5G networks in the UK are still embryonic. You'll probably only pick one up in the busy part of your nearest big city or town. EE has the most widespread coverage, but even it focuses mostly on city centres.
Don't despair if you can't hop onto a 5G network in your neighbourhood yet. 4G's emergence was similarly slow. But eight years since the first 4G network (EE's) was launched in 11 cities in 2012, 91% of the country's landmass has good 4G reception from at least one network and 66% from all four networks.
Expect the 5G rollout, which offers a much faster download speed to 4G, to expand similarly in the coming years.
EE 5G coverage
Currently, EE has the most far-reaching 5G network in the UK. As of November 2020, it pops up in 125 cities and towns, and with more than just footholds in many of them. No other network covers more than 25% of a city, while EE covers more than a fifth of at least a dozen.
According to RootMetrics, cities with the best EE 5G coverage include:
- Birmingham: 58.6%
- Manchester: 41.1%
- London: 38%
- Belfast: 35.7%
- Liverpool: 35.1%
- Nottingham: 34.5%
- Cardiff: 33.5%
- Hull: 31.7%
- Sheffield: 29.6%
- Bristol: 28.2%
- Leicester: 27.7%
- Newcastle: 16.5%
EE also boasts the best coverage in central London, at 77.5%.
To see if you can connect to EE's 5G where you live and work, use their coverage checker.
O2 5G coverage
O2's 5G network is the most restricted of the big four. Although its 5G reaches 150 cities and towns, O2 is so far focusing only on hotspots near shopping districts, business areas, train stations, landmarks and entertainment and sports venues. It has the most presence in Belfast, where 0.6% of the city is covered. Coverage is even scanter elsewhere, including in London (0.3%).
Here's some of the places where you can pick up O2's 5G:
- London: Hammersmith Tube Station, Olympia Exhibition Centre, The Emirates Stadium, London Waterloo Station, the City of London, Wembley Stadium, Kings Cross, Marble Arch, the Strand, Hyde Park, Barbican Exhibition Centre, the Natural History Museum, and The O2 in North Greenwich.
- Belfast: Ulster University, Windsor Park, Belfast City Centre, Lanyon Place Railway Station and Great Victoria Station.
- Leeds: Merrion Shopping Centre, White Rose Shopping Centre, Trinity Shopping Centre, Leeds Train Station and the University of Leeds.
To see where else you can connect to O2's 5G, use the operator's coverage checker .
Three 5G coverage
Three and Vodafone have made similar progress rolling out their 5G networks, achieving less coverage than EE but more than O2.
Three has claimed it is in pole position to build the UK's best 5G network because it owns nearly double the 5G-friendly spectrum its rivals do. However, the network was slow getting out of the starting gate with its 5G technology, which launched last of the four network operators, in February 2020.
Three has made quick progress since then and, nine months later, its 5G appears in 194 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.
RootMetrics identified the following cities as having greater than 5% coverage from Three's 5G:
- Birmingham: 18.9%
- Leicester: 7.3%
- Leeds: 6.9%
- London: 6.3%
- Sheffield: 5.9%
- Manchester: 5.4%
Three's 5G also boasts 20% availability in Central London. It hasn't yet launched in Northern Ireland.
To see if you can access Three's 5G in your neighbourhood and on your high street, use the network's coverage checker.
Vodafone 5G coverage
Vodafone's 5G started in just seven cities in July 2019. By June 2021, that has expanded to 100 locations in all counties of the UK, as well as 193 locations across Europe where you can roam using 5G. Vodafone boasts significant availability in Bristol (22.5% coverage) and, according to RootMetrics, has coverage above 5% in six other cities:
- Liverpool: 16%
- Manchester: 15.1%
- Cardiff: 14.3%
- Birmingham: 9.9%
- Glasgow: 8.8%
- London: 7.8%
Although Vodafone and Three have equal availability across greater London (5.2%), Vodafone has better coverage in Central London, at 39.6%, behind EE at 77.5%.
To see Vodafone's 5G coverage, use its Network Status Checker.
What about MVNOs?
Just over a third (34%) of mobile customers in the UK used a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) in 2021, according to Ofcom. These companies don't own their own mobile network like the big four, but instead use one of these existing networks (either EE, O2, Three or Vodafone) to provide a service.
The following MVNOs have recently begun offering 5G coverage to customers with a compatible device and a 5G plan:
- Asda Mobile: Launched its 5G service using the Vodafone network in April 2021.
- BT: Using EE's network, BT Mobile launched its 5G coverage in 125 locations across the UK in October 2019.
- Giffgaff: Launched its 5G service in October 2020 using O2's network.
- iD Mobile: Using Three's network, iD Mobile launched its 5G service in May 2021.
- Sky Mobile: Launched its 5G service in January 2020, using the infrastructure of O2's mobile network, and is now available in 160 towns and cities across the country.
- Tesco Mobile: Also uses O2's network, Tesco Mobile began offering 5G services in March 2020.
- Virgin Mobile: The mobile arm of Virgin Media launched its 5G service in January 2021, piggybacking off Vodafone's network.
- VOXI: Another MVNO using Vodafone's network, VOXI began offering 5G in the same locations in October 2019.
Places with the best 5G coverage
Where are the best UK areas for 5G coverage? Independent telecoms advisory umlaut has identified London as the city with the most widespread coverage, but the West Midlands as the region with most access to 5G.
London itself has 23.3% 5G geographic coverage, according to umlaut, benefiting from widespread coverage from EE and Vodafone in particular. It's followed by Glasgow, with 16.58% geographic coverage, and Manchester with 14.51%.
Top cities for 5G geographic coverage:
- London: 23.3%
- Glasgow: 16.58%
- Manchester: 14.51%
- Birmingham: 13.87%
- Bristol: 9.88%
- Liverpool: 7.32%
The West Midlands is the top-ranking Combined Authority area, with 10.97% geographical coverage.
Top Combined Authorities for 5G geographic coverage:
- West Midlands: 10.97%
- West of England: 6.21%
- Greater Manchester: 5.26%
- West Yorkshire: 4.09%
- Liverpool City Region: 3.49%
- Sheffield City Region: 3.24%