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Various logos of UK mobile networks

Virgin Mobile vs Three: comparing their networks and benefits

Virgin Mobile and Three logos

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

We look at whether you're better off joining Three or Virgin Mobile when it comes to network coverage, speeds, prices and benefits. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 19th September 2019

In our Virgin Mobile vs Three comparison

Offer notifications

Virgin's Black Friday offers

Virgin Mobile sale SIMs banner

Order by 2nd December to get these huge deals:

10GB for £10 a month

12GB for £12 a month

50GB for £19 a month

See Virgin Mobile's full offers page > (opens in new tab)

Black Friday on Three

Three's Black Friday unlimited data deal

It's Black Friday time on Three and they've brought back their unlimited data for £20 offer:

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

On phones, there are discounts up to £480 on these selected models.

See our hidden Three offers > (opens in new tab)

How their mobile networks compare

Do Virgin Mobile have better coverage than Three?

How Three and Virgin's signal compares

Virgin Mobile and Three mobile network icons

On 4G, Virgin Mobile cover more of the country than Three

4G coverage on Virgin
4G coverage on Three
99%
99%

Even though the statistics say Three and Virgin Mobile are tied on 99% when it comes to the amount of population they cover, remember this just means signat at people's houses.

Virgin still have an advantage over Three by using the EE network, which has more of the UK's geographical landmass covered with 4G. So that generally means a better connection in the countryside, on roads / railway lines and in rural towns and villages.

That said, if you're covered with either network in the places you'll use your phone, then it doesn't matter which you choose. So use the coverage checkers below to test near you.

3G signal is practically the same on Three and Virgin

Virgin Mobile 3G coverage
Three 3G coverage
99%
99%

People mainly think about 4G coverage nowadays but it's worth thinking about 3G too, because it's still used for calls and where there's no 4G.

It's basically honours even between Three and Virgin Mobile too, with both networks reporting 3G population coverage of 99%.

Again, we'd definitely say check 3G coverage before you sign up too using the coverage checkers below so you don't end up disappointed.

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

"Using EE is a huge advantage for Virgin customers, because it gives them access to the UK’s biggest network but at Virgin’s more favourable prices. That said, if you’re covered by Three then you’re covered. Checking both networks beforehand is key."

Compare pricing and deals

4G 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

Virgin Mobile are faster than Three for 4G

Virgin don't let anything slow you down banner

Read why

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Media are known for their superfast fibre broadband and they use the UK's fastest mobile (EE) network to bring you Virgin Mobile, so how big is the advantage over Three?

Independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla measure Three's typical 4G downloads to average out at18.2 Mbpsand 20.39 Mbps, while EE come in almost 50% faster at31.5 Mbpsand 32.99 Mbps.

The big question is how close Virgin Mobile customers get to those EE speeds. According to Virgin, they do have a top speed cap of a massive 70 Mbps, which could bring that average down a little.

But overall, we'd still expect greater overall 4G download speeds on Virgin.

Three will have faster 5G before Virgin Mobile

Three's fastest 5G banner

Read rollout news

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

If you're an early adopter of new technology and have a 5G-ready phone, you'll be able to get way faster 5G data speeds on Three before you can on Virgin Mobile, who've not announced a 5G launch yet.

Three's SIM only plans and compatible phone contracts are already being sold as 5G-ready at no extra cost, meaning you won't pay more for having 5G with your Three deal.

And because Three have bought more 5G spectrum together than any of the other providers, they're claiming theirs will be the fastest 5G network in the UK.

If you're dead keen on getting 5G, be sure to check whether Three actually will have it in your city in the time that you take a contract with them. See their latest planned 5G rollout locations here.

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

Our verdict on 4G speeds:

Current win for Virgin Mobile

"Prior to either network having any meaningful 5G data connections available, we expect Virgin Mobile customers to get noticeably faster downloads on average than on Three."

Compare pricing and deals

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 have much better calling technology than Virgin Mobile

Three's WiFi calling scheme called InTouch

See supported phones

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

Neither Three nor Virgin Mobile broadcast their calls on optimal frequncies for the best calls inside buildings (read our guide to indoor coverage here for more details). But Three have more extras to get round it.

Every pay monthly or pay as you go SIM or phone on Three comes with WiFi calling enabled. This lets supported phones make/take calls and send SMS texts over WiFi instead of conventional mobile signal.

You'll also get 4G Calling (VoLTE) on Three too, which lets your phone use 4G to make/take calls on top of regular 3G. This increases the chance of some signal getting indoors to use for making calls.

Virgin Mobile don't have either of the technologies enabled (even though their hosts EE have both). If you've struggled with poor indoor calls before, it's Three that give you the best chance of improving things, not Virgin.

Useful link: Three's guide to InTouch WiFi calling from their help section

Virgin Mobile's free WiFi hotspots are better than Three's

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.

Pay monthly customers can access 3.5 million + free WiFi hotspots across the UK, in useful locations like the high street, transport hubs (including London Underground), pubs and cafes.

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 have nothing comparable in terms of free WiFi on a national scale. But like Virgin Mobile, you will get free access to WiFi when you're on the London Underground network (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

"We think more people will find it useful being able to make calls indoors via WiFi calling and 4G calling on Three than getting free WiFi on Virgin. Although much will depend on your own priorities."

Compare pricing and deals

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’s Go Binge lets you stream without limits

Three's Go Binge promotional banner

How Go Binge works

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

If you’ve not heard of it yet, check out Three’s Go Binge here because it’s an extremely useful benefit that sets them apart from most other mobile networks.

It basically lets you stream selected entertainment apps on your phone for free, without ever using up your regular data allowance (see the full latest list of supported services here).

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 is a real advantage.

You’ll need to sign up on a phone contract or SIM only deal that comes with 12GB data or more to get Go Binge. And the free streaming data is only unlimited in the UK. But overall, it's something Three have over Virgin.

Useful link: Read Three's FAQs and full guide to Go Binge at Three.co.uk

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 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 Three

"Video and music streaming use a lot more data than social media messaging apps. For writing off the most amount of free data, we'd say Three's Go Binge is a way more valuable than Virgin's scheme."

Compare pricing and deals

Free roaming: Three vs Virgin Mobile

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

Virgin and Three roaming icons

Three's inclusive roaming is UK's most generous

Roaming on Three compared with Virgin

See all free countries

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

Join Three on any pay monthly phone or SIM only plan and you'll get access to the free worldwide roaming scheme called Go Roam (read our detailed review of it here).

This lets you use your plan's UK minutes, texts and data for no extra cost in these 71 countries worldwide. That's 23 extra on top of the standard EU countries every network, including Virgin, now have to include.

When you consider charges for roaming in places like the USA on some networks hit £5 per MB, you can see how getting it free quickly adds up in value, if you travel a lot.

Three have also just made their roaming even better by adding free travel upgrades with easyJet too, which we cover later on this article.

Useful link: Full details on Three's free roaming scheme at Three.co.uk

Virgin Mobile’s free roaming covers only the standard EU countries

Virgin Mobile free EU roaming banner

See all free countries

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Like we say, every mobile provider has to let you use your regular UK minutes, texts and data while abroad in the EU for no extra cost on pay monthly (read more in our roaming guide here).

Virgin Mobile don’t go beyond this basic requirement. 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 to check you’re satisfied paying extra.

Virgin do include a cap on roaming spending with all deals to avoid you ever accidentally running up a huge bill, which provides some reassurance.

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

Our verdict on inclusive roaming:

A win for Three

"Three are still the champions of free worldwide roaming in our eyes. Other networks like Virgin Mobile including only EU countries in their deals are still behind the curve. An easy win for Three here."

Compare pricing and deals

Other benefits you get on Three but not on Virgin Mobile

Here are the key benefits you'd miss if you joined Virgin instead of Three

Three better than Virgin Mobile

Free travel upgrades on easyJet for Three's pay monthly customers

easyJet travel upgrades on Three

Get easyJet upgrades

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

We already rate Three well for their Go Roam scheme, and now they've added a nice little extra touch that will help anyone, who flies with easyJet from the UK:

Every pay monthly customer on Three (SIM only or phone contract) is entitled to a free upgrade to easyJet's Hands Free service, whenever they travel from a UK airport.

The service, which normally costs £7 per journey, lets you ditch your hand luggage at a check-in desk, go through security with no luggage and board the plane before most other passengers (if you want). Once you arrive, your luggage is first off the carousel.

It's a benefit totally unique to any other mobile provider, including Virgin. If you're a regular flier with easyJet, it could make your life a little more pleasant.

Useful link: Full offer terms and how to get your upgrades at Three.co.uk

Daily special offers and freebies with Three's Wuntu app

Wuntu Rewards scheme

See types of offers

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

You might be familiar with O2 Priority, the exclusive scheme for O2 customers that gets them daily rewards, offers and experiences. Well now Three have a version of their own called Wuntu.

It works for pay monthly and pay as you go customers. All you have to do is download the app and it keeps you up to date with what special offers they have available (it's almost like Groupon if you've used that before).

The offers tend to be discounts off online and high street shopping, cinema tickets etc. The kind of small purchases you make every now and then. There are some limited-number total freebies on things like coffees and pizzas too.

You'll have decide whether Wuntu is something you'd actually use on Three and if it's something you think would make you choose them over Virgin, who have nothing similar to offer their mobile customers.

Useful link: See the types of offers you get on Wuntu at Three.co.uk

Other benefits you get on Virgin Mobile but not on Three

And now here's what you'd miss out on by joining Three instead of Virgin

Virgin Mobile better than Three

Virgin Mobile let you keep unused data each month

Virgin Mobile data rollover scheme

Keep unused data

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 Mobile (and a few other networks we rank here) have come up with a solution that gets rid of part of the annoyance of not using up all the data that you've paid for in your plan:

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.

This is something that Three don't offer (their sub-network SMARTY does pay you back money for unused data though), so if you're sensitive about your data usage and wastage, Virgin could be a better choice than Three.

Useful link: Everything you need to know about data rollover from the Virgin Mobile website

Virgin Mobile include free internet security software

Virgin Mobile

Everything it covers

in Virgin's guide at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

It's not unusual for mobile providers to throw in the occasional free subscription to increase the overall value of your mobile package. And that's Virgin Mobile have done with their partnership with F-Secure:

Every Virgin Mobile customer, whethe on a phone contract or SIM only, gets a free 12-month trial of the SAFE internet security software. And it's a genuine freebie, you don't have to set up a paid subscription for later.

F-Secure SAFE itself is an all-round digital security package. It includes things like protection for lost or stolen devices, anti-virus software and child-safe browsing (see a full list of features here on the Virgin Mobile website).

For us, this is one of those "why not?" extras you get with a mobile deal. It ties in well with protecting your mobile device and it's free, even if they might try flog it to you later for a charge.

Useful link: How you add free internet security at virginmedia.com

Our verdict on this topic:

Narrow win for Three

"On balance, we'd say the value of Three's extras is greater in terms of raw pounds and pence. But it really comes down to taste and what you'd find more useful. Virgin's added benefits aren't to be sniffed at."

Compare pricing and deals

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

Choose what you want in your deal:

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Current offers on Virgin Mobile and Three

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

Virgin and Three logos with a special offer label

Virgin Mobile's Black Friday deals

Virgin Mobile Black Friday banner

See these deals

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Order by 2nd December to get this excellent Black Friday SIM only offer from Virgin Mobile:

Or get our hidden 12GB for £12 offer on this link. For a bigger data appetite grab the very competitive 50GB for £19 a month SIM only option.

Virgin's Black Friday deals on smartphone contracts have some decent discounts and valuable gifts:

 Huawei P30 Lite and Nintendo Switch from £23 £20 a month

 iPhone XR from £27 £24 a month (save £108)

Useful link: See all Virgin's Black Friday offers on one page at virginmedia.com

Black Friday offers on Three

Three Black Friday offers

See phone deals

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

Three have launched their Black Friday offers, which sees the return of their popular unlimited data SIM for £20:

For less data, see their hidden 4GB 8GB for £13 £8 and 12GB for £16 £12 offers, which offer more data for less money than what's advertised directly at Three.

If it's a phone contract you're after, now's an excellent time to buy on Three. There's savings on all the phones on their dedicated Black Friday page here.

Useful links: See all latest Three offers

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 let you upgrade or leave their network early

Virgin Mobile Freestyle Contracts

How to upgrade early

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

There are a few things to watch with Virgin Mobile: many of their advertised deals are 36-month contracts (a full extra year than normal), so a lower monthly rate can add up to more in total.

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

This does have some benefits though. You’re able to upgrade early or leave Virgin Mobile with 30 days’ notice by paying off your credit agreement in full whenever you like (cheaper than old-fashioned exit fees).

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)

We'd describe Three's phone contracts as being 'conventional mobile contracts' because they all last 24 months, and there's no loans or credit agreements to get involved with, and no early upgrades either.

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 select the phone you want, the minutes, texts and data, you need and it shows you how each mobile provider stacks up in terms of price.

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 at simsherpa.com

Our verdict on phone contract pricing

Virgin usually cheaper

"On 24-month contracts, Virgin Mobile are just about cheaper than Three, although a lot will depend on the phone and plan you choose. There are no upfront costs on Virgin, which could swing it for some."

Compare phone contracts

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

You'd use a free subscription to F-Secure Safe device security software

You like the idea of being able to change your SIM only or phone plan once a month, so you never overpay

Reasons to join Three

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

You want to roam for no extra cost in the most destinations as standard

You want unlimited streaming on loads of apps (12GB+ plans only)

You want WiFi calling and 4G calling that Virgin don't have (check phone compatibility here)

You'd use the daily offers on their Wuntu app and the free easyJet upgrades offer

Remember these current offers

Virgin's Black Friday offers

Virgin Mobile sale SIMs banner

Order by 2nd December to get these huge deals:

10GB for £10 a month

12GB for £12 a month

50GB for £19 a month

See Virgin Mobile's full offers page > (opens in new tab)

Black Friday on Three

Three's Black Friday unlimited data deal

It's Black Friday time on Three and they've brought back their unlimited data for £20 offer:

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

On phones, there are discounts up to £480 on these selected models.

See our hidden Three offers > (opens in new tab)

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 Vodafone

Three vs Vodafone

Read our Three vs Vodafone 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

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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