Which network has the best mobile phone coverage?

Mobile coverage icon

The big mobile networks cover 99% of the UK, but how can you be sure you’ll get good reception where you are? broadbandchoices explains how to check mobile coverage and what you should watch out for before you switch...

What's the best network for 4G coverage?

With population coverage of around 99.8% for 4G and a consistently highly rated service, EE is generally regarded as the best UK network for signal strength.

That's borne out by the fact that EE was named the best network overall for the last five years by analysis company RootMetrics, taking into account coverage quality, as well as speeds and calls and texts performance.

The telecoms regulator Ofcom deemed EE's outdoor coverage the UK's best and scored it highly for indoor coverage too. You can see its findings in full in the tables below:

Ofcom outdoor coverage

Ofcom's coverage quality assessment was based on whether customers get a 'good experience' when using their phone.

Its criteria for determining this were that "nearly all 4G connections will connection speed of at least 2Mbps" and that "nearly all 90-second phone calls are very likely to compete without interruption.

indoor coverage 4g ofcom

Checking coverage

Before choosing a mobile phone network, you should check coverage in the areas you're most likely use your phone - for example your home, work and any other places you frequent.

The best way to do that is to use Ofcom's mobile phone coverage checker.

Things you need to know:

  • Signal strength is determined by your distance from a network's nearest mast. As a rule, heavily populated zones like city centres are better for coverage than the countryside. Even so, dead zones - where coverage is unavailable - can exist in both
  • Every network has an online coverage checker - they're not 100% accurate as signal strength can be affected by many things, like tall buildings or thick walls, but they will give you a good idea of the coverage you can expect in different areas.

We've included a link to each of the UK's major networks' coverage trackers below. And we've outlined the breadth of coverage you can expect and included a snapshot of their other major selling points.

Smarty mobile coverage

Smarty runs on Three's network, which means customers can expect 99.8% population coverage for 4G and 98.7% for 3G. Beyond coverage, Smarty's key selling points are:

  • Money off your bill for unused data
  • Flexible, one-month contract plans
  • Inclusive roaming in the EU

Our recommended Smarty deals

  • SMARTY sim only
    4G
    • Exclusive
    • 6GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Triple data for 12 months - Discount on unused data
    • £7.50 per month
    1 month contract From SMARTY
  • SMARTY sim only
    4G
    • 4GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Discount on unused data
    • £10.00 per month
    1 month contract From SMARTY
  • SMARTY sim only
    4G
    • Unlimited 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £22.00 per month
    1 month contract From SMARTY

Vodafone mobile phone coverage

Vodafone (www.vodafone.co.uk)'s coverage stands at over 99% of the UK population for 4G and 3G. Vodafone's other standout features include:

  • VeryMe customer rewards scheme
  • Inclusive roaming in up in 48 locations or 77 destinations (depends on plan you choose)
  • Choice of free streaming service subscription on Entertainment plans

Our recommended Vodafone deals

  • Vodafone sim only
    4G
    • 8GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • 5GB data bonus
    • £10.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone
  • Vodafone sim only
    4G
    • 5GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Includes 4GB data bonus
    • £8.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone
  • Vodafone sim only
    5G
    • 20GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £20.00 per month
    12 month contract From Vodafone

Three mobile phone coverage

Three's network provides 99.8% population coverage and 98.7% for 3G. Three's major selling points include:

  • Wide-ranging inclusive roaming
  • Keenly priced SIM only plans
  • Go Binge scheme offers zero-data streaming on Netflix

Our recommended Three deals

  • Three sim only
    4G
    • 8GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £8.00 per month
    12 month contract From Three Mobile
  • Three sim only
    4G
    • 12GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £10.00 per month
    12 month contract From Three Mobile
  • Three sim only
    4G
    • Unlimited 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £18.00 per month
    12 month contract From Three Mobile

VOXI mobile coverage

VOXI is a subsidiary of Vodafone and uses the same network. Like its parent company, it offers 99% coverage for 4G and 3G. Voxi's other key selling points include:

  • Unlimited social media without using any data
  • Flexible 30-day plans
  • Inclusive roaming in 48 locations

Our recommended VOXI deals

  • VOXI sim only
    4G
    • 8GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited social data
    • £10.00 per month
    1 month contract From VOXI
  • VOXI sim only
    4G
    • 20GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited social data
    • £15.00 per month
    1 month contract From VOXI
  • VOXI sim only
    4G
    • 45GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited social data
    • £20.00 per month
    1 month contract From VOXI

Giffgaff coverage

Giffgaff's service is based on O2's network and offers 99% coverage for 4G and 3G. Other reasons you might want to consider O2 include:

  • O2 Priority scheme offers freebies and priority ticket booking
  • Customisable contracts
  • Inclusive roaming in up to 75 locations

Our recommended giffgaff deals

  • GiffGaff sim only
    4G
    • 10GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £12.00 per month
    1 month contract From giffgaff
  • GiffGaff sim only
    4G
    • 40GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £20.00 per month
    1 month contract From giffgaff
  • GiffGaff sim only
    4G
    • Unlimited 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Speed restrictions apply after 40GB of data use
    • £25.00 per month
    1 month contract From giffgaff

BT Mobile phone coverage

BT owns EE and uses the same network. 4G coverage is 99.8% and 3G is over 99%. BT Mobile's standout selling points include:

  • Discounts for BT broadband customers
  • Inclusive roaming in 47 locations
  • Free BT Sport app on select contracts

Our recommended BT Mobile deals

  • BT Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 20GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Includes a JBL Soundbar
    • £15.00 per month
    12 month contract From BT Mobile
  • BT Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 100GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Includes a JBL Soundbar
    • £30.00 per month
    12 month contract From BT Mobile

O2 mobile phone coverage

O2 (www.O2.co.uk) 4G and 3G network covers over 99% of the population. O2's other points of interest include:

  • O2 Priority scheme offers freebies and priority ticket booking
  • Customisable contracts
  • Inclusive roaming in up to 75 locations

Our recommended O2 deals

  • O2 sim only
    4G
    • 100GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £20.00 per month
    12 month contract From O2

Sky Mobile phone coverage

Sky Mobile uses O2's network and its 4G and 3G coverage spans 99% of people living in the UK. Sky Mobile customers also benefit from:

  • Option to rollover unused data, keep it for up to three years and use when you like
  • Existing Sky TV customers get unlimited streaming on Sky apps
  • Inclusive roaming in 30 locations on all plans

Our recommended Sky Mobile deals

  • Sky Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 3GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited streaming for Sky TV customers
    • £6.00 per month
    12 month contract From Sky Mobile
  • Sky Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 8GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited streaming for Sky TV customers
    • £10.00 per month
    12 month contract From Sky Mobile
  • Sky Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 15GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Unlimited streaming for Sky TV customers
    • £18.00 per month
    12 month contract From Sky Mobile

EE mobile phone coverage

EE (www.ee.co.uk) offers 99.8% UK population coverage for 4G and over 99% for 3G. EE customers also benefit from:

  • Swappable benefits on select plans
  • Inclusive roaming in 48 locations on Smart Plans
  • Free Apple Music subscription for pay monthly phone customers

Our recommended EE deals

  • EE sim only
    4G
    • 15GB of 4G data
    • 2000 minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Triple data for 6 month - Includes data rollover
    • £15.00 per month
    1 month contract From EE Mobile
  • EE sim only
    4G
    • 100GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • £27.00 per month
    12 month contract From EE Mobile

Tesco Mobile coverage

Tesco Mobile piggybacks on O2's network, which offers 4G and 3G population coverage of 99%. Tesco Mobile benefits include:

  • Clubcard points every time you pay your phone bill
  • Inclusive roaming in 31 locations
  • Option to apply spending caps

Our recommended Tesco Mobile deals

  • Tesco Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 10GB of 4G data
    • 5000 minutes
    • 5000 texts
    • £13.00 per month
    12 month contract From Tesco Mobile
  • Tesco Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 50GB of 4G data
    • 5000 minutes
    • 5000 texts
    • £25.00 per month
    12 month contract From Tesco Mobile

iD Mobile coverage

Owned by Carphone Warehouse, iD Mobile uses Three's network. That means it offers 99.8% 4G coverage and over 99% for 3G. iD Mobile plans also include:

  • Inclusive roaming in 50 destinations
  • Flexible plans
  • Data rollover

Our recommended iD Mobile deals

  • ID sim only
    4G
    • Exclusive
    • 20GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Includes a £14 prepaid Mastercard - Free data rollover
    • £14.00 per month
    1 month contract From iD Mobile

Virgin Mobile coverage

Virgin Mobile shares EE's network, so you get the same coverage with Virgin Mobile as you do with EE. Which is 99.8% for 4G and over 99% for 3G. Virgin Mobile also offers:

  • Data-free messaging on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter
  • Data rollover lets you keep unused data
  • Option to change your 4G plan from month to month

Our recommended Virgin Mobile deals

Plusnet Mobile coverage

Plusnet Mobile uses EE's network and offers 99.8% 4G coverage and over 99% for 3G. Plusnet Mobile also offers:

  • Flexible 30-day SIM only plans
  • 2GB of extra data for Plusnet broadband customers
  • Inclusive roaming in 40 EU destinations

Our recommended Plusnet deals

  • Plusnet Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 4GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Roam like at home
    • £8.00 per month
    1 month contract From Plusnet Mobile
  • Plusnet Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 2.5GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • Roam like at home
    • £7.00 per month
    1 month contract From Plusnet Mobile

Lebara Mobile coverage

With a service that's based on Vodafone's network, Lebara Mobile offers 99% 4G and 3G coverage. Lebara's major selling points are:

  • Attractive international calls allowances
  • 30-day rolling contracts
  • No credit checks

Our recommended Lebara Mobile deals

  • Lebara Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 4GB of 4G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • 100 international minutes to over 40 countries
    • £7.99 per month
    1 month contract From Lebara Mobile
  • Lebara Mobile sim only
    4G
    • 1GB of 4G data
    • 500 minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • 100 international minutes to over 40 countries
    • £4.99 per month
    1 month contract From Lebara Mobile

Asda Mobile coverage

Asda Mobile uses EE's network, with 4G coverage of 99.8% and over 99% for 3G. Asda Mobile also offers:

  • Inclusive roaming in 50 locations
  • No credit check

Which network is best for 5G coverage?

5G availability is still limited in the UK. But at the time of writing (October 2019), EE 5G was live in 41 towns and cities across the UK, making it the UK's most widely available 5G service.

Vodafone was second, with a service that's live in 32 towns and cities, while O2 5G is available in 6 locations and Three is solely in London.

However, expect Three to catch up fast. It's expected to turn on 5G in 25 towns and cities before the end of 2019.

Sky Mobile is also set to launch a 5G service imminently.

Keen to find out more about 5G? Read our one-stop guide.

Different types of mobile coverage

Mobile networks list up to three types of service on their coverage checkers. Here's a quick explanation of what they are:

  • 2G - Lets you make calls, send texts and access email.
  • 3G - Lets you surf the web, watch videos, download apps and more. Set to be phased out, as 5G rolls out across the UK.
  • 4G - Allows you to surf the web, stream videos in HD, download apps and music at similar speeds to a standard home broadband connection.
  • 5G - Offers speeds many times faster than 5G, which should mean even 4K movies will download in a matter of seconds and fibre-broadband-style speeds while you're on the move. 5G will also ensure a smoother faster connection in congested areas where lots of people are trying to connect at once, such as football matches and concerts.

Compare mobile phone deals

If you're looking for a new handset or mobile plan, remember to check coverage. But also compare deals to make sure you're paying the best possible price. You can do that with our mobile phone comparison service:

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