UK 4G Networks, who has the best coverage and fastest speeds?

If you’re looking to find out which 4G network has the best coverage and fastest data speeds in the UK, read on. In this article we look at each of the big 4 mobile network operators and the data speeds and coverage you can expect to get with them.

Aug 12th, 2019

Joining a network because they offer some 4G perks does not automatically translate to having the best 4G experience. Each network offering the service operates at varying speeds and coverage. Also, value is an important factor that comes into play when people are looking to join a network. Regardless of subscribing to Pay Monthly, SIM only, or Pay As You Go (PAYG) plan, people have the tendency of opting onto a package that will suit their budget as well as offer an experience, that at least, is worthy of the price.

In this guide, we primarily run through the big 4 Mobile Network Operators EE, O2, Three & Vodafone. This is because these 4 networks are the only true networks in the UK. The rest of the mobile networks you have heard of such as Giffgaff, Virgin Mobile etc. are all piggybacking off each of the larger networks.

Network Coverage

best 4g networks network coverage

Network 4G PopulationCoverage
EE 99%
Vodafone 99%
3 Mobile 99%
O2 99.8%

 

From the table above showing the 4G coverage for the four major networks that offer the service, you will see that all the telecommunication providers offer at least 99% of coverage when it comes to the UK population with Three Mobile offering the widest coverage.  But does that mean that Three Mobile is the best network when it comes to 4G? Not necessarily.

EE were the first mobile network to offer its customers 4G, long before most of the other networks. However, as you can see from the table, all of the networks are now offering 4G with great population coverage. However EE still takes the lead in coverage by having the best geographical mobile network coverage in the UK, which basically means they cover more area than the rest of the networks even if this means slightly more remote areas.

Verdict: EE retains its position as the best 4G network.

Network Speeds

The table below shows the download/upload performance of the four leading 4G networks according to the latest mobile data speeds carried out by Speedtest (Q3/Q4 2017).

Network Download Speed (Mbps) Upload Speed (Mbps)
EE 28.80 9.29
Vodafone 17.26 8.16
3 Mobile 14.58 7.35
O2 14.11 7.13

 

The table below shows the results for speed and network latency tests carried out by OpenSignal of the four leading 4G networks in October 2018. Network latency also means network delay. It is a network characteristic which indicates the duration of time at which a bit of network data travels from one end point to another.

Network Download Speeds (Mbps) Network Latency (ms)
EE 28.9 39.77
Vodafone 21.92 40.78
3 Mobile 18.78 48.15
O2 14.61 42.38

 

From the analysis carried out by Speedtest, EE yet takes the lead with download and upload speeds of 28.8 and 9.29 Mbps respectively. Vodafone follows in second position by a wide margin. 3 Mobile comes after Vodafone while O2 sits in the last position.

OpenSignal test results shown above were carried out in the last quarter of 2018. And just like Speedtest results indicated, EE still comes out on top of other networks. EE has the fastest download and upload speeds, and the least network delay.

4G is a service now offered by all networks and it’s nothing new to advertise. But some networks have upped their game with LTE-Advanced (dubbed as 4G+) which offers at least 60 Mbps and up to 90 Mbps in locations with stronger network signals. Three Mobile and Vodafone both have LTE-A service in London and Birmingham. Vodafone also offer the service in Manchester while EE Mobile’s 4G+ service covers other cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Cardiff. O2 still provide standard 4G service.

Verdict: Vodafone and O2 come behind 3 Mobile, and EE on the average have the best network speeds in the UK.

Tethering

best 4g networks tethering

Network Pay Monthly SIM Only Pay As You Go
Three Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Vodafone 100GB 80GB 20GB
O2 100GB 60GB 20GB
EE 100GB 60GB 10GB

 

When it comes to tethering, Three Mobile Tethering tops all the other networks. They are very innovative when it comes to offering the kind of value that their customers want, and to be able to tether data without restrictions is one thing that appeals to customers. Whether you’re on a Pay Monthly, SIM only or PAYG plan, you will be able to tether as much mobile data as you need.

Vodafone, 02 and EE offer a huge tethering allowance (up to 100GB) to Pay Monthly customers. SIM Only customers also enjoy a good deal of tethering on the other three major networks. EE offers the least tethering allowance for PAYG packages.

Verdict: Three Mobile offers the best tethering service in the UK, but keep in mind, that you have to be on one of their Advanced Plans to be eligible for unlimited mobile data tethering.

VoLTE

VoLTE is a service that allows you to make calls over a 4G network. The implication of this is that you enjoy superior voice call clarity in virtually any area that you are if you are on a network that offers the service. While 3 Mobile who were the first to provide VoLTE, which they call 4G Super-Voice. EE, Vodafone, and O2 all dubbed their VoLTE service 4G Calling.

When it comes to VoLTE, there seems to be little to compare between the four networks as they all have good population coverage, and are constantly improving on their voice quality services. But access to VoLTE is also dependent on your mobile device.

Verdict: Though Vodafone comes second to EE in 4G speeds, they may top EE in this category because they make VoLTE services compatible with a wider selection of handsets when compared with EE or 3 Mobile.

Other Networks That Offer 4G Services

BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile also offer superior 4G speeds which are at par with EE because they run on EE’s network. This also means that you will be getting the same coverage and voice quality as EE’s as if you are on the BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile networks.

Sky Mobile piggybacks off of the O2 network, which means you will get the same service quality of an O2 customer. Sky Mobile performs well in tethering and data rollover, but their download speed is not really impressive at 15 Mbps.

Other Extras

best 4g networks in uk other extras

Mobile network providers not only want to retain their customers. They want new ones. This makes them offer a lot of extras with the intention of drawing in more customers. Even virtual networks that offer SIM only packages or PAYG have managed to stay competitive by offering some form of freebies.

EE customers get inclusive access to the BT Sport & Apple Music apps for all pay monthly customers, EE offers a perk that saves customers on two premium subscription services.

Vodafone have a lot of great extras to offer customers including inclusive roaming to 77+ destinations around the world. Vodafone also offer customers on certain plans a free subscription from a choice of Sky Sports, NOW TV & Spotify Premium.

Three are equally competitive with their Go Binge proposition which offers customers unlimited data when using popular apps such as Netflix, Apple Music, Soundcloud & Snapchat.

O2 offer customers to access thousands of O2 Wi-Fi hotspots around the country, helping customers save data and have the best loyalty scheme in the market with their O2 priority app.

Verdict: Choosing the network with the best extras is relative, but we will give it to Three Mobile as they seem to offer their customers the most wide range of perks.

Half Cooked’s Overall Winner

EE gets the overall win for us here. With constant improvements to coverage and speeds that blow their competitors out the park, EE takes the win. On top of this EE is actively investing heavily in 5G with access to 5G available to customers in six UK cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester & Cardiff with 10 more to be added by the end of the year. This means customers with compatible devices will soon be browsing at speed up to 300 MB/s.