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Best 4G Network

26th August 2020

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.

Table of Contents

Network Coverage

Network Coverage

Network

4G/3G Population Coverage

Check Coverage

EE

>99% / 98%

Three

99.8% / 98.7%

O2

99% / 99%

Vodafone

99% / 99%

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 4G 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.

Of course it was also the first to launch 5G and while that’s even harder to get a precise picture of in terms of coverage, it’s likely in the lead there too, closely followed by Three, and with Vodafone and O2 just behind.

  • 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, and that’s before we get to 5G, which we’ll cover further down.

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 all its 4G plans top out at a minimum of 60Mbps (which used to be labelled as double-speed) and that it even offers 90Mbps LTE-Advanced (marketed as 4G+) in some cities.

OpenSignal – Mobile Networks Update, April 2020

Network

4G download speeds (Mbps)

4G latency (ms)

EE

35.9

36.0

Three

22.4

48.3

Vodafone

25.4

39.0

O2

18.0

38.1

Vodafone and Three also offer LTE-A / 4G+ services, but as with EE they’re not available everywhere (they’re mostly found in major cities), and as the chart above shows, these networks overall 4G speeds aren’t a match for EE’s, while O2’s trail far behind.

EE also leads for latency (the time it takes for a network to respond to a request), though O2 and Vodafone are close there, with Three trailing.

Of course, the networks are also starting to launch 5G services, though these aren’t widely available either at the time of writing and coverage is changing rapidly. There isn’t a huge amount of data about 5G speeds yet either, but across all networks they’re likely to average around 100-200Mbps, with peak speeds potentially exceeding 1Gbps.

Ultimately all the networks are fast, but right now - thanks to its 4G speed and 5G coverage advantage - EE is the best network for speed.

  • Winner: EE

Data limits

UK Networks Maximum Data Allowances

Network

Max data

Roaming

Three

Unlimited

20GB

Vodafone

Unlimited

25GB

O2

Unlimited

20GB

EE

Unlimited

50GB

For a long time Three was the clear winner in this category, as it was the only major UK network to offer unlimited data. Now though, its rivals have all started matching it. Most of them also are around the same level for roaming limits.

However, EE has a slight edge there, and for that reason alone it’s our winner here – just be aware that its unlimited data plans are often on the pricey side.

It’s also worth noting that while O2 has a fair use limit of 20GB when roaming on an unlimited data plan, that limit doesn’t seem to apply on other plans – which can reach up to 100GB.

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  • Winner: EE

​Roaming

UK Networks Roaming Destinations

Network

Free roaming regions on all plans

Free roaming regions on select plans

EE

48

53

Three

71

71

Vodafone

51

81

O2

48

75

The data limits while roaming have been covered above – and give EE the edge, but what about where you can roam for free in the first place?

For that, EE actually comes last, offering 48 European destinations as standard, while adding in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand (for 53 total) if you opt for a Roam Further pass on a plan with Swappable Benefits, or pay £10 per month.

Three meanwhile keeps things simple, offering 71 roaming locations as standard on all of its current compatible plans. That’s the highest base number offered by any of these networks, and it includes places in Europe and beyond. However, no plans come with more than that – though you can pay for an add-on to further boost the number.

Then there’s Vodafone, which offers a middling 51 European locations for free roaming on all plans. However, many of the network’s plans include ‘Global Roaming Plus’, which ups that number to 81 and takes it worldwide. That’s the highest number of places that any of these networks allows you to roam for free in at the time of writing. Vodafone also allows 5G roaming in select locations, which rivals don’t.

Finally, O2 matches EE for the number of free roaming locations offered as standard at 48, but select plans add 27 global locations to that, for 75 in total.

Ultimately then, we’d say this one is a tie between Three, which gives you loads of roaming locations whatever plan you choose, and Vodafone, which tops out at the most. Though of course, what matters most is whether a network lets you roam for free in the places you actually care about, so these two won’t necessarily be the best for everyone.

  • Winners: Three and Vodafone

Tethering

Network Tethering Allowances

Network

Pay Monthly

SIM Only

Pay As You Go

Three

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Vodafone

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

O2

650GB

650GB

100GB

EE

1000GB

1000GB

60GB

Three and Vodafone are the only major UK networks to offer unlimited data for tethering on all plan types.

O2 and EE meanwhile have fair use policies for tethering with unlimited data, though at 650GB and 1000GB respectively they’re unlikely to be an issue.

  • Winner: Three and Vodafone

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 4G signal, though as with Three it's not available on every handset.

Vodafone's service is also called 4G Calling and is available in 4G areas. As with EE and Three, it’s only available on select handsets, but there’s a reasonable selection.

O2 also calls its VoLTE service 4G Calling, and as with rivals it’s widely available but not compatible with every phone. Having said that, it arguably has support for more popular and recent handsets than rival networks.

Overall there’s little to choose between the networks when it comes to VoLTE, but O2 has a slight edge for its handset compatibility.

  • Winner: O2

Business

All of the major UK mobile networks have business tariffs and services and they all come with extra features to help them stand out. For example, Three gives you free subscriptions to WeWork, Wix and FreshBooks, with EE you can get a dedicated account manager, and O2 puts a focus on collaboration tools.

These networks also support businesses of most sizes, so it largely comes down to personal preference as to which is best.

So this category is close. Ultimately though EE edges the win as the best network for business use due to 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

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 YouTube Premium subscriptions included on a variety of its plans.

Given that many people have and can make use of music and TV 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 stream content from Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer, TVPlayer, Snapchat and SoundCloud without it coming out of your data allowance on certain plans.

EE meanwhile gives you a free six-month subscription to Apple Music – that’s not as long as the subscriptions you can get on Vodafone, but it comes as standard on contract plans.

On some plans you can also access ‘Swappable Benefits’, which let you choose a benefit from a selection including EE’s Roam Further service, a Video Data Pass, Amazon Prime Video, BritBox, and BT Sport, and swap between the benefits whenever you want.

O2’s extras include various exclusive deals, offers and early ticket sales through O2 Priority, as well as access to over 16,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK.

All of these networks offer some nice extras then, but – due to its extras lasting the life of the contract and being high-value - we’d give Vodafone the edge.

  • Winner: Vodafone

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