Choosing a smartphone or tablet is just the start. In this world of constant connectivity, the quality and speed of your chosen network is critical to your ability to work and play on the move. But which mobile network is best? While there's no simple answer, we're here to help you decide which network best suits your needs.

Connectivity can vary from locale to locale, and day to day. Visit the websites of all the major players and they will tell you that they have great coverage, everywhere. The truth is more nuanced.

Interestingly, according to StatCounter, October 2016 was the first time that more people accessed the internet on a mobile phone or tablet than they did on a desktop or laptop PC.

It recorded 51.2% mobile against 48.7% desktop, and that's stayed about the same, as of September 2019, making it all the more important that you choose the best mobile network.

If you've already got a contract and are considering buying a new phone or switching to a different network, here's how to find out how long is left on your contract, and then how to upgrade your contract early.

You might also be pleased to hear that recent text-to-switch changes in the UK mean it's easier than ever to swap to a new network.

It's important to make sure you know when your contract ends in order to ensure that you are not being overcharged. According to Citizens Advice, more than six million people are still being charged for mobile phones they've already paid for.

How to get 5G

The hottest topic in the mobile space right now is 5G, which is currently rolling out across the UK. You may want to keep this in mind when choosing which network to switch to.

The catch, in addition to the limited cities, is that you also need to make sure you've got a 5G-capable phone in order to get access to the faster data speeds. Find out everything you need to know about 5G in the UK here and see all our 5G phone deals here.

What's the best phone network in the UK?

First, let's have a look at the options. There actually only four major mobile networks in the UK, but there are several additional options that use branded services that piggyback off of the big four. The latter are actually classed as Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs and don't have their own network space.

The big four are:

EE has the largest number of piggybackers, including ASDA Mobile, BT MobilePlusnet and Virgin Mobile.

O2's piggybackers include Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile.

Three's include iD Mobile and SMARTY, while Vodafone's include Talk Mobile.

It's worth keeping this in mind when considering which provider you'd like to use, as coverage for the network you use may differ depending on where you are in the UK. You can use Ofcom's coverage checker to find out.

The problem with having just four networks is that, if one of those four suffers any sort of service outage, the chances are all of its piggybackers will too. For example, in December 2018, O2 customers and customers of all of the O2 piggybackers went without 4G for an entire day, causing chaos across the UK.

Below, we take a quick look at each operator and what they offer right now.

We've included information from Which's latest annual mobile customer service satisfaction survey, which was published on 23 April 2019 and involved 6,135 members of the public.

The survey revealed that, of the UK's providers, Vodafone was rated the worst, while the likes of Utility Warehouse and Giffgaff topped the list.

We've also revealed which uSwitch Mobile Awards 2019 each won.

Sky won the most awards with a total of three, including the best Network for customer service. Giffgaff won Network of the Year, while O2 won Best Network Coverage

According to the latest study by RootMetrics, EE is the provider of the best mobile coverage across the UK. Vodafone is the second-best option, while Three is third in Wales and England followed by O2, and vice versa for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Finally, if you've got (or are about to get) an iPhone, read Best network for iPhone, which provides specific advice.

BT Mobile


  • EE piggybacker
  • Good for BT Broadband customers
  • Now offers 5G
  • Find out more at BT.com

BT is one of the newer players in the market, using its branded services on EE’s UK network. It’s a good option if you already have BT Broadband as you can apply to benefit from a £5 monthly discount on your mobile plan.

What's more, BT Plus customers (those that have both their home broadband and mobile plan with BT) benefit from double data on all the mobile plans, not to mention a 20% discount on any additional Family SIMs.

BT also offers SIM-only plans for pretty decent prices. As it’s on EE’s network (which itself is a combination of the old T-Mobile and Orange UK networks) you’re likely to get excellent coverage and good download speeds.

Find out more on BT's website.

EE


  • One of the 'big four'
  • Great coverage across most of the UK
  • Data caps
  • Benefits for EE Home Broadband customers
  • Find out more at EE.co.uk

EE is becoming a bit of a behemoth in the UK mobile market. It was bought by BT in 2016 but that won’t really affect your choice of network.

EE’s network is comprised of the old T-Mobile and Orange frequencies, so there’s a lot of coverage nationally, with few blackspots. 

Its phone contract prices can be a tad pricey, but for sheer confidence in coverage (and a big brand name to boot) it’s a solid choice.

In August 2019 it announced some truly unlimited 4G data plans that also let you share up to 120GB a month with any other EE mobile line linked to your account. 

You'll get free EU roaming, there are data caps available, and if you get EE Home Broadband you can get a mobile data boost of up to 20GB per month.

EE won uSwitch's 2019 awards for Fastest Mobile Network and Most Popular Mobile Network. It's also the provider of the best coverage according to RootMetrics 2019 study.

Find out more over on EE's website.

Giffgaff


  • O2 piggybacker
  • Simple SIM-only Goodybags that you can change or cancel any time
  • uSwitch Network of the Year 2019
  • Find out more at Giffgaff.com

Owned by O2, Giffgaff is a little operator but one with attractive SIM-only deals. Using its owner's network, it offers great value Goodybags such as the £10 per month, 6GB option.

It has also permanently doubled its £20 Goodybag data allowance from 20GB to 40GB, while £25 gets you unlimited data that is speed capped after you've used 40GB.

It’s a fine choice if you already own a handset – just get a SIM and you’re good to go. However, it does offer phones on a contract if you need both. 

Giffgaff won consumer watchdog uSwitch’s 'Network of the Year' and 'Best Network for Data', so it’s clearly doing something right. It also ranked highly in Which's annual mobile customer satisfaction survey.

Visit Giffgaff's website to find out more.

O2


  • One of the 'big four'
  • Won uSwitch's Best Network Coverage award
  • Find out more at O2.co.uk

O2 is a brand that has been around since 2002 in the UK and has been owned by Telefónica since 2005. Recently rival operator Three attempted to merge with O2 but the European Commission opted to block the move (this was in the wake of the BT and EE sale).

Despite this, O2 is one of the most well-known operators around. Its prices are high compared to some competitors but coverage is excellent and its pay as you go range is one of the best in the country. 

O2 won uSwitch's 'Best Network Coverage' award in 2019, but the study by RootMetrics found it wasn't as good as Vodafone and EE for coverage in the UK.

Get more information on O2's website.

Plusnet


  • EE piggybacker
  • Data caps
  • No tethering charges
  • No phone contracts available, just SIM-only options
  • Find out more at plus.net

Plusnet, which was once LIFE Mobile, uses EE in the same way that BT Mobile does, meaning you'll get really reliable coverage here.

Perks include no extra charges for tethering and the ability to set a monthly price cap to stop any nasty surprises appearing on your bill. It's a good SIM-only option with very reasonable pricing.

It won uSwitch's 'Best Sim-Only Network' award in 2019.

Find out more and see deals on Plusnet's website.

Sky Mobile


  • O2 piggybacker
  • Good deals for existing Sky customers
  • Piggybank Rewards
  • Flexible plans
  • Find out more at Sky.com

One of the newest additions to the UK mobile market, Sky has become a ‘quad-play’ provider by adding mobile to its TV, broadband and landline offerings. 

Existing Sky customers get the best deals, with free calls and texts. You just pay for how much data you want, on a plan that uses O2’s network. Non-Sky customers can pay extra per month for unlimited calls and texts.

There's also a fun feature called Piggybank Rewards, which means customers can cash in their unused data allowance for savings on phones, tablets and accessories. This is part of its 'Roll' plans, which also allow customers to tap into their unused data from previous months at any time for up to three years.

There are also good Swap contracts that allow customers to upgrade their phone every year and Mix, which lets customers change their data allowance each month.

Sky won three uSwitch awards this year: 'Best Network for Customer Service', 'Best Pay Monthly Network' and 'Best Value Pay Monthly Network'.

You'll find more info on Sky Mobile's website.


  • Three piggybacker
  • SIM-only network
  • Simple and affordable
  • Find out more at SMARTY.co.uk

A completely new name in the mobile market is SMARTY, a SIM-only network powered by Three.

It's designed with simplicity and transparency in mind, offering four data discount plans that mean you'll get money back for unused data, and one unlimited plan. You can change or cancel your plan at any time. 

This newbie won two uSwitch awards: 'Best Value SIM-only Network' and 'Best PAYG Network'.

You'll find more info on the SMARTY website.

Tesco Mobile


Another user of O2’s big UK network, Tesco Mobile provides contracts, PAYG and SIM-only deals at decent prices. Again, because it uses O2’s network, coverage will be decent and often the subsidies for new handsets are good to boot.

SIM-only prices start at under £10 per month, so if you’ve got a handset you already love, you could save a lot of money.

Find out more over on Tesco Mobile's website.

Three


  • One of the 'big four'
  • All-you-can-eat data available
  • Go Roam and Go Binge data features
  • uSwitch's Best Network for Roaming
  • Find out more at Three.co.uk

Three offers reasonably priced ‘all-you-can-eat’ data bundles. That’s right, unlimited data. If you can afford it, you can get the best handsets in the land with unlimited internet access.

Plus, even if you don't choose an all you can eat package, you'll be able to stream shows from Netflix, TVPlayer, Dave and History Channel, as well as songs from Deezer, Apple Music and SoundCloud infinitely, without it counting towards your data allowance with the network's 'Go Binge' feature.

Plus, its 'Go Roam Around the World' adds more than 20 worldwide countries to the usual European destinations that let you roam for free.

Pay as you go rates are also pretty decent if you don’t need as much data, minutes or texts.

uSwitch awarded Three the 'Best Network for Roaming' and the 'Most Popular Mobile Network' in 2019.

Click here for more information over on Three's website.

Virgin Mobile


  • EE piggybacker
  • Data rollover
  • Flexible plans
  • Data-free messaging
  • Find out more at VirginMedia.com

Virgin was late to the party with 4G but has caught up and is an attractive option if you already get your broadband connection and TV from Virgin, cutting down the number of tech providers you have to deal with.

It offers data rollover features and lets you message on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter without eating into your allowance.

There's the ability to change your 4G plan every month, too.

Virgin Mobile's website offers more info.

Vodafone


  • One of the 'big four'
  • Vodafone Global Roaming
  • Big data plans available
  • Find out more at Vodafone.co.uk

Vodafone is a staple brand in the UK mobile market and its coverage is excellent but it has suffered from reports of bad customer service over the past few years.

However, the actual network itself provides reliable fast 4G (and now 5G) connectivity, and its SIM-only deals are well priced.

It also offers Global Roaming, which lets you use your normal data plan at no extra cost in 152 destinations on most plans.

You'll find more information on Vodafone's website here.