Mobile phones have become an integral part of modern life. We need more for them than we ever did as a hand-held device. We now no longer leave the house without them; many of us are even sleeping with our phones! These days, we don’t use our mobile phones just for making calls only, but for sending emails, text messages and surfing the internet as well. Moreover, the convenience, apps, cameras, and even games you play on your mobile phones are designed in a way that they become a part of your daily life.
The mobile network is the second thing that comes hand in hand with a mobile phone. Without a network, your mobile phone is good for nothing. Customers often underestimate the value of an exemplary mobile network. Usually, a mobile network is considered good if its users are satisfied with the signals, internet speed, and calling rates.
If you live in or travelling to Great Britain, you might pay a little more for your calls and internet data than in many other countries. Competition in the UK mobile network industry has never been higher. There are some big names like Vodafone, Three, EE and O2 battling for your attention as well as a range of MVNOs like Talk Home, Lebara, Lycamobile, Giffgaff, Plusnet, Voxi, Smarty, etc., fighting for their place in the market.
At this point, you might be curious about which mobile phone network in the UK is best for your budget? Let’s explore this question! We’ve collected loads of information about the best mobile phone networks and MVNOs in the UK and compiled it into an easy-to-read guide.
5G Coverage in the UK
You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz around 5G technology recently, both in the news and in your social media feeds. It’s important to know that it will be a while before you get 5G coverage in every nook and corner of the UK; however, a lot of new areas are getting 5G access as the mobile phone networks in the UK are expanding their 5G coverage.
Specifically, Three mobile networks cover 30% of the population living in the outskirts of the UK, while EE mobile network has planned to cover 90% of the UK by 2030. Vodafone’s 5G coverage is expanded to 123 cities and towns across the UK. The O2 mobile network currently holds its 5G presence in 180 destinations in the UK.
According to a survey by Speedtest Intelligence, Three mobile network stands decisively at the top with an approximate download speed of 231 Mbps. Second in the line is Vodafone mobile network with 159.49 Mbps. O2 mobile network secured third place with an average download speed of 155.54 Mbps, while EE mobile network stood fourth with 151 Mbps.
In terms of overall 5G availability across the UK, EE secured the top place by offering 17.9% availability, followed by Vodafone at 10.3%. Three offered 6.4% and O2 secured last place at 5.4%.
Compared to the 4G, the UK residents seem more satisfied with 5G. It is mainly because 5G is fundamentally faster than the 4g; technological advancement needs faster internet to carry out its vast operations.
Despite this progress, 5G coverage in London is quite average compared to the other capitals in the world. Overall, the UK’s 5G coverage and speed is ahead of other European countries but still behind South Korea and China.
Best Mobile Phone Networks in the UK
We all have different needs when it comes to our mobile phones. There are so many varying factors to consider in choosing the best mobile phone network for you and your family. At times, it is so confusing for people to pick a network that offers the best coverage and value for money.
Currently, four leading players dominate the UK market – EE, Vodafone, Three, and O2. But with the emergence of new mobile networks and MVNOs, you have plenty of choices when it comes to picking out a network that best suits your needs.
EE is the UK’s largest mobile network operator. It provides 4G and 3G services to customers in many regions of Great Britain, including London, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Its customer base includes young adults who want to use the internet heavily. EE provides the highest 4G and 5G network availability across the UK. In fact, EE was also the first network in the UK to launch 4G in 2012 and 5G in 2019.
For calling in the UK, EE offers its monthly plan for a price of £13. This plan gets you 1 GB of internet data, 500 minutes, and unlimited texts. From Jan 2022, this plan will charge £2/day for European roaming.
O2 describes itself as “Britain’s first digital-only network”. It is a subsidiary of Telefónica Group, operating as a mobile network operator under the O2 brand; also working in Ireland as eMobile. It is the largest UK mobile network operator and has 27 million customers in the United Kingdom. Using the network allows you to access a number of benefits, including browsing the internet and connecting with friends and family members.
O2’s monthly plan offers unlimited local calling minutes, unlimited texts, and 1 GB of internet data. In addition, O2 offers free Wi-Fi hotspots and free of cost European roaming.
Three UK is a British mobile network operator and internet service provider, also known as 3, based in the United Kingdom. Three is the third largest and one of the best mobile phone networks in the UK, with millions of customers. It is widely famous for its low-priced data-heavy deals.
Three offers unlimited texts and minutes to call in the UK, and 1 GB of data for £5 per month. Three will charge £2/day for European roaming.
Vodafone, the 4G/5G Fastest Network and one of the UK’s largest networks, is leading a revolution in mobile. Now with new technologies such as 5G, HD Voice and NFC, it’s never been easier to talk, text, share and surf on your Vodafone mobile network. Vodafone is offering both pay-as-you-go and contract mobile phone plans. Vodafone remains at the forefront, bringing you a super-fast 5G network availability and coverage wherever you go in the UK.
Vodafone’s monthly plan costs £6 per month and offers 1 GB of 4G/5G internet data and unlimited local calling minutes and texts.
Which Networks Power the MVNOs
Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is referred to a mobile network provider that does not operate on its own network. People living outside the UK might not be familiar with MVNOs, but it’s a quite common term here in the UK.
The mobile phone market in the UK is predominantly captured by the Big Four – EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three. Since these four mobile networks own a significant chunk of the market, other mobile networks collaborate with one of these four networks in order to operate their Sims. This practice is commonly described as “piggybacking.”
If you’re curious to find out more about MVNOs and which networks power them, you’ve arrived at the right place. Across the world, there are about 1000 MVNOs providing services to their customers. So, what is it that makes them so popular? Let’s have a look at some MVNOs hosted by the major mobile networks in the UK.
Talk Home – Suitable for students, families and ex-pats who want to make cheap local and international calls.
Talk Home Mobile is powered as an MVNO by EE network, the largest network in Great Britain. It offers its services without any contract or agreement. Moreover, if you are a new user, you don’t need any credit check or a minimum sign-up period.
Talk Home offers its customers monthly plans loaded with minutes, texts, and internet data that they can utilise anywhere around the UK. Similarly, there are a dozen national and international plans offering numerous values, so the users can choose whatever plan best suits their budget.
Since Talk Home is powered by the best network in the UK, its accessibility has never been in question. Besides, the customers can also buy or send mobile top-ups to their loved ones from a wide range of distributors.
Plusnet Mobile – budget-friendly, reliable, and suits best for users already on Plusnet broadband.
Once owned by Life Mobile, Plusnet is now powered by EE, meaning that the users will get outstanding coverage. Although Plusnet has not yet started offering 5G services, its 4G coverage is still pretty good.
Plusnet features include no sneaky charges and allow the customers to set a limit on their monthly calling budget so that they don’t see unwanted surprises on their monthly phone bills. In addition, this MVNO is offering low-priced plans starting from £7.50/month. This price gets cheaper if you’re already a Plusnet broadband service user.
BT Mobile – New player in the market, best for internet surfers
BT mobile started in 2015 by collaborating with EE. But still, BT mobile is considered a newbie to the mobile network market. However, its coverage and internet speed are exceptional because EE powers it.
BT Mobile is a good choice if you’re already using BT broadband since you can get a £5/month discount on BT mobile packages. Moreover, you can also double your internet data if you’re a BT Halo customer and you buy a BT Mobile plan too.
There’s a 12-month contract on SIM-only plans with no offer on PAYG Sim.
Utility Warehouse – Offers accessible Sim-only deals and discounts on buying more than one SIM.
Utility Warehouse is neither involved in direct marketing nor has any shop but still credits itself as the most prominent mobile network provider. It usually offers two Sim-only deals.
In addition, the users can get mobile phones starting from £1/month on a 2-year contract. This contract is only for the mobile phone. You have to buy the Sim-only plan separately. If you want to subscribe to other services from Utility Warehouse like broadband, you can get extra discounts.
VOXI – Suitable for internet users and those on social media platforms.
Powered by the Vodafone network, VOXI is best for the users who update their social media news feed daily. Buying VOXI plans will get you complimentary internet data for social media usage. Currently, the youth in the UK is tilting towards VOXI due to its social media deals.
However, VOXI does not offer any PAYG plan, and the users are bound to abide by a minimum of a twelve-month contract for starting.
Lebara Mobile – Best for users with low-budget. Offers cheap international calling and low-priced SIMs.
Lebara started in 2001 by offering international calling cards and then jumped towards global Sims. Lebara’s monthly Sim-only deals include local and international calling, texting, and internet data plans. The international Sim-only plans include over 40 destinations, including the US, Canada, India, and Australia.
However, one extra feature that other MVNOs offer, but Lebara doesn’t, is 4g/Wi-Fi calling. So, if you’re expecting something like Wi-Fi calling, you might look for other options.
Virgin Mobile – Best suited for users looking for new mobile phones
Virgin mobile is widely known for offering the latest mobile phones on contract along with Sim-only plans. The customers can also enjoy social media and messaging apps like Facebook messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp in the UK without consuming their allowance. Not only this, but you can also add your unused data to next month. However, video and voice calling through these apps are not free.
Despite such flexibilities, Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer PAYG plans, and the user must get into to twelve-month contract upon signing up.
Asda Mobile – Best for customers who don’t make frequent calls. Offers convenient top-ups and PAYG deals
Powered by Vodafone, Asda Mobile offers PAYG bundles where customers can choose calling minutes, texts, and internet data according to their needs. With Asda’s PAYG only bundles, you won’t need to sign up for any contract, but you will have to pay in advance to use the service.
Although the services offered by Asda Mobile are budget-friendly, the value is not that fantastic. Other MVNOs in the market offer much greater value in the same budget.
Giffgaff – offers low-cost PAYG deals, best for students and ex-pats
Giffgaff, run by O2, is one of the oldest MVNOs in the UK. Named as Goodybags, Giffgaff offers low-priced Sim-only deals with 5G as the cherry on the top. The offers usually stay for a whole month, but the customer can cancel or change the deal whenever they want. Moreover, calling and texting among the Giffgaff community is free.
Besides the Sim-only deals, Giffgaff also offers mobile phones on contract coupled with any deal you select.
However, one major drawback of this MVNO is that it doesn’t have any customer support centre. If users face any problem, they have to share it within the Giffgaff community, where other users might help solve their concerns.
Sky Mobile – Best for internet and TV lovers, offers great deals on mobile phones
Previously offering its television, landline, and broadband services, Sky Mobile started in 2017 using O2 as its parent network. With Sky Mobile coming to the market, the company also waived off the exclusive discounts which were once offered to the existing customers of the Sky network. Now, the benefits are the same for all the customers, new or old.
The “Piggybank reward” feature by Sky Mobile allows the customers to convert their unused data for savings on other gadgets offered by the company on contracts like phones, tablets etc. This feature is similar to adding your unused data to the next month.
Tesco Mobile – offers mobile phone contracts, attractive prices for Sim-only and PAYG deals, best for existing Tesco customers
Tesco, a giant supermarket chain in the UK, started off its services as a mobile network provider a few years back. It is offering PAYG and Sim-only deals along with contracts on mobile phones at cheap prices. If you already have a handset, you can opt for the Sim-only deal, and you’re good to go.
Along with the cheap deals, if you own a Tesco Clubcard Plus, you can get amazing discounts on your mobile contract, shopping from Tesco, and Tesco in-store brands.
Lyca Mobile – offers affordable deals on PAYG mobile phones, data top-ups, monthly contracts.
Lyca Mobile specialises in low-cost international calling deals. Since Lyca Mobile uses the O2 network to power its SIMs, the users are not likely to have any problem with signals and internet speed.
If a customer is looking for a monthly contract instead of a yearly one, Lyca Mobile would be a suitable choice. Moreover, they also offer more internet data than most other MVNOs and have a deal with unlimited internet data.
SMARTY – Best for customers with a low budget, offers cheap SIM-only deals and refunds on remaining data
SMARTY has three different SIM-only deals and five high-value internet data deals offering 4 GB, 50 GB, and unlimited internet data. The data plans also include 5G, and You can choose and cancel any plan whenever you want. If the customers leave the monthly allowance unused, SMARTY offers a refund for every MB.
iD Mobile – offers cheap mobile contracts, best for users looking for flexibility in contracts
iD Mobile is owned by Carphone Warehouse, famous in the UK for providing the most recent mobile phones under low-cost contracts. The cheapest Sim-only deal by iD Mobile starts from £4/month. If you opt for the Shockproof plan, you can set a monthly limit on your usage to avoid using more data than your budget allows.
There isn’t any significant difference in mobile networks and MVNOs in terms of connecting, calling, and internet usage. The actual difference comes when you look ahead of these fundamentals. Although the four giants – EE, Vodafone, Three, and O2 – offer numerous perks if you buy their mobile phone contracts, MVNOs have their perks too to offer.
If you’re low on budget and looking for a cheaper option, choosing an MVNO would be the best choice. MVNOs offer their services in every domain you can think of. Whether international or local calling, low or high internet data bundles or mobile top-ups, you’ll find a suitable plan with MVNOs.
As already explained in this article, you’ll undoubtedly get the best bargain if you go for an MVNO. The logic behind these discounts is that MVNOs are much easier to run and maintain as compared to mobile networks. That’s why the savings are used to design attractive deals to attract more and more customers.
If you’re already a customer of any of the MVNOs mentioned above, feel free to let us know!