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Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone: differences between the networks

Virgin Mobile and Vodafone logos

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What's the same and what's different when you join Virgin Mobile or Vodafone? We look at their coverage, speeds and benefits to find out. Last updated: 24th March 2021

In our Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone guide

Latest offer news

Comparing their networks

Coverage on Vodafone vs Virgin Mobile

Is one better than the other for signal?

Virgin Mobile and Vodafone logos with signal bars

They do and don’t use the same networks!

Vodafone best ever network banner

Read why

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

While Vodafone is its own network, Virgin Mobile are in the middle of switching which network their customers use - from EE to Vodafone. But new customers can still join on either!

If you join Virgin on SIM only or a 5G-ready phone contract, you’ll be using the Vodafone network. So there will be no coverage differences. And you’ll have 2G/3G/4G/5G in all the same places as Vodafone directly.

The only difference is if you’re joining on a non-5G phone contract. For the time being, you’ll use the EE network. This has a slight advantage over Vodafone for the amount of the physical country that gets 4G.

And we’d say Vodafone are better than EE for basic calls and texts around the country and indoors. Virgin Media are also in the process of buying O2, so a future network move could also be on the cards later.

Useful link: How Vodafone have improved their network

You can get 5G on both via the same Vodafone network

5G data on Virgin Mobile

Read their 5G guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Both Virgin Mobile and Vodafone have 5G available for new customers on both phone contracts and SIM only (although Vodafone do still sell some SIM only deals as 4G-only, so check the details).

Virgin Mobile’s 5G is delivered through the Vodafone network. So if you’re somewhere that has 5G on Vodafone, you’re somewhere that has it on Virgin Mobile too (check street-by-street coverage here).

In theory, Vodafone are actually slightly behind other networks for the number of locations (100+) they serve 5G data in (but we’d say some other providers are over-declaring when they’ve only got a small part covered).

We think the pace of Vodafone’s 5G rollout is going fast enough that they’ll catch others up during the course of your contract. There’s a space race on between providers to have 5G in the most places.

Useful link: Getting 5G data on Virgin Mobile

Official network maps on Virgin and Vodafone

Don’t just check at home but everywhere you’ll use your phone

Virgin Mobile signal map

Three coverage checker

Check Virgin coverage

with their coverage checker
(opens in new window)

Vodafone signal map

Virgin Mobile coverage checker

Check Vodafone coverage

with their coverage checker
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Generally identical

“Virgin’s flip-flopping between networks complicates things a little but for the majority of new customers, Virgin using Vodafone’s network means there will be no reception differences”

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds on Vodafone vs Virgin Mobile

Is Virgin Mobile’s 4G/5G faster or slower than Vodafone’s?

Vodafone and Virgin Mobile logos with a speedometer

We expect 5G/4G to be the same on both for speed

Virgin don't let anything slow you down banner

See data improvements

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

This is another area complicated by Virgin’s network move. On the basis you join Virgin Mobile on a SIM only plan or 5G-ready contract, we don’t expect there to be any difference between speeds to Vodafone.

Only if you join on a non-4G phone contract (and therefore use EE’s network) will you get faster 4G on average with Virgin than Vodafone (32.99 - 35.9 Mbps vs 21.15 - 25.1 Mbps). There is currently a cap vs EE but we don’t expect one vs Vodafone.

Over 4G, that means typical downloads on both providers between 21.15 - 25.1 Mbps. That’s home broadband fast and is the joint second-best in the UK. It’ll support even demanding things like HD video streaming without fuss.

And we’ve personally measured Vodafone’s to hit 120 Mbps in city centres or even in the late hundreds in rare exceptions. Although in rural areas, you can expect lower than the average too.

Useful link: 5G vs 4G on Vodafone

Our verdict on data speeds

Generally identical

“There’s no mention of a speed cap between being on Virgin Mobile vs being on Vodafone directly and we will be confirming this in real-life tests shortly too”

Compare pricing and deals

WiFi calling on Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone

Which has the best scheme?

Virgin and Vodafone logos and WiFi calling symbol

Vodafone’s WiFi calling is better on balance

WiFi calling explained

Check supported phones

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

The calls and texts signal frequencies Vodafone use are naturally good at getting into buildings but they might still need a hand. Vodafone have WiFi calling, which lets your phone make calls via WiFi where mobile signal’s poor.

You’ll need to join on a pay monthly SIM only or phone contract to get the feature. You don’t get it with their low-cost Basics plans. And you don’t get WiFi calling on pay as you go either on Vodafone.

In our experience testing Vodafone, the WiFi calling works well, as long as your phone is on their supported list here. Unlisted, older models genuinely don’t work. You’ll soon be able to send/receive texts via WiFi too.

Generally, we’d say joining a main network like Vodafone means these kind of features are more “settled”. They’ve had them a long time and the support is good. It’s less the case on Virgin.

Useful link: Vodafone’s guide to 4G calling

Virgin Mobile’s WiFi calling is more hit and miss

Virgin Mobile WiFi calling

Check supported phones

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Despite using the Vodafone network. Virgin Mobile actually have their own separate technology to deliver their WiFi calling feature. And we’d say it’s less developed and settled than Vodafone’s.

The list of supported devices is shorter. And we have previously found in tests that calls would drop if you moved away from the WiFi signal mid-call (this should be sorted now 4G calling is also available).

If it works for you, the feature is good enough. Although we have found the recipient of calls complain about sound quality from time-to-time. Virgin say theirs supports SMS texts but we were only able to send, not receive.

You get WiFi calling on every plan with Virgin though, which puts it at an advantage over Vodafone. And if your phone’s supported, it’s supported. So you bank the feature and generally better pricing on Virgin.

Useful links: Virgin’s guide to their WiFi calling

Our verdict on WiFi calling

Minor win for Vodafone

“Although both networks offer WiFi calling as a feature, we just think Vodafone’s is a little slicker in terms of the phones it supports and the functionality in general”

Compare pricing and deals

Free hotspots on Vodafone vs Virgin Mobile

How do their free WiFi schemes compare?

Virgin and Vodafone logos with coffee cup WiFi logo

Virgin Mobile tap into the Virgin Media hotspot network

Three's Go Binge promotional banner

See locations and app

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Even though mobile coverage nowadays is excellent for data, we still think people will find it useful to get free WiFi hotspots included with their mobile deal (read our full guide here). It can help you save your data.

And Virgin Mobile are one of our top picks for this. As a customer, you’ll get access to many millions of free and unlimited WiFi hotspots. Download the Virgin Media Connect app and it’ll auto-recognise your SIM card.

The free WiFi is available on the high street, at transport hubs and on London’s TFL network. But you can also use it in residential areas, where there’s Virgin Media broadband, using home routers on a private separate connection.

We personally had a few problems with getting the app to log us in automatically at some hotspots when we’ve tested this service. But when you do get in, it’s a nice life saver if you’re running low on data.

Useful link: Virgin’s full guide to their free hotspots

Vodafone only offer free WiFi on London’s TFL network

Vodafone TFL free WiFi

How to connect

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

There’s nothing to match Virgin’s millions of hotspots when you join Vodafone. The closest thing is free unlimited WiFi on London’s TFL network (which is actually provided via Virgin Media anyway).

Every plan comes with it, whether you pay monthly or pay as you go. And you only have to log in once. After that, your phone will be remembered whenever you’re in range again.

Despite now offering broadband, Vodafone don’t yet have a system like Virgin’s where you can use a separate private connection that runs off their home routers.

So overall, there’s nothing you get on Vodafone in terms of free WiFi that you don’t get on Virgin.

Useful link: Vodafone’s full guide to free WiFi

Our verdict on free hotspots

Clear win for Virgin Mobile

“Both offer free WiFi on the Underground. But Virgin blow Vodafone out of the water with their millions of hotspots using their broadband and public WiFi networks.”

Compare pricing and deals

Comparing their benefits

Roaming on Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone

Which is best for taking your phone abroad?

Virgin and Vodafone logos with a globe

Vodafone offer 5G roaming and inclusive worldwide destinations

Vodafone most destinations banner

Read full guide

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

For the most part, roaming on Vodafone is like all other networks. You get inclusive EU roaming (your usage comes from your normal UK allowances) and roaming elsewhere is chargeable. You get 4G/5G wherever available too.

But a small number of more-premium plans bump up the number of inclusive roaming countries to 81 worldwide (see the latest list of destinations here). Vodafone call this Global Roaming Plus.

If you don’t have this, then roaming outside the EU can get pretty pricey on Vodafone. To use your normal allowances in the USA for instance costs £6 a day, which would add up fast on a two-week holiday.

Be careful if you’re joining on a low-cost Vodafone Basics SIM though. With these, there’s no roaming at all. We don’t mean no free roaming. Your SIM card literally won’t work abroad, apart from emergency calls.

Useful link: All roaming costs on Vodafone

Virgin Mobile’s roaming is only really for EU

Virgin Mobile roaming banner

See all costs

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

You’ll get 4G data wherever available on Virgin Mobile too when you’re roaming. But their only inclusive countries where you won’t pay any extra to use your allowances are within the EU. There’s nothing worldwide.

And even when you’re in the EU, there’s a fiddly fair usage policy that dictates how much data you can use there, depending on the cost of your plan. It won’t affect most people but it’s annoying to have to think about.

Outside the EU, Virgin Mobile basically becomes unusably expensive. In America for instance, it’s £2 per minute to call and £5 per MB data. That’s a mere £5000 per GB (there’s a cap to stop this happening).

If you only ever go on short trips to Europe, you’ll be absolutely fine on Virgin Mobile. They’re not really suitable for global jetsetters though, if you want to be able to use your normal SIM while away.

Useful link: All roaming costs on Virgin Mobile

Our verdict on roaming

Win for Vodafone

“For the majority of plans, there’s little difference between EU-only roaming on both. But at least Vodafone have a premium option that unlocks way more worldwide countries to visit with paying for usage.”

Compare pricing and deals

Better benefits on Virgin Mobile

What do you get on Virgin that you don’t on Vodafone?

Virgin Mobile better than Vodafone

Keep unused data for a month on Virgin Mobile

Screenshot of Virgin’s data rollover

How it works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile are one of the few networks offering data rollover. This is when any unused data gets added to your next month’s data allowance, giving you another chance to use what you’ve paid for.

Vodafone do offer this on pay as you go. Their pay monthly plans don’t include the benefit. So on Vodafone, if you don’t get through your allowance, it’s too bad, it’s gone for good.

On Virgin, it’s only a month you get to keep it for. That’s pretty standard. Although Sky Mobile let you keep unused data for 3 years, share it with others and even trade it in for money off new phones (read more here).

We’ve tried it ourselves and it all works automatically as expected. It’s good how your rolled-over data gets used first too, so you’re more likely to roll other data over the next month too. You can change plans if this keeps happening.

Useful link: Virgin’s help guide to data rollover

Free social media data on every Virgin plan too

Virgin free social media data

Full details and terms

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

One benefit some networks offer is free data for streaming or social media. Virgin Mobile are one of them. They offer data-free messaging via Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter.

It means whenever you use those services via the app or their website over a mobile connection, the data used won’t come out of your regular mobile data allowance. It’s effectively unlimited data for it.

It only covers messaging. Video calls and audio calls still come out of your data. We think most people will only save less than 1GB with the benefit. But it’s still a nice little extra you don’t get on Vodafone.

The closest you can get to this on Vodafone is by joining their sub-brand VOXI. They include unlimited social media (not just messaging) on every plan, plus unlimited video streaming on some deals too.

Useful link: More details on Virgin Mobile’s scheme

Better benefits on Vodafone

What things are better on Vodafone than Virgin?

Vodafone better than Virgin Mobile

Entertainment plans can save you a couple of pounds

Vodafone entertainment subscriptions

How to get yours

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

On Virgin Mobile, there’s no tie-in with the fact that their parent brand Virgin Media has loads of TV content. Vodafone do have a set of Entertainment plans, which include a streaming subscription of your choice.

The current choices are YouTube Premium, Spotify Premium or Amazon Prime. If you pick an Entertainment plan, Vodafone will include one of these for the length of your contract in your bill. You can use them on all devices.

We wouldn’t say they’re a freebie. The price of an Entertainment plan is always around £5-6 more than the same non-Entertainment one. But that could still save you a few pounds paying for them full price separately.

This would be a much better benefit if the data that the apps used on your phone didn’t come out of your data allowance. That would add more value. But it’s not currently the case.

Useful link: How to get started

Vodafone’s VeryMe Rewards will appeal to some

Vodafone VeryMe rewards

See types of offers

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

If you’ve ever heard of O2 Priority, Vodafone have their own version called VeryMe. It’s a rewards programme for existing customers, to thank you for your loyalty.

VeryMe is built into the decent My Vodafone app. It presents you with personalised offers on high street and online purchases, food and drink and exclusive freebies.

If you’re the type of person that likes Groupon and similar websites, we think you’ll like VeryMe. If you root around in there, you can find some nice offers.

Overall, we’d say take VeryMe as a nice sweetener on top. But we wouldn’t make it a deal breaker between the two networks.

Useful link: See examples of the rewards

Our verdict on added benefits

Minor win for Virgin Mobile

“Out of all the extra perks Virgin and Vodafone both offer, we suspect the one people will benefit from most daily will be Virgin’s data rollover. Although all the other extras have their merits”

Compare pricing and deals

Comparing their prices and deals

SIM only plans Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone

Which offers better value on pay monthly SIMs?

SIM card with Vodafone and Virgin Mobile logos

Networks

Providers:

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Tesco logo
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Added features

Special offers on Virgin Mobile and Vodafone

Here’s what promotions each have on this month

Virgin and Vodafone logos with a special offer label

Phone contracts on Virgin Mobile vs Vodafone

Which provider’s best for taking out a pay monthly phone deal?

Phone contracts on Vodafone and Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile phone contracts are cheap and flexible

Virgin Mobile Freestyle Contracts

Read help guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

If you’re after a way of keeping the monthly cost of your phone contract down (even if it means a longer contract), Virgin Mobile are good choice. They offer contracts with no upfront costs, spread over 36 months (24 months also available).

When you buy direct from Virgin, their contracts are based on finance (a loan for the cost of your phone). This gives you flexibility to pay the loan off early and upgrade before your contract is up or leave altogether.

We would say that the credit checking requirements on Virgin Mobile are quite tight as a result. They’re acting like a bank, lending you money. So any blip on your credit history can stop you being accepted.

But overall, phone contracts on Virgin generally work out cheaper than joining Vodafone (particularly directly) and you’ll get all the pay monthly benefits we describe further up this article.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

Different ways to join Vodafone for a phone contract

Our phone comparison tool screenshot

Compare phone contracts

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

If you want a phone contract from Vodafone, you don’t just have to sign up via vodafone.co.uk. They also sell via a big list of third party retailers, like Carphone Warehouse, Mobiles.co.uk, Fonehouse and more.

These source their own phones and then sell you onto a contract with Vodafone. Because they buy more phones themselves, they can get better prices, which they pass on to you as lower prices.

You get the same pay monthly benefits, whether you join Vodafone directly or via a retailer. So it’s definitely worth looking into. We compare joining Vodafone directly vs retailers here.

Vodafone’s phone contracts are more standard than Virgin’s. They’re all on 24-month terms and there’s no finance or early upgrade available (although they do have a trade-in service that we’re not that keen on).

Useful link: Compare phone contracts using our tool

Our verdict on phone contracts

Win for Virgin Mobile

“We think the flexibility you get with a Virgin Mobile phone contract could come in handy. And generally speaking, you’ll get lower prices on Virgin but do compare.”

Compare phone contracts

Other Vodafone guides

More guides about Virgin Mobile

Individual network reviews