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Best 4G Network – UK Networks Compared

23rd July 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 Coverage (% of UK Population)

Check Coverage

EE

>99% / 98%

EE-Coverage-compressor

Three

99.8% / 98.5%

O2

99% / 99%

Vodafone

98% / 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 it 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, April 2018

Network 4G download Speeds (Mbps) Latency (ms)
EE 29.02 40.35
Three 22.55 47.23
Vodafone 20.07 40.6
O2 15.16 42.84

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.

O2 and Three each only offer standard 4G speeds right now, but Three often outperforms both O2 and Vodafone, though its latency could be better. 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 12GB

Vodafone

60GB 60GB

O2

50GB

50GB

EE

60GB

15GB

As the only major UK mobile network to offer unlimited data, Three is clearly the best network for data limits. EE and Vodafone tie for second place with plans offering up to 60GB, while O2 is last, topping out at a still-high 50GB. 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

60GB

40GB

5GB

Vodafone

60GB

40GB

24GB

O2

50GB

40GB

20GB

Three

30GB

30GB

30GB

Three might offer the most data but it offers the least for tethering, allowing you to use no more than 30GB 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 EE and Vodafone the lead, as you can get up to 60GB of data each month, followed by O2 with 50GB.

  • Winner: EE and Vodafone

VoLTE

VoLTE

EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 all now 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 and Huawei handsets, making it slightly more restrictive than EE's or Three's implementation.

O2 also calls its VoLTE service 4G Calling, but there are many locations which don’t currently have the service. Indeed, it looks to be the least widely available of any network’s VoLTE service, though it’s hard to be sure, as O2 doesn’t offer a complete VoLTE coverage map or figures. It's also only available on a handful of Apple, Samsung, Sony, HTC and OnePlus handsets.

All of which means that EE and Three should currently be the best for VoLTE while O2 is currently the worst.

  • 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 letting you roam beyond the EU at no extra cost, get access to freebies and discounts through its Wuntu app and 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. They’re some nice extras, but we’d give Vodafone and Three the edge. For now they're tied as the best network for extras.

  • Winner: Three and Vodafone

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