5 Best Mobile Networks in the UK – List of Top UK Phone Networks

The best mobile networks in the UK is in this list. However, the best of the best ran through many considerations to be called the best and might be subjective as you go through the list. As an example, one network might have the best mobile network coverage by postcode, another might be the best mobile network signal. This means, depending on what you feel works best for you, the best mobile network in the UK answer can only have a definite answer when you go through your needs and preferences.

More than 80% UK internet users will have a smart phone this year. The norm of ubiquity drives this list as we write. Mobile phones have simply become a part of our lives. In November of last year, mobile web usage has overtaken desktop for the first time (globally) – in the UK we are getting close:

In Ofcoms’s survey, there are 14 mobile phone networks operator included, with a mix of those with telco infrastructure and MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators, who ride on other companies’ network. Despite that, we chose not to discriminate any types of mobile networks such as the MVNOs from the list because performance does not depend solely on infrastructure. Among UK’s mobile networks list, one will emerge as the top performer.

Top 5 Best Mobile Networks in the UK

1. EE

BT bought EE last year, making it an even bigger network. In the 2nd half of 2016 survey by RootMetrics, EE came out on top as the overall performer. It claims to be the fastest and widest 4G network in the country, with 95% coverage by 2020.

EE Homepage

Average Speed and 4G Availability

EE uses three types of 4G, which defines their plan offerings. They use standard, double speed, and 4g+ as the highest. However, not all three 4G types are available on all geographies. On EE, the average download speed is at 33.83 Mbit/sec, while download speed is at 13.81 Mbit/sec.

EE’s mobile coverage almost covers the entire country. It has a 4g coverage of 98-99% of the population. Almost all towns are covered but Sidmouth, Ilfracombe, Midsomer, Norton and Wymondham have yet to benefit from it.

Offerings/Promotions/Subscription Fees

EE currently offers free data boosts every three months on their Pay-as-You-Go SIM when you use your top up to buy a pack each month. There are different packs to choose from depending on your need. When you buy three 30-day packs at £8 or above, you can get an extra 500 MB, 50 minutes, or 250 texts every three months. You can also use your freebies while you are on roaming in 48 destinations across Europe.

Students can get a 20% off their bills on selected phone and SIM plans and are available to new and existing student customers. Students just need to grab a UNiDAYS code when checking out in the EE shop.

You can also take advantage of their SIM Only deals starting from £10 per month that comes with 250 minutes, unlimited texts, and 250 MB data. The highest plan they have costs £41.99 per month with unlimited texts and minutes, and 30 GB of data. Also, they have limited promotions, so best to check back.

EE Pay-as-You-Go first page

EE Pay-as-You-Go Page 2

Customer Service

In Ofcom’s customer service survey, EE got an overall score of 50% despite its strength in 4G coverage.

Pros and Cons

A 4G connection is especially important if we are talking about speed and reliability. YouTube viewing is much faster than on a 3G network. EE has provided the widest geographical coverage among its competitors however, because EE uses three types of 4G, signal still varies and is best to check with their coverage checker. Their 4G Extra and 4G+ is limited to select areas.

In terms of price or subscription fee, its scheme goes from regular to premium depending on the package. Its boost freebie every three months would be more enticing if done on a monthly basis instead of every three months. In addition, they have different packages for every need. There’s Pay Monthly deals, SIM Only deals and Pay-as-You-Go deals on top of the Upgrade and Existing Customer deals. There are no unlimited data deals, however you can go unlimited with calls and texts depending on the package you choose.

On a last note, the most glaring drawback with EE is its capability to respond to customer concerns. Their low rating needs much improvement to impress on customers that they take care of their customers even after a sale. To us, great customer service is one deciding factor in choosing a mobile operator because this means being prepared with a solution to anticipated problems. This means being one step ahead of the customer. We hope to see EE improve this soon.

2. Three

Three UK is a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa. It is the only network that is purely data that started on 3G and now 4G. Because of this, it set its customers’ experience on a high level than those using 2G networks. When it launched in 2003, it was the country’s first video mobile network. It was recently awarded the best Network for Data by uSwitch Mobile Awards by consumers. Three UK carries 45% of data traffic in the UK.

3 Homepage

Average Speed and 4G Availability

Three Mobile UK and EE has been at it on the speed race. Last year sometime April, Three sped through EE in download speeds at an average of 24.5Mbps according to OpenSignal. In a test by SimSherpa, Three averages 22.46-24.46 Mbps. This is on its 4G network. Although its speed is close to EE, its coverage falls short, with only 40% as of April 2016. When on certain parts of the country, users will drop down to a 3G coverage. Continually check on coverage on their 3 coverage checker to find out.

Offerings/Promotions/Subscription Fee

Three also has SIM only plans or Pay-as-You-Go Plans, depending on what you need. SIM only plans start at £5 per month with 500 Mb, 200 minutes and All-you-can-eat Texts. But if money is no object, its premium is at £35 per month with All-you-can-eat data, All-you-can-eat minutes, All-you-can-eat texts with a month binding contract. If you’re looking for something in between, they have 44 SIM plans to choose from.

Three divides its plans into two categories: Essential and Advanced. For Essential Plans, you are in full control of your full consumption. Depending on your preference, you can set a limit and configure your settings to block when you go beyond. If you feel a plan isn’t for you after a month, you can always change it.

Advanced Plans on the other hand, includes their Feel-at-Home in 60 destinations without paying extra costs. This means you can use your phone abroad in 19 countries to be exact. Other than that, you can use your phone to call customer service without paying extra and use it as a personal hotspot. And what’s probably unique is that you get a WiFi signal on the London Underground. Creative thinking for Three!

3 Pay-as-You-Go

Customer Service

In OfCom’s 2016 data, key findings reveal that for every 100,000 subscribers, Three got 14 complaints. Overall average across all mobile networks is 35. It got a satisfaction rating of 89%, 80% on satisfaction on reception, 60% on satisfaction with complaints handling.

Pros and Cons

The highlight of Three’s performance is on its Advanced Plans where they offer All-you-can-eat options. If this was 5 or 10 years ago, an unlimited offer would be overboard, but with consumers practically living off their phones, it’s a good call. In addition, it’s starting plan is a steal at £5 on their Essential Plans. When you’re on an Essential plan, you’d get notifications on your current usage via text alerts. Commuters would have a kick at having WiFi at the London Underground which helps save on data.

The only problem with Three is on its limited 4G coverage. Compared to EE, it’s far from being able to supply its customers with 4G.

3. Vodafone

Vodafone is part of the 2nd largest mobile phone provider  Vodafone Group. It is the first operator in the UK to abolish roaming charges in 50 destinations in Europe with their Vodafone Global Roaming. In 2016, they were named London’s # 1 Network by P3 Connect. In 2015, Vodafone celebrated the anniversary of UK’s first mobile phone call on their network, establishing them as the pioneers in the industry.

Vodafone Homepage

Average Speed and 4G Availability

Vodafone is among the fastest in average speed on their 4G network at 15 Mbps. It covers 67.73% of the country on 4G. But just as we always say, coverage will depend on postcode, so it’s best to consult the coverage checker by Vodafone on their website.

Offerings/Promotions/Subscription Fees

Compared to the first two mobile operator, Vodafone has very few SIM only Plans with just 8 to choose from. This does not necessarily mean it’s a point against the, in fact, it might prove easier for consumers to choose. Its plans are divided into Essentials, Red Extra and Red Entertainment. Essentials are the basic offering with texts, minutes, and data, Roam-free destinations, and phone upgrade at only 3 months in the plan. However, you can always include add-ons such as additional data, calls and picture messages. Red Extra has unlimited minutes. Red Entertainment is everything plus usually an entertainment package such as Spotify, Sky Sports, Now and Secure Net trial.

On Essential, its lowest plan is at £9.50 per month. Its premium Essential is at £17.50 per month. Red Extra has only one plan at £18 per month. Red Entertainment ranges from £19 – £40. All these plans are fixed on a monthly basis.

Vodafone Pay-as-You-Go Page 1

Vodafone Pay-as-You-Go Page 2

Customer Service

Unfortunately, Vodafone has been rated as one of the worst in customer service tied with EE according to Which? Vodafone has a satisfaction score of only 50%. Last year, Ofcom fined Vodafone with a £4.6m fine for breaches on consumer protection laws.

Pros and Cons

Vodafone’s 4G speed average is considered at a high rate. In addition, it has these extra special services that are not offered elsewhere. But the best features when on Vodafone is that its monthly plans are fixed and will not change until the duration of the contracts and its 30-day network trial, which helps consumers determine whether a Vodafone network works in their area or is acceptable.

The bad news is that coverage is still not as wide as we wanted. It still falls short of EE’s coverage, if we are to compare. Besides this, its plans range higher than Three’s and EE’s and its add-ons are annoying because it seems you have to pay for extra for everything. What’s worse is that when you exceed, charges are high, so subscribers need to be extra diligent in tracking their consumption. Lastly, its customer service is considered the worst (with EE) among 12 other operators. That’s some serious issues and a huge deterrent to go with Vodafone.

4. O2

O2 is Telefonica UK Limited but trading as O2. It is owned by Spanish multinational Telefonica. It is the second largest telecommunications provider in UK after EE. It also owns half of Tesco Mobile. It has over 450 retail stores. A few other mobile providers ride on the O2 network to operate.

O2 Homepage

Average Speed and 4G Availability

In terms of phone coverage comparison, O2’s mobile coverage is better than Vodafone and Three UK at 68.98%. O2 has a download speed of 15.42 Mbps.

Offerings/Promotions/Subscription Fees

O2 has one of the most expensive SIM only plans. It’s lowest is at £10.50 per month while its highest is at £40. On a £10.50 per month, you have 250 Mb data, 250 minutes, unlimited Texts on a 12-month contract, while on a £40 plan, you have 25 GB data, unlimited Minutes, unlimited Texts, also on a 12-month contract. After 12 months, expect rates to increase according to Retail Price Index (RPI).

They have promotions on fees, so check back on their website for any good deals before settling.

O2 Pay-as-You-Go Page

Customer Service

O2 has a customer satisfaction rating of 62% according to the 2017 Which? Survey. Not low like Vodafone and EE, but not as high up there with Giffgaff.

Pros and Cons

We like it that O2 has a better coverage than Vodafone and Three. In fact, it is #2 on 4G network availability in the Mobile Performance Results done by OpenSignal. In that, although it doesn’t top the speed race, it is balanced by coverage and customer satisfaction. In a pretty nice place, with potential for huge improvement if we were to say so.

The only gripe is on its tariff fees, which are higher than the rest and their lack of unlimited data plans.

5. Giffgaff

Giffgaff runs as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) riding on the O2 network. It does not own any telecommunications infrastructure but enters into an agreement with a company who does, such as O2. But even with that setup, Giffgaff has managed to impress even at its early infancy. In 2010, after only a year of operation, it won the Forrester Groundswell Award and the Most Innovative Community Award at the Social CRM Customer Excellence Awards. Since 2014, it has won the uSwitch Network of the Year Award for 3 consecutive years. They have to be doing something right with these awards.

Giffgaff Homepage

Average Speed and 4G Availability

Because Giffgaff network uses O2’s network, it’s logical that it also has the same speed as O2. Its coverage is at 66% on 4G.

Offerings/Promotions/Subscription Fees

Giffgaff call their SIM only plans Goody Bags with plans ranging from £5 per month with 100 MB data, 150 minutes and 500 texts to £20 with 6 GB data capping, unlimited Minutes and unlimited Texts. It’s among the lowest in this list. You can also change your plan every month if your current plan does not suit you. And when you switch to 4G signal, you don’t pay any additional to use it.

Giffgaff Pay-as-You-Go Page

Customer Service

Giffgaff is number 1 in Which? Customer satisfaction with an 81% rating. About 70% of its customers say they will recommend Giffgaff to family and friends. Keeping customers happy is one of the best things that can happen to a company, and Giffgaff has nailed the formula, especially in a customer-centric era.

Pros and Cons

There are certainly other mobile networks that are out there, even bigger than the Giffgaff network. But we chose to include Giffgaff in this list for a few significant reasons. One, is its performance on customer satisfaction. It was rated the highest with an 81% rating among 13 other operators. It’s approach on customer service is that of an embraced community. Members are known as “giffgaffers” and have many active members in their forum to help newbies. Members who help are given incentives for helping fellow giffgaffers. Second, its network to network calls is free without any catch. Third, it rides on the O2 network, which has the second widest 4G coverage next to EE. With this, it also uses O2’s mobile coverage. Although similar in network presence, Giffgaff surpases O2 with its top-level customer service performance.

In addition, Giffgaff has one of the lowest deals in the list, even on its premium offering. Giffgaff certainly deserves a spot on anyone’s shortlist.

Have you come across any other mobile phone provider reviews? Which ones did you consider best? Is your choice for best mobile network in the UK in 2016 same as this year? Care to share?