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A guide to mobile networks

We take a network-by-network look at what's on offer.
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The sheer range of carriers competing for consumers' business means that the UK mobile phone market is one of the most developed and competitive in the world.

UK mobile phone providers are split between large carriers who've invested heavily in networks and own a network of their own and smaller carriers who rent a network from their larger rivals, which are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).

Here, we look at some of the differences between the largest carriers and give a brief look at what they offer and what distinguishes them from each other.

If you're interested in finding out about smaller network providers, or MVNOs, you may find our guide to MVNOs more helpful.

Not sure if a carrier is an MVNO? Handily, the guide includes a full list of MVNOs and details of which network its service is based on.

The major UK mobile phone networks are:

Three

Three was the first UK mobile phone network to offer 3G coverage and now offers extensive 4G and 5G coverage. Traditionally, it has targeted cost-conscious consumers with well-priced data plans.

O2

O2 stands out for its Rewards customer incentive scheme which entitles subscribers to discounts on high-street purchases, and Priority, which provides priority ticket booking at O2 venues.

It's also known for good customer service and comprehensive coverage. And now that it's joined with Virgin Media to become VMO2, customers who sign up to both Virgin Media and O2 can double their broadband speed or double their mobile phone data.

Vodafone

Vodafone is one of the oldest UK mobile phone networks and the second-largest mobile network operator in the world in terms of number of global subscribers.

In the UK, it's known for its premium range of handsets and contract sweeteners, such as free use of Spotify and Sky Sports Mobile, and the Freebees pay-as-you-go free-minutes and data scheme.

EE

EE, which encompasses the now-retired T-Mobile and Orange brands, boasts the UK's widest 4G coverage and fastest connection speeds.

EE customers also get free movie rentals through the EE Film Store.

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