There’s a lot to consider when picking a 4G mobile network- coverage, speed, value and more besides and none of it really matters if you don’t get a signal where you live or work.
So before jumping in with a network it’s best to weigh up all the pros and cons and we’ve just made that a whole lot easier, by laying them out for you, highlighting which is the best network across a number of categories.
|Network||4G / 3G Coverage (% of UK Population)||Check Coverage|
|EE||95% / 98%|
|Three||63% / 98%|
|O2||70% / 97%|
|Vodafone||85% / 89%|
Not all of the networks give regular updates as to exactly how much 4G coverage they have, but EE does and it’s clear why, as the network is racing ahead with over 95% of the UK population now receiving a 4G signal.
The last time they provided an update Vodafone claimed to have brought 4G to over 85% of UK premises, while O2 reported over 70% population coverage and Three sat in last place with over 63% of the UK population able to get 4G on its network.
Those figures might be a little more out of date than EE’s, but it’s clear that none of them are going to have caught up with the network leader. The good news though is that all of the networks are expanding their networks rapidly, so expect the gap to close over time. But if coverage is key for you then EE is the best network right now.
Standard 4G is around five times faster than 3G and all the networks offer that, but some go above and beyond with faster services such as LTE-A.
In most tests, including recent ones by RootMetrics and SpeedTest, EE has been found to have the highest average speeds in cities UK-wide. That’s not really surprising, especially when you consider that it offers a double-speed service of up to 60Mbps in many locations and even LTE-Advanced (marketed as 4G+) in London, as well as pockets of it in other major cities.
Speedtest – Fastest Mobile Network 2015
|Network||Download/Upload Speeds (Mbps)||Check Speeds In Your Area|
Ofcom- 4G performance across networks, Q4 2014
|Network||Download/Upload Speeds (Mbps)||Latency (ms)|
Vodafone also has an LTE-A service and it’s available in London, Manchester and Birmingham, however in most RootMetrics test results Vodafone doesn't perform as well as EE, so if you don’t live somewhere with LTE-A it’s not the best choice for speed.
O2 and Three each only offer standard 4G speeds right now, but both typically outperform Vodafone and Three's 4G service recently got a speed boost. It's still standard 4G, but a 50 percent faster version of it. All the networks are fast on 4G, but right now EE is the best network for speed.
As the only major UK mobile network to offer unlimited data Three is clearly the best network for data limits. O2 steals second place with plans of up to 30GB, Vodafone comes in third with plans of up to 25GB, and EE trails in last place with a maximum of 20GB of monthly data.
Three might offer the most data but it offers the least for tethering, allowing you to use no more than 12GB of your allowance for a personal hotspot.
EE, O2 and Vodafone each allow you to use as much of your data allowance as you want, which gives O2 the upper hand, as you can get up to 30GB of data each month. Vodafone and EE deserve a shout-out though for allowing pay as you go customers to tether too, which O2 and Three don't. Still, for most users O2 will be the best network for tethering.
Currently only Three offers VoLTE, with the service dubbed 4G Super-Voice. It's not yet available to the entire UK population or on every handset, but its availability is growing.
It's a big coup for the company too, as it allows you to make calls over a 4G network, which in turn allows you to use your phone in more places and also offers superior audio quality. For now then, Three is the best network for VoLTE.
At the moment it looks like EE or Vodafone might be the next network with a live VoLTE service. As the two companies had previously announced that they were aiming to launch VoLTE services in 2015. They've missed that target, but hopefully they're not far off a launch.
O2’s VoLTE service looks like it will be the last to arrive, but it too is working on it, with plans to bring VoLTE to customers sometime in 2016.
While all of the major UK mobile networks have business tariffs and services it’s EE which seems to be marketing itself the most at businesses, with initiatives like MobileIron Cloud, a suite of business apps and its flexible Business Connect plan.
Ultimately though the real reason EE wins out as the best network for business use is its coverage, which we’ve rated elsewhere but which is even more vital for business users, who rely on 4G to work wherever they are.
Each of the networks has its own ways to try and draw in customers and some rely heavily on extras above and beyond your phone contract. Vodafone has some of the most appealing extras, with Spotify Premium, Now TV, Netflix or Sky Sports Mobile TV subscriptions included on a variety of its plans.
Given that many people have and can make use of music, TV or sports subscriptions at least one of those is bound to be a great extra for almost anyone. Vodafone also offers a WiFi Calling service, which is useful when there's no signal.
Three takes a different but equally valid approach, by letting you do more with your phone contract through free 0800 calls and more importantly free roaming in 18 international destinations.
EE takes a similar approach to Vodafone when it comes to extras. The network has launched WiFi Calling, allowing you to make and receive calls over WiFi, so you can do more with your phone, but it also gives users access to EE Film Club, which lets you stream a film each week for £1. EE users also get priority tickets to gigs and matches at Wembley Stadium.
O2’s extras include various exclusive deals, offers and early ticket sales through O2 Priority, as well as access to a selection of leading Channel 4 shows 48 hours early. They’re some nice extras, but we’d give Vodafone, EE and Three the edge. For now they're tied as the best network for extras.