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Best 4G Network – UK Networks Compared

10th December 2018

Mobile masts

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 Coverage

Network Coverage

Network

4G / 3G Population Coverage

Check Coverage

EE

>99% / 98%

EE-Coverage-compressor

Three

99.8% / 98.3%

O2

99% / 99%

Vodafone

99% / 99%

Vodafone-Coverage-compressor

For a long time EE was well in the lead when it came to 4G coverage, but as you can see in the chart above all of the networks now have almost complete population coverage.

It’s hard to say for sure which networks are doing best here, as they don’t update their figures at the same time, so some will be more dated than others, but the good news is that whatever network you’re on there should be widespread 4G coverage.

However, we suspect that EE still has the greatest coverage overall, since it’s unlikely that it will have totally lost its lead. Its population coverage may be similar to rivals but its geographic coverage is probably greater.

  • Winner: EE

Network Speeds

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 ones by OpenSignal 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 – Mobile speedtest data Q3-Q4 2017

Network

Download/Upload Speeds (Mbps)

EE

28.80/9.29

Vodafone

17.26/8.16

Three

14.58/7.35

O2

14.11/7.13

OpenSignal – Mobile Networks Update, October 2018

Network 4G download Speeds (Mbps) Latency (ms)
EE 28.9 39.77
Three 18.78 48.15
Vodafone 21.92 40.78
O2 14.61 42.38

Vodafone also has an LTE-A service and it’s available in London, Manchester and Birmingham, however in most 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.

Three too has a 4G+ service and it’s available in parts of major cities such as London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow, but as with Vodafone, its speeds overall don’t match EE’s in most tests.

O2 meanwhile only offers standard 4G speeds right now. Ultimately all the networks are fast on 4G, but right now EE is the best network for speed.

  • Winner: EE

Data limits

UK Networks Maximum Data Allowances

Operator

Max data

Roaming

Three

Unlimited 15GB

Vodafone

100GB 100GB

O2

100GB

100GB

EE

100GB

15GB

As the only major UK mobile network to offer unlimited data, Three is clearly the best network for data limits. EE, O2 and Vodafone all tie for second place, with plans offering up to 100GB of data. Things are different when you look at roaming, since Three and EE both limit how much of your data you can use abroad, but for UK use Three is the winner.

  • Winner: Three

Tethering

Network Tethering Allowances

Network

Pay Monthly

SIM Only

Pay As You Go

EE

100GB

30GB

16GB

Vodafone

100GB

45GB

20GB

O2

100GB

60GB

20GB

Three

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Three offers the most data and it also offers the most tethering allowance as you can use all or any of your data for tethering. That means you'll enjoy unlimited tethering with unlimited data plans. Though note that you can only tether at all on Three’s Advanced plans.

EE, O2 and Vodafone also allow you to use as much of your data allowance as you want, which means they all top out at 100GB.

  • Winner: Three

VoLTE

VoLTE

EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 all offer a VoLTE service, which lets you make calls over a 4G network, which in turn allows you to use your phone in more places and also offers superior audio quality.

Three was the first to launch a VoLTE service, and dubbed it 4G Super-Voice. It's available across most of the UK and while you can’t yet use it on every handset, its availability is growing.

EE's VoLTE service is called 4G Calling and is available everywhere that you can get an EE signal, though as with Three it's not available on every handset.

Vodafone's service is also called 4G Calling, and is quite widely available but not yet available nationwide. It's also only available on a handful of Sony, Samsung, Apple, Vodafone and Huawei handsets, making it slightly more restrictive than EE's or Three's implementation.

O2 also calls its VoLTE service 4G Calling, and is with Vodafone its selection of compatible handsets is somewhat limited.

All of which means that EE and Three should currently be the best for VoLTE, but there shouldn’t be too much to choose as long as the network you’re considering supports your handset.

  • Winner: EE and Three

Business

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.

However, Vodafone and O2 come close to offering the range of options that EE does, while Three takes the opposite approach with its Simply Business plans – a trio of simple, straightforward plans for SMEs.

So this category is close. Ultimately though the real reason EE edges the win 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.

  • Winner: EE

Added extras

EE_Film_Club_girl

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 Entertainment, Amazon Prime Video 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.

Three takes a different but equally valid approach, by giving you access to freebies and discounts through its Wuntu app and letting you stream content from Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer, TVPlayer, Snapchat and SoundCloud without it coming out of your data allowance on certain plans.

EE is lighter on extras, but you can get a free subscription to BT Sport with your plan. 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 over 15,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK, and on select plans you can get a subscription to Netflix thrown in.

All of these networks offer some nice extras then, but we’d give Vodafone the edge. 

  • Winner: Vodafone

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