Which network has the best mobile coverage?
As more and more mobile networks are building bases and putting up masts around the country, the scope and quality of mobile phone coverage in the UK is improving all the time.
Even so, there are some areas where coverage is still patchy.
Here, we take a look at each of the major carriers and outline the sort of coverage and connection speeds you'll receive, as well as any perks and sweeteners you can expect for choosing that network.
Thinking of changing network? We talk you through the switching process with our one-stop guide.
EE mobile phone coverage
By some margin, EE offers the UK's widest and fastest 4G coverage. At the time of writing, its standard 4G network covered 99% of the UK population.
In select locations, EE offers a faster 4G services but these are largely limited to cities and larger towns.
The connection speed you'll get depends on the phone you own and the EE plan you're signed up to. But even the cheapest EE plans can get you a theoretical connection speed of up to 60Mbps.
At the other end of the scale, in parts of central London the maximum speeds can reach up to 150Mbps.
EE also offers superfast 5G network connection for customers living in 50 UK towns and cities including London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Northampton and more. 5G connections can reach speeds of over 500Mbps in certain areas.
Take a close look at coverage in your area with EE's mobile phone coverage checker.
Unique selling points: EE's main perks and value-adding extras include:
- Roaming for no extra charge in 48 locations
- Six months' free Apple Music on select plans
- 24 months BT Sport app on select plans
- Option to cap your data usage
Compare our best EE mobile deals
Three mobile phone coverage
Three's 4G network covers 91% of the UK population as of August 2017, making it one of the UK's widest ranging networks.
Its combined 3G and 4G mobile phone coverage spans 99.8% of the population. Once again, that compares very favourably with rivals.
Three has announced its 5G service in the UK, however it’s yet to fully launch. Their 5G broadband service is available in certain parts of London, but we’re still waiting for mobile 5G. Once it does launch Three has promised it will be amongst the fastest 5G available due to heavy investment in 5G infrastructure. Let's wait and see.
You can check the coverage in our area with Three's postcode checker.
Unique selling points:
- Customers on select contracts also get use of its Go Binge scheme, which allows you to stream Netflix over 4G and 3G without using any of your data allowance
- Roaming in 71 locations for no extra charge with Go Roam
Compare our best Three SIM only deals
Compare our best Three mobile deals
O2 mobile phone coverage
O2 offers nearly 99% combined 3G and 4G outdoor population coverage across the UK.
O2’s 5G service has launched in 21 towns and cities in the UK, including, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle,, Nottingham, Sheffield, Slough and more.
O2’s 5G rollout will continue into 2020, and O2 say they will be 5G live in a total of 50 UK locations by the summer.
Get a good idea of O2's service in your area by inputting your postcode into O2's coverage checker.
Unique selling points: O2's suite of incentives have a strong claim on being the best around. Key selling points include:
- Priority booking at O2 venues and offers at shops and on experiences with O2 Rewards
- Free Wi-Fi in 16,000 locations throughout the UK via O2's hotspot network
- Pay as you go customers also get 10% of their top-ups back every three months when they opt into O2 Rewards
- Inclusive roaming in 49 EU locations on all pay monthly and pay as you go plans
Compare our best O2 SIM only deals
Compare our best O2 mobile deals
Vodafone mobile phone coverage
Vodafone's 4G service covers over 97% of the UK population.
Test Vodafone's service in your area with its postcode checker.
Unique selling points:
- Vodafone customers on 4G Red plans qualify for 6 months' free use of music streaming service Spotify or Sky Sports
- Add a Vodafone Pass, for an extra monthly charge, and you can stream video and music without using any of your data allowance
- Inclusive roaming in 110 destinations on all pay monthly contracts
- Vodafone Unlimited gives customers pay monthly contracts that come without any data restrictions, instead the price is based on speed tiering, as you might find on broadband plans
- Vodafone superfast 5G is available in 46 towns and cities throughout the UK, and a further 70 locations around Europe for roaming.
Compare our best Vodafone SIM only deals
Compare our best Vodafone mobile deals
Tesco Mobile mobile phone coverage
Tesco Mobile's service is based on O2's network. That means that if you choose Tesco Mobile, you'll get a network with combined 4G and 4G coverage of 99% of the UK population.
Get an idea of Tesco Mobile coverage in your area with the Tesco Mobile postcode checker.
Unique selling points Tesco Mobile's standout selling points include:
- Tesco Clubcard points every time customers pay their monthly contracts or add PAYG credit
- Family perks offers free monthly incentives for having more than one number on your account
- Customers on a tight budget can set a cap on their monthly spend
- Inclusive roaming in 48 locations
Compare our best Tesco SIM only deals
iD Mobile mobile phone coverage
iD Mobile uses Three's network, so you get exactly the same level of nationwide coverage as you would if you were signed up to Three.
As well as 4G service rated the UK's most reliable in 2015, iD Mobile customers also get fast 3G coverage. The latter covers 99.8% of the population.
You can test if your area is covered by iD Mobile 4G with its coverage checker.
Unique selling points: iD Mobile has a number of standout features. These include
- Data Cushion, which provides customers with an emergency pot of 10GB of data free of charge, that they can use whenever they like.
- Option to cap usage to prevent unexpectedly high bills
- Inclusive roaming in 50 locations for no extra charge
Compare our best ID mobile deals
GiffGaff mobile phone coverage
GiffGaff offers speedy connections at a good price. Like Tesco Mobile, it's based on O2's network and offers 3G and 4G mobile phone coverage and speeds in line with O2.
That means you'll get 99% combined 4G and 3G UK coverage.
Get an idea of coverage quality in your area with GiffGaff's postcode checker.
Unique selling points: GiffGaff's big selling points include:
- Keen price points, with generous allowances for the money.
- Option to change allowance from month to month
- Money off when customers recommend GiffGaff to friends
- Inclusive roaming in 37 locations in the EU and beyond.
Compare our best O2 mobile deals
Talkmobile mobile phone coverage
Talkmobile is another value network, but one that's based on Vodafone's mobile phone network. For the kind of coverage and speeds you can expect, check our section on Vodafone's mobile phone coverage.
Unique selling points: Talkmobile is a no-frills network. But with good speeds and great price points, there's much to recommend it. And that goes double if you're on a tight budget.
Compare our best Talkmobile SIM only deals
Compare our best Talkmobile mobile deals
Sky Mobile mobile phone coverage
Sky Mobile uses O2’s mobile phone network. So wherever O2 has signal, Sky Mobile does too. At the time of writing, this will get you 4G coverage in over 98% of the UK population outdoors.
Get the measure of coverage in your area with Sky Mobile's coverage checker.
Unique selling points: Sky Mobile's key selling points include:
- Change your SIM-only contract at anytime so you can avoid paying for more than you use, or add on extra data if you keep running out
- Option to rollover any unused data at the end of each month, so you never lose the data you've paid for
- Upgrade your phone mid-contract with Sky Swap
- All Sky Mobile customers can use UK allowances in 36 European locations for no extra cost.
Compare our best Sky mobile deals
SMARTY mobile phone coverage
Smarty uses Three's 4G network, which offers 99.5% UK outdoor population coverage.
Take a look at Smarty's mobile phone coverage in your area with its postcode checker.
Unique selling points: Smarty is a SIM-only network, which stands out for the simplicity of its plans. Key selling points include:
- Money off your bill for any data left unused at the end of the month
- All plans offer unlimited UK standard calls and texts
- One-month rolling plans let you cancel with 30 days' notice
Compare our best Smarty SIM only deals
So which network offers the best mobile phone coverage overall?
If the quality of mobile phone coverage is your main criterion when choosing a network, it seems EE is probably the best. Both for speeds and the breadth of its 4G coverage.
That's underscored by data from Rootmetrics, which named EE the best provider in 2017 and took into account reliability, speed and data, as well as calls and texts.
In second place was Three, followed by Vodafone and O2. All of which are a pretty good bet too.
If you're considering a different carrier, take a look at our network-by-network guide and you can see which of the big-four networks provides the bedrock of their service.
BT Mobile, for instance, uses EE. So if you opt for them, you'll get the same coverage as you would if you'd signed up for Rootmetrics's overall winner, EE.
By the same token, pick Smarty and you'll get exactly the same level of mobile phone coverage as Three.
Ultimately, though, the most important thing is that coverage is good in your area. Since that's where you'll be spending the most time.
So the smartest thing to do is use the postcode checkers we've included in our snapshot of each major network's mobile phone coverage in the section above.
It may be that coverage is good on a range of networks in your area. Lucky you. If that's the case, you can take your pick of carriers and may want to look more closely at perks to help make your mind up.
If you travel abroad a lot, or even if you're just planning a holiday or two, it also makes sense to take into account the scale and quality of networks' roaming schemes.
If you need a bit of help with that, check our guide to the networks with the best roaming policies.
About mobile phone coverage in the UK
All mobile phones rely on signal from a mobile phone network.
Without a signal from the network, you cannot even make an emergency call, despite what various networks or handset guidebooks may tell you.
The strength or quality of the mobile coverage is largely determined by proximity to a mobile phone network tower.
However there are other factors that could affect your ability to get the best mobile coverage.
Want to check the mobile phone coverage across a range of networks? We recommend Ofcom's Mobile Checker app for Android and iPhone.
Your mobile phone should tell you how good the network coverage is using a set of bars on the display screen; the signal strength will change as you move around with your mobile phone.
The best mobile phone coverage is generally in urban areas, although even really busy cities have 'dead zones' where there is no network coverage.
Signal 'dead zones' normally occur where signal between the mobile handset and the phone network cell antenna is blocked.
Mobile phone signal can be blocked by tunnels, hills or dense tall buildings.
Rural areas with a smaller population have less physical interference but often are too far away from a mast for good signal.
This is constantly improving as more and more antennas are put up around the country to improve UK coverage.
Decided on a network? Now you just need to pick a phone. Check out our pick of the top selling smartphones.
Top selling smartphones
And if you need more help, check out our mobile phone guides for all the info you could possibly need.