on pay as you go.

Useful link: Everything you need to know about data rollover

Deals and pricing on Virgin Mobile vs Three

Comparing Three and Virgin Mobile's SIM only deals

Which of the two currently has the best value SIM only plans?

SIM card with Three and Virgin Mobile logos



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Current offers on Virgin Mobile and Three

Here are the key promotions Three and Virgin Mobile have on right now

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Phone contracts: how Three and Virgin Mobile compare

We look at prices and differences between their smartphone deals

Phone contracts on Three and Virgin Mobile

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Virgin Mobile give you more flexibility in your plan

Virgin Mobile Freestyle Contracts

How to upgrade early

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin offer what are known as “split contracts” for their phone deals. This is where you have a separate finance agreement (loan) for the cost of your phone and one payment for your usage (mins, texts, data).

This means you can pay off your loan and upgrade your phone early, you can change or leave your usage plan whenever while still paying off your phone and they also let you set your contract length at either 24-months or 36-months.

Also you’ll need a good credit rating, because most of Virgin Mobile’s smartphone contracts are based on credit agreements (basically loans).

Otherwise, you’ll find a decent range of iPhone, Samsung and some other cheaper Android models with Virgin Mobile, all with no upfront costs.

Useful link: See Virgin's full range of phones

Three's contracts are more conventional

Phone comparison tool screenshot

Compare prices

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Getting a contract on Three is very different to getting one on Virgin. All their contracts are 24-months only and there’s no credit agreements or early upgrades. It’s a lot simpler, but a lot less flexible.

Three's phone range is very similar to Virgin's. We've built a new tool for you to compare phone contract prices on Three, Virgin and other mobile networks.

Just search for the phone you want, click on it, set the usage plan you want and it’ll show you a comparison of what sort of prices you’ll get on each network.

Or look at our popular model example comparison further down the page to compare Virgin Mobile and Three's starting prices on some of the best selling phones.

Useful link: Compare mobile phone contracts

Our verdict on phone contract pricing

Virgin usually cheaper

"When comparing 24-month contracts, Virgin tend to be cheaper. Add to that the option to take a 36-month contract to reduce monthly costs, the choice to upgrade early and change your usage plan and Virgin are a much more attractive option overall."

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Making your mind up

The main differences between Virgin Mobile and Three

Here's a quick summary of things that could help you decide between the two:

Reasons to join Virgin Mobile...

They have stronger 4G/3G/2G in all the places you use your phone (check here)

You like the idea of keeping unused data at the end of the month

You want to roam for free in the EU

You message loads on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger so would benefit from data-free messaging

Reasons to join Three

Their 5G/4G/3G coverage is good in the areas you tend to use your phone (check here)

You want faster average 4G speeds and blistering fast 5G

You want better WiFi calling and 4G calling than Virgin (check phone compatibility here)

Other Three guides

More guides about Virgin Mobile

Individual network reviews