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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 Mobile now use Vodafone’s network (they used to use EE), meaning they get access to one of the most widespread networks for call signal (2G/3G) and for 4G data signal (see 5G further down).

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.

You’ll also stay connected to 4G more often on Virgin if you’re out in the countryside. In urban areas there’s little difference between the networks for both call signal and 4G data.

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 in far more UK towns and cities on Three

Three's 5G locations map

See latest places

at Three.co.uk
(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. While both are expanding their networks rapidly, it seems Three is coming out ahead of Virgin.

Three cover 300+ UK towns and cities while Virgin cover a comparatively low 120+ towns and cities. But, 5G is still only on a street by street basis. So how well do each network cover their declared locations?

On both networks you’ll only really get 5G in the busier, more populated areas. This includes train stations and other transport hubs as well as stadiums and high streets. Neither network is great at covering whole towns and cities.

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

"Virgin have the better blend of coverage overall. You’re more likely to stay connected on the go with them than Three, but the differences disappear in urban areas. Which is better for 5G will depend on your location."

Compare pricing and deals

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

4G speeds are almost neck and neck between them

Virgin don't let anything slow you down banner

Read why

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Both Virgin and Three sit in the middle for fastest 4G speeds. They’re not the fastest, nor the slowest. We use the results of independent network tester Opensignal who take millions of measurements from volunteer phones.

They measure Three’s speeds at around 25.2 Mbps and Virgin’s hosts Vodafone at around 21.6 Mbps. But these are only averages and don’t give you the whole picture.

Since there’s no speed caps on Virgin, we can say you get the same peak speeds of around 80 Mbps in city centres and lows of 6 Mbps in rural areas as we got in our tests. Three got peaks of 44 Mbps and lows of around 10 Mbps.

So from our experience 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

Three are racing ahead for 5G speeds

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.

Speeds on Three fall between 103.9 Mbps to a blistering 246.65 Mbps vs speeds on Virgin’s host network of 73.3 Mbps to 159.40 Mbps. Both have a lot of variation in results, so we think it’s dependent on your location.

Both are revolutionary compared to 4G and will allow more advanced features to be developed for phones that weren't previously possible. But if you want bragging rights, Three are probably the current best bet.

The reason Three currently have the advantage is that they've secured more radio spectrum in the same more-optimal wavelengths to broadcast their 5G on. It's paying off now but as more spectrum gets sold, Three may not have a permanent advantage.

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

Our verdict on data speeds:

Minor win for Virgin Mobile

"Three get you faster average 4G speeds and blistering fast 5G. It will depend where you live, however. Some areas might not have 5G and Virgin tends to have faster 4G speeds in city centres. But Three are generally faster over all your usage."

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'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."

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 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."

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 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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Added features

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

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

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."

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 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