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Which UK Network Has the Best Coverage?

When choosing the best mobile phone deal, it’s important to choose a network with great mobile broadband coverage, for the best value for money.

Last updated: 04 November 2020

Which UK Network Has the Best Coverage?
When choosing the best mobile phone deals, it’s important you consider the mobile broadband coverage you will be getting for your money. Even if you live in an area covered by most networks, choosing a high-coverage network will be useful whenever you travel throughout the UK. You should compare mobile phone deals not only in terms of price, but also the mobile broadband speed and coverage that you will get. This guide will help you decide which mobile network will give you the best value for money.

What Is the Difference Between 2G, 3G and 4G?

All the above are types of mobile broadband, but the key difference is in the speeds they can achieve. These services are all quite new compared to fixed-line broadband, but mobile networks are now racing to improve their coverage, and new locations are being added all the time.

2G was designed to be used for calls and texts. Over a 2G signal, you can transfer data, but only at a slow speed and often unreliably. At best, a 2G network can reach a speed of 473kbps. If you’re out of range for 3G and 4G, you will likely get a 2G signal, which will often show up as GPRS on your phone.

3G networks are capable of speeds up to 2Mbps. 3G technology has been improved by HDSPA, which is used on all UK networks - this means that speeds of up to 10Mbps are now possible. Even more advanced is DC-HDSPA, which is being rolled out gradually and allows for speeds over 10Mbps. It is currently only being deployed on Three and EE.

4G is the newest version of mobile broadband, which enables speeds above 20Mbps. All UK networks have 4G coverage, but in some areas, coverage is quite patchy and unreliable. When you can’t get a 4G connection, you’ll usually get the next fastest connection.

Which Network Has the Fastest 4G Speeds?

4G coverage is about 5 times faster than 3G and is offered by all UK networks. In tests covered out by OpenSignal and Speedtest, EE have been proven to have the highest average speeds in the country. This is not surprising, considering that EE offers a double-speed service of up to 60Mbps in some locations. In London, EE even offers 4G+, which is even faster. While Vodafone also offers this in Manchester and Birmingham, in most tests Vodafone doesn’t perform for speed as well as EE.

OpenSignal tested the 4G download speeds of 4 major networks in October 2018, and the results were as follows:

Which Network Has the Best 4G Coverage Across the UK?

4G coverage is being constantly improved across all networks, with mobile networks working on increasing capacity in popular areas, adding new towers and upgrading technology.

For a long time, EE was far ahead of its competitors. Networks all update their data at different times, so it’s difficult to know exactly who has the best coverage at one time. However, many studies have shown EE to be consistently reliable. In a 2017 study, EE delivered at least 90% coverage in 11 out of 14 areas. Meanwhile, O2 and Vodafone only achieved this in three areas, and Three in none. In 2018, RootMetrics carried out tests over 22,000 miles, and EE came out on top in all categories, including network reliability.

  • EE’s 4G covers most of the UK, and it is working on expanding this further.
  • Virgin Media uses the EE network, so offers identical coverage.
  • O2 and Vodafone are network sharing. Their combined 3G network covers most of the UK and uses HDSPA to get higher speeds. They claim that their 4G network will soon have 98% indoor coverage.
  • Three’s 3G network covers 97% of the UK, and also uses HDSPA. Their 4G network was set up in 2014 and rivals EE in some speed tests.

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Which Network Provides the Best Coverage in My Area?

You can check which mobile network provides the best coverage in your area using each company’s own coverage checker tools. Here are the quick links to the networks mentioned above:

Danny Lord

Author: Danny Lord

Danny is our Editor-in-Chief, and has been writing news and guides for comparison sites for the last five years.

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