EE vs O2 - Which mobile network is best?

ByKim Staples
EE vs O2

They’re two of the UK’s biggest mobile networks, with tons going on and lots of plans to choose from - but which is best? 4G extraordinaire EE, or the bubbly O2?

Here's our complete lowdown on the two providers, comparing everything that matters, so you can better decide which one to go for.

What's the best mobile network for me?

Cost

O2 is usually a little cheaper than EE for similar plans. That's often only by a couple of quid per month, but it can all add up in the long term.

Costs are often subject to change, however, and you'll often find special offers and deals. Always compare prices to see which network gives you the best deal today on the kind of plan you want.

Compare EE and O2 SIM-only deals

Compare EE and O2 contract deals

Verdict: O2 is cheapest most of the time.

Coverage

This one's easy: EE has the best coverage in the country, with 95% of us able to connect to its 4G.

O2's 4G coverage is a fair bit lower, just under the 80% mark. You'll be able to connect fine in towns and cities, but may find a few blackspots when you're in less populous areas.

3G for both providers covers around 98% of the population - so don't worry, you can make a call from almost anywhere, regardless of which one you pick.

We always recommend checking coverage before you take out a plan with a network, as it's very location-dependent.

Verdict: EE has the best coverage overall, but do check your area before you sign up.

4G data

EE famously has the fastest 4G in the country. If you're on the right kind of plan, and in the right location, you can get speeds of up to a whopping 90Mb. Even on lower-end plans, speeds can reach 30Mb - faster than a lot of home broadband - and the average speed across all users is about 22Mb, according to Ofcom. That's impressive.

The 4G you get on O2 isn't as fast, but it's not bad either. Ofcom says its average speed is about 13Mb, which is more than enough for all your mobile internetting needs. Sure, your EE-wielding mates will download stuff faster, but it'll do the job.

Verdict: EE has the speediest 4G - with the widest coverage too.

SIM-only deals

SIM card

Right, let's take a look at the actual plans you can get from each network - starting with SIM-only deals that you can stick straight in your phone.

EE has a small but varied selection of these. 12-month contracts are available online, though you can get 30-day deals too - which cost a bit more - by going to an EE store. You can get lots of monthly data at a decent price on high-end plans, up to 30GB (with unlimited texts and minutes); but the lower-end options are far from the cheapest around.

O2 has more choice. There's a slightly greater range of tariffs, again spanning from 250MB to 30GB data, and you can pick between 12-month and 30-day plans however you order. Prices here work similarly to EE's, though for the most part they're a little cheaper per month.

Verdict: O2 wins for its range of SIM-only plans, and just about pips EE on price too.

Contract deals

iPhone

Both networks have round about the same number of phones available on contract plans. O2 has a slightly wider range, but with over 100 handsets in each network's remit, you'll be able to find a phone you want from either one.

You can get a new iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or a more budget mobile from either, and both also let you save money by getting a refurbished model.

As for the plans themselves… EE offers contracts with up to 40GB of monthly data, with upfront costs ranging from nothing at all up to £200 or so. You get to pick between 4GEE Essential, for the basics; regular 4GEE, which has faster 4G and a couple of perks; or 4GEE Max, which gives you access to the fastest 4G speeds available, better roaming, and perkier perks.

O2 offers allowances on contracts up to 50GB, with upfront costs from zero to about £150. All its plans are O2 Refresh contracts, a system we really like. This separates your bill into the cost of your SIM and the cost of your handset - meaning you can upgrade sooner by paying off your remaining balance, and automatically get a much lower bill once the handset is paid off.

Verdict: There isn't a huge difference here - both networks have a similar range of phones and allowances - but we have to give this round to O2 for its Refresh plans.

Pay-as-you-go

PAYG SIM cards are available from either network, but their systems work a little differently.

From O2, you can get a true pay-as-you-go SIM. Top it up, then pay by the minute, text, or megabyte as you use it. Tariffs are 30p per minute, 14p per text, and £1 per day maximum for internet use.

With EE, you get a SIM, and then buy a bundle of minutes, texts, and data that you have 30 days to use. Once the month is over, you can buy a new bundle. Prices on these range from £5 for a small allowance, up to £25 for a pack with 5GB data. It costs quite a bit more than its regular SIM-only plans, but still better value than most standard pay-as-you-go.

Verdict: Both err on the expensive side as PAYG goes. EE ultimately gives you better value, but O2 offers proper top-up-and-pay-by-the-minute if that's what you prefer.

Extras, benefits, and perks

EE at Glastonbury

Both networks offer benefits galore, so whichever one you choose, you're in luck here.

With EE, you can get:

  • 5GB free monthly data, if you have EE broadband
  • A free subscription to the BT Sport app - could be 24 months, 3 months, or not available at all, depending on your plan
  • Six months' free Apple Music

And with O2, you can get:

  • O2 Priority - an extremely rigorous rewards scheme that gives you early bird tickets and VIP service at O2 venues, discounts at high street stores, coupons, and the occasional free coffee
  • Use of O2 Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Friendly tech support from the O2 Gurus

Verdict: Yeah, both networks have plenty going on. If you truly can't decide between an EE and an O2 plan, go for the one with the perks you're more likely to use. For example, if you have EE broadband at home, it's kind of a no-brainer - though O2 has more to offer the rest of us, because of the sheer breadth of Priority.

Our verdict

These are two major networks with a lot to offer. Both have excellent basic mobile service, a nice spread of plans, and of course lots of perks. Sooooo which one is best?

For the network itself, EE is best by a decent way - it's got the fastest 4G and the widest coverage. But when it comes to cost, value, and choice, a lot of us may be better off with O2, thanks to its slightly lower prices, Refresh contracts, and rewards.

Choose EE if… you want to guarantee good coverage just about anywhere, you want superfast 4G, you've got EE home broadband, or you could use that BT Sport app subscription.

Choose O2 if… you'll use O2 Priority, you like the sound of O2 Refresh, you want a lot of choice, or you value lower costs above all else. 

 

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