The UK big 4 Networks
The best phone network for you in the UK
Which phone network is the best in the UK? BT, EE, Giffgaff, O2, Sky, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin and Vodafone compared.
Choosing a smartphone or tablet is just the start. In this world of constant connectivity, the quality and speed of your chosen network is critical to your ability to work and play on the move. But which mobile network is best? While there’s no simple answer, we try our best to help you decide which network will work for you.
Connectivity can vary from locale to locale, and day to day. Visit the websites of all the major players and they will tell you that they have great coverage, everywhere. The truth is more nuanced.
Interestingly, according to StatCounter, October 2016 was the first time that more people accessed the internet on a mobile phone or tablet than they did on a desktop or laptop PC.
It recorded 51.2 percent mobile against 48.7 percent desktop, and that’s grown to 52.73% on mobile in December 2018, making it all the more important that you choose the best mobile network.
If you’ve already got a contract and are considering buying a new phone or switching to a different network, here’s how to find out how long is left on your contract, and then how to upgrade your contract early.
It’s important to make sure you know when your contract ends in order to ensure that you are not being over charged.
What’s the best phone network in the UK?
First, let’s have a look at the options. There actually only four mobile networks in the UK, but there are several additional options that use branded services that piggyback the big four. The latter are actually ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operators’ (MVNO) and don’t have their own network space. We explain more about piggyback networks here.
The big four are:
EE has the most piggybackers, including ASDA Mobile, BT Mobile, Plusnet and Virgin Mobile.
O2’s piggybackers include Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile.
Three’s include iD Mobile while Vodafone’s include Talk Mobile.
It’s worth keeping this in mind when considering which provider you’d like to use, as coverage for the network you use may differ depending on where you are in the UK. You can use Ofcom’s coverage checker to find out.
The problem with having just four networks is that, if one of those four suffers any sort of service outage, the chances areall of its piggybackers will too. For example, in December O2 customers and customers of all of the O2 piggybackers went without any 4G for an entire day, causing chaos across the UK.
Below we take a quick look at each operator and what they offer right now. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order.We’ve included information from Which’s latest annual mobile customer service satisfaction survey, which was published on 24 April 2018 and involved 3,863 members of the public.
The survey revealed that, of the UK’s providers for consumer deals, Vodafone was rated the worst, while the likes of Utility Warehouse and Giffgaff topped the list.
According to a study by RootMetrics, EE is the provider of the best mobile coverage across the UK. If you’re in England or Wales, Vodafone is the second-best option, while Northern Ireland and Scotland’s runner up is O2.
- EE piggybacker
- Good for BT Broadband customers
- Find out more at BT.com
BT is one of the newer players in the market, using its branded services on EE’s UK network. It’s a good option if you already have BT Broadband as you can apply for a £5 monthly discount on a contract with a handset.
It also offers SIM-only plans for pretty decent prices. As it’s on EE’s network (which itself is a combination of the old UK networks T-Mobile and Orange) you’re likely to get excellent coverage and good download speeds.
- One of the big four
- Good coverage across most of the UK
- Data caps
- Benefits for EE Home Broadband customers
- Find out more at EE.co.uk
EE is becoming a bit of a behemoth in the UK mobile market. It was bought by BT in 2016, but that won’t really affect your choice of network. EE’s network is comprised of the old T-Mobile and Orange frequencies, so there’s a lot of coverage nationally, with few blackspots.
Its phone contract prices can be a tad pricey, but for sheer confidence in coverage (and a big brand name to boot) it’s a solid choice.
You’ll get free EU roaming, there are data caps available, and if you get EE Home Broadband you can get a mobile data boost of up to 20GB per month.
- One of the big four
O2 is a brand that has been around since 2002 in the UK and has been owned by Telefonica since 2005. Recently rival operator Three attempted to merge with O2 but the European Commission opted to block the move (this was in the wake of the BT and EE sale).
Despite this, O2 is one of the most well-known operators around. Its prices are high compared to some competitors but coverage is excellent and its pay as you go range is one of the best in the country.
- One of the big four but don’t service business contracts
- All you can eat data available
- Go Roam and Go Binge data features
- Find out more at Three.co.uk
Three offers reasonably priced ‘all you can eat’ data bundles. That’s right, unlimited data. If you can afford it, you can get the best handsets in the land with unlimited internet access.
Plus, even if you don’t choose an all you can eat package, you’ll be able to stream shows from Netflix, TVPlayer, Dave and History Channel, and songs from Deezer, Apple Music and SoundCloud infinitely without it counting towards your data allowance with the Go Binge feature.
Plus, its Go Roam Around the World adds more than 20 worldwide countries to the usual European destinations that let you roam for free.
Pay as you go rates are also pretty decent if you don’t need as much data, minutes or texts.
- One of the big four
- Data caps
- Vodafone Global Roaming
- Big data plans available
- Find out more at Vodafone.co.uk
Vodafone is a staple brand in the UK mobile market, and its coverage is excellent, but it has suffered from reports of bad customer service over the past few years.
However, the actual network itself provides reliable fast 4G data connections and the SIM-only deals are well priced.
It also offers Global Roaming, which lets you use your normal data plan at no extra cost in 152 destinations on most plans.