Coverage should be your top consideration when choosing a new mobile network. Find out how to compare the mobile coverage in your area.

When you’re choosing a new mobile network, the coverage available in your area should be the first thing you consider.

On a mobile network with poor coverage, you would likely have a frustrating experience. Web pages are likely to load slowly on your phone (or not at all) and phone calls are likely to being missed. The battery life on your smartphone will also be worsened by poor coverage.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about mobile coverage in the UK. From how to check and compare coverage across different mobile networks to the key questions you should ask when considering the coverage on a network. We’ll also discuss the UK’s system of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) along with apps and accessories for improving the coverage in your home.

Compare UK Mobile Network Coverage

In the UK, there are currently more than 30 different mobile networks to choose from. Only four companies, however, hold a license to build and maintain their own mobile phone masts (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone). Besides the big four, all other mobile networks piggyback on coverage from one of the four main providers.

Mobile networks that piggyback on someone else for coverage are known as “mobile virtual network operators” (or MVNOs for short). There are many examples of MVNOs in the UK. For instance, BT Mobile is a MVNO using the EE network and giffgaff is a MVNO using the O2 network. Although your service is branded as BT Mobile or giffgaff, the underlying coverage will still be coming from EE or O2.

Table: UK Mobile Networks & Actual Coverage Provider

In the table below, we’ve provided a list of UK mobile networks. For each network, we’ve shown the underlying coverage provider and also the types of coverage that are available on that network. You can tap the relevant link for each network to see an online coverage map for that network.

Mobile NetworkCoverage Provider2G3G4G5GCoverage Checker
1pMobileEECheck 1pMobile Coverage
ASDA MobileVodafone1Check ASDA Mobile Coverage
BT MobileEECheck BT Mobile Coverage
CMLinkEECheck CMLink Coverage
Co-operative MobileEECheck Co-operative Mobile Coverage
CTExcelEECheck CTExcel Coverage
CUniqO2Check CUniq Coverage
EcotalkEECheck Ecotalk Coverage
EEEECheck EE Coverage
giffgaffO2Check giffgaff Coverage
Honest MobileThree2Check Honest Mobile Coverage
iD MobileThreeCheck iD Mobile Coverage
IQ MobileEECheck IQ Mobile Coverage
Lebara MobileVodafoneCheck Lebara Mobile Coverage
LycamobileO2Check Lycamobile Coverage
O2O2Check O2 Coverage
OrangeEECheck Orange Coverage
Plusnet MobileEECheck Plusnet Mobile Coverage
RWG MobileEECheck RWG Mobile Coverage
Sky MobileO2Check Sky Mobile Coverage
SmartyThreeCheck Smarty Coverage
Superdrug MobileThreeCheck Superdrug Mobile Coverage
T-MobileEECheck T-Mobile Coverage
TalkmobileVodafoneCheck Talkmobile Coverage
TalkTalk MobileVodafone3Check TalkTalk Mobile Coverage
Tesco MobileO2Check Tesco Mobile Coverage
ThreeThreeCheck Three Coverage
Utility WarehouseEECheck Utility Warehouse Coverage
Vectone MobileEECheck Vectone Mobile Coverage
Virgin MobileVodafone4Check Virgin Mobile Coverage
Virgin Mobile 4GEE5Check Virgin Mobile 4G Coverage
VodafoneVodafoneCheck Vodafone Coverage
VOXIVodafoneCheck VOXI Coverage

1 Customers on the old ASDA Mobile 4G service will currently have access to EE coverage instead.
2 On Honest Mobile, you can buy a £10/month Smart Signal add-on to get access to EE and O2 coverage when Three's coverage isn't available.
3 TalkTalk Mobile closed to new customers in April 2017. TalkTalk home broadband customers are now offered a discounted contract from O2.
4 Customers with a Virgin Mobile 5G plan will receive all of their coverage from Vodafone (including 2G, 3G and 4G).
5 Virgin Mobile customers with a 4G phone will currently receive 4G coverage from EE. In late 2021, customers will migrate to using Vodafone. Virgin Mobile 5G customers will receive all of their coverage from Vodafone (including 2G, 3G and 4G).

The mobile networks highlighted in bold maintain their own mobile network infrastructure. All other mobile networks are considered to be MVNOs, piggybacking on the coverage provider listed in the table.

Key Questions To Ask About Coverage

In our opinion, there are six important questions you should ask about coverage when choosing a new mobile network in the UK:

1. Which coverage provider do you use?

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone
Firstly, it’s important to determine the coverage provider being used by the mobile network. This will either be EE, O2, Three or Vodafone. The coverage provider used determines lots of other things such as the type and level of coverage available in your area.

To give an example, if you’re only able to get coverage from EE and Vodafone in your area, you should choose a mobile network that uses EE coverage or a mobile network that uses Vodafone coverage.

You can use the table provided earlier in this page to see the coverage provider for each UK mobile network.

2. Will I have access to 4G coverage or 5G coverage?

Find out whether you’ll be able to access faster forms of coverage like 4G coverage or 5G coverage. Nowadays, most UK mobile networks offer access to 4G coverage and this is a fairly decent baseline for almost all daily usage. Some mobile networks are however still limited to 3G coverage -this will give you slower download speeds and poorer performance.

If you have a 5G-ready phone, a 5G-ready SIM card will allow you to access even faster speeds. Meanwhile, customers with a 2G-only phone or some dual-SIM smartphones should choose a mobile network where they have access to 2G coverage.

3. Do you have coverage in all of the places where I regularly spend time?

Use the coverage map for your mobile network to see whether coverage is available in all of the places where you regularly spend time. For instance, besides simply checking the coverage at your home address, you may also want to check the coverage that’s available at your workplace, university, school or local pub.

4. Is coverage available indoors or only outdoors?

If possible, you should choose a mobile network that claims to offers indoor coverage at the places where you regularly spend time. This means they have enough confidence that the signal is strong enough to be usable inside your home.

Do be aware that actual indoor coverage may differ based on factors not considered by the online maps. For instance, indoor coverage can be affected by building construction materials, wall insulation and proximity of other nearby buildings. It may also differ based on your location inside the building (e.g. coverage is often worse if you’re living in a basement flat).

5. Can I test-drive the coverage before I sign up?

If you’d like to test out the coverage before you sign up for a contract, it’s normally possible to do this by putting a free SIM card inside your unlocked smartphone.

  • For mobile networks using coverage from EE, you can test the coverage using a free ASDA Mobile or EE SIM card.
  • For mobile networks using coverage from O2, you can test the coverage using a giffgaff or O2 SIM card.
  • For mobile networks using coverage from Three, you can test the coverage using a SMARTY or Three SIM card.
  • For mobile networks using coverage from Vodafone, you can test the coverage using a VOXI or Vodafone SIM card.

There’s no need to undergo a credit check or to sign a contract when using one of these SIM cards in your phone.

6. How about international coverage?

If you regularly travel abroad, it’s worth checking the international coverage available on your mobile network.

Some mobile networks have inclusive roaming offers for customers to use their mobile phone abroad at no extra charge. These include Three’s Go Roam offer, Vodafone’s Global Roaming service and O2’s Travel plan. Roaming bundles may also be available such as EE’s Roam Further Pass swappable benefit and Sky’s Roaming Passport plan.

Overview of Mobile Coverage in the UK

In the UK, there are four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Please refer to the detailed coverage maps (linked below) for an overview of the services available where you live.


EEEE is the UK’s largest mobile network provider. Originally formed out of the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, the company has been part of BT since 2016. EE offers 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage to its own customers, though many MVNO customers are limited to either 3G or 4G coverage.

The following mobile networks use coverage from EE:

At the time of writing, EE offers 99% population coverage on 2G, 3G and 4G. 5G coverage has started rolling out to customers in selected areas on EE. EE’s mobile network uses the following bands and frequencies:

EE Coverage TypeSupported Bands & Frequencies
5G Coverage
  • 5G NR Band n78 (3500MHz)
4G Coverage
  • LTE Band 3 (1800MHz)
  • LTE Band 7 (2600MHz)
  • LTE Band 20 (800MHz)
  • LTE Band 1 (2100MHz)
  • LTE Band 38 (2600MHz)
3G Coverage
  • 2100MHz
2G Coverage
  • 1800MHz

Check EE Network Coverage ( →

For more information, see our full review of the coverage on EE or our guide to mobile networks using EE coverage.


In the UK, O2 offers 99% population coverage on 2G, 3G and 4G. They also offer 5G coverage in a number of UK towns and cities.

In addition to O2 providing their mobile service directly to consumers, they also power the underlying coverage for other mobile networks including giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile:

The O2 mobile network uses the following bands and frequencies:

O2 Coverage TypeSupported Bands & Frequencies
5G Coverage
  • 5G NR Band n78 (3500MHz)
4G Coverage
  • LTE Band 20 (800MHz)
  • LTE Band 1 (2100MHz)
  • LTE Band 3 (1800MHz)
  • LTE Band 8 (900MHz)
  • LTE Band 40 (2300MHz)
3G Coverage
  • 2100MHz
  • 900MHz
2G Coverage
  • 900MHz

Check O2 Network Coverage ( →

For more information, see our review of the coverage on O2 and our guide to mobile networks using O2 coverage.


Three is the youngest of the UK’s four network coverage providers, having originally launched to consumers back in 2003. As of 2020, Three offers 99.8% population coverage across the UK.

A number of MVNOs use coverage from Three. The most important ones are iD Mobile (an own-brand mobile network from the Carphone Warehouse) and SMARTY Mobile (a low-cost sub-brand of Three):

Three’s network uses the following bands and frequencies:

Three Coverage TypeSupported Bands & Frequencies
5G Coverage
  • 5G NR Band n78 (3500MHz)
4G Coverage
  • LTE Band 3 (1800MHz)
  • LTE Band 20 (800MHz)
  • LTE Band 1 (2100MHz)
  • LTE Band 32 (1500MHz)
3G Coverage
  • 2100MHz

Check Three Network Coverage ( →

One important thing to note is that Three doesn’t offer any 2G coverage. For this reason, it isn’t possible to use a 2G-only device on Three’s network (or on any other mobile network that uses coverage from Three). Some dual-SIM devices may also not work correctly on Three’s network.

For more information, see our guide to Three’s coverage. We’ve also got an overview of the mobile networks using coverage from Three.


Vodafone was the UK’s first mobile network, having originally launched their first-generation mobile network in 1985. Today, they offer 99% population coverage on 2G, 3G and 4G. 5G coverage has also started rolling out in selected towns and cities across the UK.

As well as providing services directly through their own brand, Vodafone has a number of virtual network operators including VOXI, Talkmobile and Lebara Mobile:

Vodafone’s mobile network in the UK makes use of the following bands and frequencies:

Vodafone Coverage TypeSupported Bands & Frequencies
5G Coverage
  • 5G NR Band n78 (3500MHz)
4G Coverage
  • LTE Band 7 (2600MHz)
  • LTE Band 20 (800MHz)
  • LTE Band 1 (2100MHz)
  • LTE Band 3 (1800MHz)
  • LTE Band 8 (900MHz)
  • LTE Band 32 (1500MHz)
  • LTE Band 38 (2600MHz)
3G Coverage
  • 2100MHz
  • 900MHz
2G Coverage
  • 900MHz

Check Vodafone Network Coverage ( →

For more information, see our in-depth guide to the coverage on Vodafone. Alternatively, see our round-up of mobile networks using Vodafone coverage.

Apps & Accessories for Better Indoor Coverage

Where possible, we’d always strongly recommend choosing a mobile network where you’re able to get good indoor coverage.

In some cases, however, it might not always be possible to choose a network with indoor coverage. For instance, you might be tied in to a contract with one network or there might be no mobile networks offering good coverage in your area.

As a solution to this, there might be some apps and accessories you can use to improve your indoor coverage:

Many lower-cost MVNOs do not support apps and accessories for better indoor coverage. For this reason, it may sometimes be better to choose one of the main mobile networks if you’re in an area with poor coverage.

About MVNOs

  • ASDA Mobile
  • BT Mobile
  • giffgaff
  • iD Mobile
  • Plusnet Mobile
  • Sky Mobile
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Virgin Mobile

The UK has a large number of MVNOs (a selection are shown in this image).

The UK has just four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. These coverage providers manage all of the fixed network infrastructure including the required spectrum licenses and the network of physical masts.

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) piggyback on the infrastructure from one of the four coverage providers. MVNOs include BT Mobile, giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Their underlying coverage comes from the network coverage provider, but things like billing and customer support are handled by the MVNO.

giffgaff is an O2 MVNO, targeted at younger & more price-conscious consumers.

In some cases, MVNOs are either owned or partly-owned by the coverage provider. This is a common technique for targeting different groups of customers. For instance, giffgaff is a low-cost subsidiary of O2 aimed at younger and more price-conscious consumers. Through their sub-brands, mobile networks can offer lower prices without cannibalising the revenues made on their core brand.

Armed with this knowledge, savvy consumers can often save substantial amounts of money by switching to a low-cost MVNO. You’ll receive the exact same coverage, but often at a vastly reduced cost.

Historical Information

The information in the table above shows the current line-up of UK mobile virtual network operators. In the past, MVNOs have sometimes changed their underlying coverage provider. This has led to changes in the coverage they offer:

  • ASDA Mobile. In October 2013, ASDA Mobile switched to using the EE network. Prior to this, ASDA Mobile operated on the Vodafone network.
  • BT Mobile. The current BT Mobile service launched to consumers in March 2015 using EE’s mobile network. Prior to this, BT had a business-only mobile service which operated on Vodafone until summer 2014.
  • Delight Mobile. From July 2011 to July 2018, Delight Mobile offered coverage from EE. In July 2018, the service closed down with customers being transferred to Vectone Mobile.
  • Family Mobile. Family Mobile (originally from IKEA and then from Coms Mobile) previously used coverage from EE. The service closed in August 2015.
  • FreedomPop. FreedomPop’s UK network previously offered coverage from Three. The service closed in February 2020 and is no longer available.
  • LIFE Mobile. In November 2016, customers on LIFE Mobile transitioned to Plusnet Mobile. Customers who originally signed up for a LIFE Mobile plan were moved over to the Plusnet Mobile service.
  • Lycamobile. In 2010, Lycamobile switched to using the O2 network. Prior to this, Lycamobile used the Orange network.
  • Mobile by Sainsbury’s. Between July 2013 and January 2016, Sainsbury’s had an own-brand mobile network using coverage from Vodafone.
  • Orange & T-Mobile. In October 2011, Orange and T-Mobile merged their network operations under the EE brand. The combined networks of Orange and T-Mobile became the 2G and 3G network of EE. In addition, EE launched a 4G network under their own brand but this wasn’t made available to customers on Orange or T-Mobile. In February 2015, Orange and T-Mobile closed their service to new customers.
  • OVIVO Mobile. OVIVO Mobile previously used coverage from Vodafone. The service closed on the 19th March 2014.
  • Post Office Mobile. The Post Office Mobile previously used coverage from EE. The service was closed in August 2016.
  • TalkTalk Mobile. TalkTalk Mobile previously used coverage from Vodafone. The service was closed to new customers in April 2017. Customers of TalkTalk home broadband are now offered a discounted contract from O2.
  • Tello. Tello previously used coverage from Three. The service closed in January 2018.
  • The People’s Operator. TPO Mobile (The People’s Operator) closed in February 2019. It offered coverage from Three between July 2016 and February 2019, and coverage from EE between November 2012 and July 2016.
  • Virgin Mobile. Virgin have announced plans to change their coverage provider from EE to Vodafone. This will take place by 2021 with customers getting access to 5G coverage on Vodafone once the migration has happened.

Your Comments 146 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 146 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • It says EE offers 2G on 900mhz they switched it off in at least 2 areas last week abruptly ending my long term contract would never trust again plus the fact technical srvices left me to work out why it wasnt working rather than doing their job
    Aloso bought an expensive phone off EE it broke in 2 months was told insurance had run out so threw it only to find the insurance was still valid and got conned there aswell and 2 other phones broke within 2 months and one ithin a week . Dont goto EE

  • Hey Ken, abdolutely great resource, thanks for compiling!
    One thing i had wondered is that is the actual difference when choosing an MVNO the data *speed* that they can offer? We know that an MVNOs coverage is generally same as the parent network, but I’ve read that the speeds offered are generally lower. Is there any way to add this in to a comparison to help deciding between networks?

    • Hi Fry,
      Thank you for the kind feedback!
      That’s a great question & idea, and something that I’ve thought about in the past as well. Sadly, however, it isn’t really feasible to add in this comparison as a lot of it comes down to the confidential agreements between individual networks and the underlying coverage providers. It’s also dependent on factors like location and the amount of capacity/congestion on nearby masts. For instance, it’s true that some MVNOs receive a lower ‘priority’ for traffic on the mast but this may not make a huge difference if there’s enough capacity on the mast. Similarly, even different users on an MNO may have different traffic ‘priority’ (e.g. emergency calls always come first, normally followed by business users and then Pay Monthly consumers and Pay As You Go consumers). There is a bit of information about things like speed caps, whether 4G/5G are available, etc which we do try to show in our in-depth reviews of each network (albeit, I’m sure there’s more information the networks aren’t sharing with us publicly).

  • Hi Ken,

    Very useful website, thanks. In the “Supported Bands & Frequencies” table for each network, why are some frequencies in bold and others in normal font? What does the bold frequency / band mean?

    • Hi Vic,
      Thanks for your comment. The frequencies listed in bold are the main or most important frequencies for your mobile phone to support. The other frequencies just provide additional coverage/capacity so are typically less important. See my guide to UK bands and frequencies for more information.
      Hope this helps,

  • Ken,
    An excellent web site – thanks.
    I have 3 questions:
    1) Do you have any information about European 2G coverage (or can you point me elsewhere)?
    2) Does anyone do simple PAYG now? They all seem to be either contract or bundles (a contract by any other name).
    3) I require a 2G sim for a piece of equipment which will only send an sms once or twice per month but might then send a burst of 50-150 sms over a 1-2 hour period. It seems to me that 1pmobile is probably the best opion since I would rapidly build up credit (£10 every 4months) which would easily cover the burst mode. I would of course be losing money overall.

  • Mohammed Farooq said:

    Hi Ken,

    I am with Plusnet mobile £5.25p/mth – (30 day rolling sim only deal) offering 1000mins/1000txts/1.5gb of data.

    My reception at home is very poor despite the Plusnet online coverage checker stating 98% quality of 4G/3G2G coverage. As Plusnet is an (mvno) & piggybacks off EE network I was wondering if I bought off Ebay a Cisco 3G USC3331 signal booster as I am not directly with EE mobile & utilised my Sky broadband could this firstly work & secondly would this solve my poor reception problems.
    All 4 main mobile networks have either software or hardware boosters see below :-

    Vodafone call their device “sure signal”
    EE call their device “signal Booster”
    3 network is via their In-touch app or possibly via a booster box
    02 is done via a handset provided by 02 network by connects to your home broadband via wi-fi

    I have tried my Plusnet sim in another handset just in case the problem is with my handset but I still had the same poor reception problems. I called Plusnet & spoke to customer services who advised they would send replacement sim but after trying the new sim it did not resolved the poor reception issue. I am happy with the £5,25 p/mth deal & it meets my needs but I am struggling with the poor reception problem. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Would you be able to do testing or look into these signal boosters as I feel many people would benefit from this.

    I contacted Plusnet customer services & after explaining regards poor reception they advised that they do not do a signal booster. If the mvno are supposed to have the same coverage as the parent network they piggyback off then I can not understand why is mvno’s reception so poor. This is across most mvno’s networks. I suspect the 4 main mobile networks sell lower capacity & quality bandwidth to mvno’s as the poor reception issues seem to be across all 4 main mobile networks. I think it would be good if you could test each signal booster from the 4 main mobile providers EE, 02, Vodafone & 3 network including asking them if their devices or software will work if you are a customer of one of the mvno’s such as Tesco mobile, Asda mobile or Plusnet as the deals provided by these mvno’s are much better than those offered by the main 4 mobile network providers EE, 02, Vodafone & 3 mobile.

  • Hi Ken,

    This is incredibly insightful and useful. I was wondering if you’ve got any new information on 5G at all and if you’ll be updating the details on here?

    Also I’ve heard that Virgin has separated from EE and using their own masts?

    Love your post and thank you so much for posting 🙂

    • Hi Hana,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve written a little bit on 5G coverage in this blog post, including when it will launch on each mobile network and in each city 🙂 With regards to Virgin, they’re still using EE for their coverage and I don’t envision this is likely to change at any point soon (as only four companies hold a license to operate their own masts – BT/EE, O2, Three and Vodafone).

  • Hi Ken,

    Thank you for the helpful information posted on your site.Can you confirm if which network providers do offer the fastest 4G connection in the UK?

    • Hi Coby,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a simple answer to this question! If you were to look at Ofcom’s published data on download speeds, it would tell you that EE has the fastest 4G download speeds in the UK. In reality, however, this will depend on so many different factors (e.g. your proximity to the nearest phone mast, the amount of congestion on the network, the time of day, the type of plan you have, etc). For this reason, it’s recommended to do a coverage check for each network (and experimenting with multiple different SIM cards in your location if you want a definitive answer).

  • Im looking to bring in a non mainstream mobile. The details provided on the webpage are as below. Im not entirely sure how to read/compare networks to see if the phone is compatible.

    2G: GSM 1800MHz,GSM 1900MHz,GSM 850MHz,GSM 900MHz
    3G: WCDMA B1 2100MHz,WCDMA B8 900MHz
    Network type: FDD-LTE,GSM,WCDMA
    Wireless Connectivity: 2.4GHz/5GHz WiFi,3G,4G,Bluetooth 4.0,Dual Band WiFi,GPS,GSM,WiFi
    4G LTE: FDD B1 2100MHz,FDD B20 800MHz,FDD B3 1800MHz,FDD B7 2600MHz

    • Hi there,
      The above handset should work fine on all UK mobile networks. In the UK, we use the following frequencies and bands:
      2G – GSM 900 and GSM 1800
      3G – WCDMA 2100MHz
      4G – LTE bands 3, 7 and 20
      Hope this helps,

  • Could you please give us a bit more info on some of the technicalities of call reception and calls going straight to voicemail, SMS etc. I’m in a little bit of a deadspot at home on EE, barely getting 1 bar on my 3G but 4G capable phone. It’s pretty common for me to have calls going straight to voicemail or a bunch of SMSs piling up altohught it’s not often I can’t make a call myself.

    I only have to walk 50m and the reception is pretty good so it’s not the phone, it’s my unlucky home location with probably a few blocks of flats between me and antennas.

    I call EE to ask if there was anything they could do and they implied upgrading to 4G would ‘easily fix the issue’. Also they told me they were ‘decommissioning old 3G antennas’ and the one nearest me was one of those recently decommissioned. Think they also mentioned that 4G had a better range (any truth to this?). Anyway the gist was 4G would fix all my voice problems.

    So, despite my massive reluctance to sign a new 18 month contract (I was on a 1 month rolling) I upgraded only to find zero improvement on reception quality. In fact, it’s worse. I’m now languishing around -120dBm on ‘4G’ instead of an average of -115dBm on my old ‘3G’ sim

    So what I would like to know is. Does it matter to call reception if the data is 3G or 4G? Are voice calls sent on 3G or 4G bandwidth or something different? And if so, would 4G mean I’m more likely to actually have my phone ring when someone tries to call me at home. Any other decent facts about how voice calls/SMS etc differ from 3G and 4G would also be welcome.

    I’m getting the feeling I was bamboozled into signing a new contract when in actuality it would have made no difference to general call reception. I’ve got 14 days to get out of the contract so would like some help with some hard facts before I accept their reasoning or tell them to stuff it. Unfortunately O2/Vod and 3 are actually worse reception wise so it’s purely going to be a case of whether I can put up with EE’s potentially alternative facts about 4G.

    • Hi Daloes,
      Happy New Year and many thanks for your very detailed comment. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing problems with the coverage from EE. I’ve tried to take your points one-by-one:
      1. Yes, it’s true that some older 2G and 3G spectrum is currently being “re-farmed” for 4G. This means the spectrum is being “converted” so it delivers a 4G signal, rather than a 2G or 3G signal which fewer people are now using. On the specifics of what has happening in your area, I’m not sure, but I am not aware of any large-scale switch-off of 3G.
      2. In many cases, 4G will give you better coverage compared to 2G and 3G. This is because many 4G services use a lower-frequency spectrum compared to 3G. For instance, EE uses 800MHz and 1800MHz for 4G (vs 2100MHz for 3G). The lower frequency spectrum should travel further indoors.
      3. On the contrary, 4G coverage won’t normally help you with voice coverage. This is because most mobile phones still use a technology called CSFB (Call Switched Fallback), falling back to 2G or 3G when you have an incoming voice call. Therefore, if you don’t have adequate 2G or 3G coverage, you will still find phone calls failing. Some mobile phones do now support 4G Calling, but you’ll need to make sure you have a compatible handset and price plan. As an aside, some mobile networks also offer Wi-Fi Calling, which can help in areas with poor coverage.
      4. I would potentially agree with your assessment. Unless you have a handset or price plan that’s compatible with 4G Calling, I would not expect the addition of 4G coverage to improve phone call reliability (as your phone will still need to fall back on 2G or 3G).
      Hope this helps,

      • Amazing response. Thank you. In the end I moved to GiffGaff, as it will be easy to move back to something more appropriate once I found it. Still missing voice/sms calls but I’m paying much less as I now know what is pointless to pay extra for.

  • Stephen White said:

    Hi Ken,
    Is there anway you can provide a list of supplier’s roaming coverage? I’ve discovered the hard way that even though Plusnet give pricing for roaming in Tanzania and Kenya, for example, they have no agreement with a local supplier in either country. In other words, a Plusnet sim card won’t work in either of those countries. Not very good when you’re there and discover you phone doesn’t work.
    I know they piggyback off EE (which may have coverage in those countries) but they are of course only the provider for the UK, not abroad. Each supplier has to negotiate their own deals abroad.
    Consequently I’m having to move from Plusnet and when I ask the ‘which countries’ question of potential suppliers, they reply ‘everywhere’. Just not correct I’m afraid.

    • Hi Stephen,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a definitive list of roaming suppliers for each mobile network – it often changes due to commercials or other related factors. Some mobile networks publish a list on their website, but most of them no longer do this (with Plusnet falling in to this group). The GSMA website has a list of declared roaming agreements between mobile networks, but I believe this is outdated and doesn’t always reflect the mobile networks you’re actually able to use.
      Your best bet would probably be just to check with the mobile networks directly, and to see whether someone in customer services is able to provide you with a list.
      Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!

  • Hello Ken,
    Thought you may be interested in this. I am a Tesco Mobile user.
    Did you know that Tesco Mobile users CANNOT call western Canada from the UK (that includes mobiles and landlines) specifically area code 250 which includes parts of Vancouver / Vancouver Island and mainland BC. People calling from area code 250 can call Tesco mobile numbers no problem.
    I have been in touch with Tesco and – eventually – got the answer that it was due to “Tesco not having a Network agreement with Canadian providers”. Actually what they mean is they don’t have a Network agreement with Canadian providers who use the area code 250 because I can call other areas of Canada no problem.
    I find it all a bit odd.

    • Hi Tony,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. This sounds absolutely bizarre, and I’m not sure why it would be the case (I personally don’t really believe the explanation from Tesco Mobile!).

      • Hello Ken,
        Thanks for the reply.
        This is the explanation I received from Tesco (after many emails back and forth) thought you might find it interesting.*remember it relates to Canada area code 250.
        “Our Network Team have investigated this for you and the information they have provided is Tesco Mobile are unable to support calls to this area code as this area code is restricted, intercontinental charges are too high as we don’t have arrangement with the service providers in this area”.
        Cheers, Tony.

  • Very cool unbiased info. The big networks don’t want this information to be widely known…’ll hurt their bottom line. Wish I’d known about this stuff ten years ago! Thanks

  • I was trying to establish whether MVMO provide a poorer signal compared to the underlying network operator as was suggested by my local mobile phone shop. If I went with PlusNet virgin or iD can I expect similar signal strengths compared with EE or O2? My own experience using TalkTalk (Vodafone) is that I now get very poor reception (possibly because they no longer provide new customers with a mobile service, preferring you to use O2 instead). Otherwise very informative site, thank you.

    • Hi Adrian,
      Many thanks for your comment and a very good question! On the old TalkTalk Mobile service (which is currently being phased out), you’ll only get 2G and 3G coverage from Vodafone. This potentially explains the difference in coverage, especially as mobile networks have been redeploying some of their existing 2G/3G networks and converting them into 4G networks instead.
      Assuming you’re on a MVNO that supports all types of coverage, the coverage you receive should be exactly the same as on the parent mobile network. There could however be some differences in download speed or quality of service, though this isn’t very easy for us to measure or quantify (it depends on all kinds of different factors like how traffic is prioritised on the network, what the backhaul for that MVNO looks like, local congestion factors, etc).
      Hope this helps!

      • So as I suspected…. Thanks for your speedy and informative response, saves so much time trawling through chat rooms that just seem to agree that they have the same problem without any particular explanation as to why the problem exists and what to do about it! I’m off to try iD, hopefully I’ll have 4g coverage as well.

    • Hi Adam,
      Many thanks for the kind feedback! I actually have a number of SIM cards from different mobile networks and use them all a little so I can get an experience of using each network! My main phone at present however is on the EE network.

  • Hi Ken, fantastic info and easy to understand, thank you.

    I live in rural Scotland and I am thinking of replacing my shady home broadband with a 4g router. I’ve got really thick walls and live in a valley.

    Could you please explain to me, why can’t I seem to get an accurate reading of the 4g signals my phone receives from each of the four providers.

    I’ve been reading for hours and it seems like it’s either estimated coverage via providers coverage checkers. Or ofcom or similar, however they all contradict each other. Or it’s user provided data, mainly by opensystems. But I’m rural so it’s not reliable. Or stated how recent this data is.

    I would rather not go through the hassle and expense to get my phone unlocked, order a sample sim for each provider, pay for a top up, all just so I can test the actual signal I would receive at home.

    These signals are bouncing around currently, my phone is designed to link to these networks, why can’t I just see a breakdown of the four providers 4g signal on my phone? I don’t know if I’m missing something or if it’s a proprietary issue or what but it’s very frustrating, do you have any advice?

    • Hi Tracy,
      Many thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the level of mobile coverage depends on lots of things (including the geographical landscape, the position of nearby objects like trees, the construction materials used to build your home, your position inside a building, etc). Therefore, whilst online coverage checkers try to account for these factors through computer modelling, etc they can never know with absolute certainty what the coverage will be like in reality.
      For this reason, I think online coverage checkers are a good place to start (and most of the time, probably fine for the majority of users). However, nothing can match real-world experimentation if you want to find out for sure what the coverage is like, so I’d still recommend doing this if you have a reason to be concerned.
      Hope this helps,

  • We have bought a Fairphone for both of us.
    And are not enjoying the experience mainly because of the lack of instructions as to how it works. Both 66.
    Trying to get replacement cover is impossible due to security systems of Dutch manufacturers.

    My Question is because my Fairphone will need to go away to have Sim slots replaced, I was thinking of buying a reconditioned iPhone from Enviophone, have you any experience of them or anyone else.

    Also how much would an EE signal box cost? have just read about it on your site do you recommend any particular one.

    • Hi Arnold,
      Many thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to comment on Envirophone as I’ve never actually used in their service!
      With regards to the EE Signal Box, I believe this is something you’ll need to contact them about directly (as they don’t actively sell the device). There are some discussions about this on the EE website: many people have been able to get it for free, whereas others have said it would cost somewhere in between £15 and £89.

  • Hi Ken

    Fantastic site. Thank you for all the helpful advice and information.
    Better than anything else on the web.



    • Hi CM,
      Many thanks for your comment. Yes, there are no plans to switch off 2G coverage at the moment in the UK. As long as you choose a network that uses coverage from EE, O2 or Vodafone, you should be fine to use a 2G handset for the next couple of years.

  • Great forum, with lots of really useful information!

    If I have understood what you say correctly, if I buy a new iPhone 7 that locks to the first network and use an ID Mobile SIM (which runs over Three), the phone will not lock and I could then easily switch to another network. Is that correct? Also, in this situation, can I use the phone abroad?

    • Hi Ian,
      For more information about this, take a look at my article on unlocking a SIM-free iPhone. With regards to using an iD Mobile SIM card, I believe this will probably cause it to lock to Three. At least previously, it was fairly easy to request an unlock from Three. However, I’ve recently received some feedback they’re now refusing these requests, so I’d double check the comments on that page before moving ahead.
      If possible, I’d still strongly recommend buying your iPhone from a retailer where it’s permanently unlocked (e.g. John Lewis). This is likely to be fairly similar in price and may save you lots of hassle in the future!

    • Hi Tim,
      Three switched off their 2G coverage in 2011, while the other three providers (EE, O2 & Vodafone) have been gradually reducing their 2G capacity. I think, however, we’re still quite far off a total 2G switch-off as there lots of devices using only 2G technology (e.g. some machine-to-machine applications that can’t easily be upgraded). Probably nothing to worry about for at least 5 years more, but eventually I would expect them to switch off 2G entirely.

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comment. We don’t currently include Pebble on this list – though it looks like they use O2 as their main mobile network with a roaming agreement on EE & Vodafone. I’ll have a think about how we can possibly include them in the table in a future update.
      Thanks again for the feedback!

    • Hi Will,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer as to whether Plusnet Mobile is a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ MVNO. If you were to ask me to make an educated guess, I’d say it’s probably ‘soft’ (reason being until about one month ago, LIFE Mobile was just another trading name of EE Limited – and now Plusnet Mobile is a part of the BT Group just like EE). For this reason, I’d say it’s probably worth testing out especially as Plusnet only has a 30-day contract.

      • Hi Ken,

        Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it. I may well give it a test then, and if I can remember to do so I’ll come to you with an answer.


  • Hi. I came across this article when researching network speeds. It is very helpful but one question I haven’t been able to answer is if mvno’s have a access to the faster speeds on the ee network. I’m thinking of going to plusnet but it doesn’t say what speed their 4G goes up to. Would it be restricted to 20mbps like ee essential 4G? Many thanks

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. However, my educated guess is that you’ll only get standard 4G on Plusnet Mobile (as you say, EE has multiple tiers of price plan like 4GEE Essential, 4GEE and 4GEE Max… and on BT Mobile it’s very similar with their Extra Speed 4G add-on). I think it’s highly unlikely they’ll be offering the higher speeds for free on Plusnet Mobile (especially given it’s the same company as BT & EE, and given Plusnet tends to be the cheapest of the three brands).
      Hope this helps,

  • I also think that another factor in network selection should be customer services. Vodafone for example, although they have good network coverage and are currently on a massive advertising push, their customer services stats are appalling, which is the reason I would never use them again.

    Ofcom publish regular articles on complaints received per 100,000, the latest results show:

    Vodafone – 29 complaints
    Talk Mobile – 8 complaints
    EE – 6 complaints
    Virgin Mobile – 5 complaints
    Three – 3 complaints
    O2 – 3 complaints
    Tesco – 1 complaint

    Figures are regularly published on the Ofcom website, latest figures here:

  • Gareth Reynolds said:

    Interesting point today, my wife and I are on Vodafone. She has a contract plan and I’m on PAYG. Now, we were playing Pokemon Go and I was experiencing lost of network frequently. It’s as if I was being put to the back of the queue while she was on 4g. She lossed service once in about 4 hours but was soon back on in 10 seconds or so. She has an iPhone and I have a galaxy s6. I have heard that PAYG have less of a priority than contract on some networks

    • Hi Gareth,
      Thanks for your comment. You’re right in saying that mobile networks will sometimes prioritise certain users on their network (typically it will be emergency services, followed by business users, then consumer Pay Monthly and finally Pay As You Go). Saying that, I believe this should only really happen in congested areas, and I don’t believe this will affect the actual coverage you receive (so you should still see 3G or 4G on your phone, but it might be the case that your data service will be slightly slower). Of course, when you’re using two different handsets this could also have an impact but it’s difficult to quantify how much of an effect this also has.

  • Hi Ken
    Thanks for a very useful website. Have you come across C4C mobile? They run on the O2 network but are obviously very much cheaper than O2. They are a bit different in that they give 10% of the income to charity & provide the opportunity to choose your own charity. I have been with them about a month & would wholeheartedly recommend them.

    Best regards

    • Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the comment! I’ve heard of C4C Mobile but have never actually looked into them in very much depth. Thank you for the heads up about this and also for your feedback on their service – I will take a proper look into this 🙂

      • Any update on C4C…? Is there a danger of losing a long held number if I port to them, and they go out of business for whatever reason…? They definitely seem worth a try…

        • Hi Bill,
          Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the solvency of the business. However, it’s true they’re a very small provider with very little track record.
          If you have potential concerns about the C4C service, I’d possibly recommend choosing a different mobile network and donating the difference to charity. For instance, you could get an alternative SIM-only deal or Pay As You Go SIM card. Based on C4C’s current tariff line-up, I think you should be able to find something at least 10% cheaper. You can then take the difference and set up a monthly Direct Debit to your favourite charity, with the bonus of Gift Aid 🙂
          Hope this helps,

          • Appreciate your thoughts, but I was more concerned with a general query on the “recovery” of a number, should a provider cease to exist. Would MNP OSG have a mechanism to recover the number and return to the customer…?

          • Hi Bill,
            Thanks for your comment. I think this is a matter for Ofcom rather than the MNP OSG (the latter only deals with phone number transfers and not the provision of phone numbers themselves). In the past, when mobile networks have shut down unexpectedly (e.g. with OVIVO Mobile), it’s still been possible for people to get a PAC Code. However, I don’t know how much of this can be generalised to other networks (i.e. whether there is any legal guarantee on you being able to keep your phone number).

  • Hi Ken,

    I really think it’s worth you putting in a section explaining providers routing through VOIP (freedom pop). They work so differently.


    • Hi Ben,
      Thanks for the kind feedback regarding the article and I think you make a really a good point about how VoIP-based providers work. I think FreedomPop is definitely a little strange in terms of their VoIP routing for phone calls and texts, and that really does make a big difference in terms of how reliable the service is. We cover this already in our in-depth review of FreedomPop and I’ll shortly be adding a note to the comparison table above.
      Thanks again,

    • Hi Shaun,
      Thanks for the heads up about this – I’ve just removed 2G from TPO Mobile in the table.
      Much appreciated you letting me know!

  • Hi Ken
    How r u?
    Can I ask you for some advice regarding iPhone 6 s plus. I live in the middle of nowhere so the signal is horrific, I am on O2 at the moment and it’s not great, I am in the Lake District so mountains all around. Who would you choose to go with as I am updating from an iPhone 4 up to a iPhone 6 s plus but really do need better reception, who would you choose to go with?
    Many thanks for your help

    • Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for your comment – doing great thanks and hope you are too!
      With regards to your question: it’s really hard to say as your experience of “coverage” will be super super personal (e.g. it will depend very much on the exact location where you live, work & spend time). I suggest the best thing to do is probably to order some free Pay As You Go SIM cards – you can test them out in an older handset to get a real-world taste of what the coverage will really be like (e.g. you can check to see how many bars there are on your phone). This should set you up in good stead to then choose your new mobile network.
      Finally, as an aside, the iPhone 7 is due to be released next month! Probably worth waiting around until this happens – you might decide to go for the newer model, or alternatively there will probably be price cuts on the iPhone 6s!
      Hope this helps,

  • Hi Ken, myself, husband and mum are all on TPO PAYG – we have just been transferred to their new 4G service. My phone works fine, but hubby and mum’s don’t. I’ve put hubby’s new SIM in my smartphone and it works, but doesnt work in his non-smart Nokia. I went to Carphone Warehouse today to ask about SIM-free phones that work on 4G and was told that if its on Three (which TPO now is), ONLY smartphones will work. Do you know if this is true? I am ok with smartphones, but both hubby and mum are not and nor do they want to have to fork out for expensive new phones. Thanks

    • Hi Serena,
      Thanks for your comment. You’re right. Unfortunately, Three doesn’t have any 2G coverage: they only have 3G and 4G. This means you can’t use a 2G-only handset on the Three network (or on Three MVNOs like Tello or TPO Mobile). If you’d like to continue using an existing 2G-only handset, I’d possibly suggest ordering a free SIM card from ASDA Mobile. They use coverage from EE like the old TPO service though the rates are a little bit higher at 8p/minute and 4p/text.

      • Thanks for clarifying this, Ken. I think TPO have been very remiss in not explaining this to their customers and I believe they are going to lose a lot on their currect customers due to this, so far, fairly disatrous switchover!

  • Is there any site which tell us about coming upgrades of specific towers? I live in an area of the 3% or so not covered by EE’s 4G (no 4G at all with Three) and wondered if I should sit tight with my current provider (Three) or possibly change to BT/EE. Do any networks publish forthcoming upgrades?

  • When checking coverage, I prefer using Ofcom’s more realistic Mobile Coverage Checker
    ( ), instead of the checkers provided by the mobile network operators. They’re not known for their accuracy (honesty) from what I’ve seen – especially when it comes to expected indoor coverage. For example, giffgaff’s checker indicates that I have good 2G coverage indoors and outdoors – This is not the case! 2G/3G signal strength is woefully poor here.


    • The last couple of weeks our EE mast has not been used so our signal has been zero Felixstowe, Suffolk, piecing together bits of info we guess that their contract hasn’t been renewed as the BT takeover was imminent. We have heard other areas are the same and people are leaving EE to gets signal with O2 who seem to be best here now. None of this shows on the comparison sites which claim tone up to date, even EE claim that they have a strong signal here!

    • Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the heads up about this – I’ve written an article here for any other readers affected by the closure. I’ll update the table above when they close their service on the 15th January.
      Thanks again!

    • Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the heads up about this – this was a mistake on my part! I’ve amended it to reflect the fact that iD Mobile lacks 2G coverage.

  • Update My BT sim arrived 4g signal 📶
    Full bars very fast indeed.
    Very impressed first time I’ve had full bars on any network inside my house.
    And with the purchase of EE by BT things can only get better.
    So will keep watching out to see if things improve over the next 12 months while my BT contract in in force.
    You never know might go back to giffgaff at some point

  • Hi,

    I bought this Samsung Galxy J5 dual SIM phone from India. I came in UK and i am using talkmobile SIM & there is no problem in making calls and messaging. I am facing mobile internet problem. I have tried to change the settings and APN things and also took it to carphonewerhouse team to show this issue but there is no any proper solution. I also message to Samsung care and they have replied something like it has to do with cellular Band or kernel due to regional configurations. As per the phone technical specification its compatible with 2g & 3g band. I dont know how to solve this issue. Can anyone guide me.
    Thanks in Advance

    Arpit Kadia

    • Hi Arpit,
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think there’s any issue with the band support on your Galaxy J5 – you’ve already told me that it’s successfully connecting to the 3G network. Rather, the most likely issue is the APN settings (I know you’ve tried this already, but it might be worth trying again – or trying with a different SIM card & different APN settings). If your Galaxy J5 is dual-SIM enabled, I’d also double-check that data is enabled on that SIM card (you’ll need to choose Talkmobile as your primary SIM card).

  • Does the signal strength from the mast affect the download speed of data.? I am getting different opinions on this. For example if I am on the fringe of a 4G mast and I only have 1 bar, does this mean that I will only get 3G or less? Also, as I live in BN5 9AY, I am in a “Black Hole” of most providers. If I invest in a high gain RF amplifier and point the antenna in the right direction, will this lift me into the higher regions of 3G and give me significantly improved download speeds?

    Hope you can shed some bright lights on this . .



    • Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment and a very good question. I’ll try answer your question in two parts:
      1) Yes: the speed and quality of your service will depend very much on the strength of the signal. With a 1-bar signal, you’re likely to get lower speeds than on a 4-bar signal. The battery life of your phone is also likely to be significantly reduced (as it needs to spend a lot more energy trying to hold on to a signal). Finding a way to improve your coverage should boost the download speed as well as the battery life of your phone. You could also look into features such as EE’s wi-fi calling and Vodafone’s Sure Signal service.
      2) 2G, 3G and 4G coverage are all totally separate and independent from each other (they use different frequencies, and sometimes different base stations). So it’s not the case when you have less than 1-bar of 4G signal, your phone drops down to 3G instead (rather, your phone will simply search for the best available signal it’s able to hold on to).
      Hope this helps,

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for your comment. I believe White Mobile is using EE for their coverage. Unfortunately, I’ve not tried this out so wouldn’t be able to say very much (it’s possible other readers of this website have tried them out, however).

  • Pebble Mobile said:

    Hi Ken,

    I’m the director of a recently launched MVNO offering national roaming in the UK called Pebble Mobile.

    I was hoping you may be interested in reviewing our service on your website.

    The idea behind our National Roaming MVNO model is that it allows our customers to connect to all of the major UK networks, thus truly offering the best overall coverage of the UK; whilst offering numerous “perks”, free whole of EU roaming, inclusive calls to 60 countries, free calls at “Happy Hour” and inclusive calls to UK 08x numbers etc – and we’re currently working on introducing native WiFi calling to support nearly every Android handset running ICS 4.0 or upwards (having recently tested on a HTC Wildfire S!), which is really exciting as you’ll be able to use it worldwide with our service – thus completely avoiding roaming charges in the most expensive destinations (as opposed to companies like EE that bar WiFi calling use outside the UK altogether and limit availability to the six most expensive handsets they sell).

    Pebble works just like any other UK network, i.e. with true UK mobile numbers that are inclusive to call and/or text from all other UK networks (unlike Jersey/Isle Of Man numbers that some “solution providers” use) with number portability therefore available between Pebble and other UK Networks as a result.

    I’d love to have you review Pebble Mobile on your website and will provide you with any and all assistance you would require in doing so, if you’d be interested please contact me: hello [a][t] pebble [d.o.t] network

    • You need a review… terrible!!!!!!
      In theory it should be the best network but it regularly cuts out after a minute or 2.

      Now after just topping up AMD only making 1 call I can no longer make or review calls…. and this isn’t the first time that’s happened.
      It wouldn’t even couple a balance check.

      Oh well it’s now back to another network and having at least one place it won’t get a signal, still working 90% of the time is better than hardly ever.

  • Hi Ken,

    Family Mobile is stopping their service soon 🙁

    Coms Mobile provides a Pay As You Go (PAYG) mobile service on the EE network which has traded under various names in the past including IKEA Mobile, Smarter Mobile and Your Family Mobile.
    This service is closing down on 31st August 2015.


  • Hi Ken We only have a 2G network where we live. Does a 3G phone automatically pick up the 2G signal when 3G is only a weak signal Richard

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for your comment. Your phone should indeed fall back to 2G automatically when there’s no 3G available. To help your battery life, you could decide to force the phone onto 2G-only mode. On the iPhone, you can do this through Settings > Cellular/Mobile > Voice & Data and choosing the 2G option. On Android, go to Settings > More networks > Mobile networks > Network mode and choose the GSM only option.
      Hope this helps,

  • Hi Ken, Do you know if MVNO’s are throttled compared to their host network? I’m on GiffGaff and I can often have full 3G/4G signal in London yet I’m unable to use any data on my handset at all until I move away from a busy area. i.e. Charing Cross station is particularly frustrating whilst waiting for the train to leave!

    • Hi Stephen,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve been asked this question a couple of times though unfortunately I haven’t yet seen any concrete or official figures (for reference, I recommend reading the comments here, here and here). I think everything we’ve seen is so far quite subjective but it’s obviously that different levels of priority exist on the network (emergency services being the number 1 priority). The difficulty is we don’t actually know how other priorities are assigned on the network: it’s probably a confidential clause in the MVNO agreements and it can even change based on network conditions, etc.
      Sorry I can’t give you more of a fully-formed answer!

  • Hi

    This is an interesting article. I’m thinking of moving from O2 to BT Mobile but am wary of BT’s apparent status as a MVNO. With BT’s purchase of EE however and the fact it won its own chunk of 4G spectrum, surely this will change and BT and EE will be ‘equal’…? And the service expand.

    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s totally fair to assume that all MVNOs offer a low-quality service (it just so happens that a large number of them compete on price rather than other things). I think BT Mobile can certainly be classed as a high-end MVNO. If you take a look at this table, they offer 4G coverage whereas other EE MVNOs currently don’t. As you say, going forward, BT is also set to take over the EE network.

  • While talking to Three regarding a possible new contract with them, I said I was considering switching to O2, but via a third party. Three told me that if I did this, I would be de-prioritised as an O2 customer and not get such good signal as one of their direct customers. I can’t find anything online to substantiate this claim. Can you comment?

    • Hi Vanessa,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s theorised that O2 has different levels of priority on their network. With an educated guess: priority 1 would be business users, priority 2 would be Pay Monthly customers and priority 3 would be Pay As You Go. Saying this, the information and levels of priority have never been confirmed officially be O2.
      With regards to your question about connecting to O2 via a third-party provider, it’s highly unlikely O2 will differentiate based on where you bought the contract (all customers on O2 Pay Monthly contract should get the same priority). If you’re switching to an O2 MVNO (e.g. giffgaff or Tesco Mobile), the answer may be different and the priority may differ.

  • Hi Ken,

    I stumbled across this site by accident, as I’m in that terrible period of being in that last month of my contract on Three and now shopping around! It’s like chasing my own tail!

    One question I have, is that do all the MVNOs have a fair split of data speeds? What I mean is, do all the networks that, say, use EE have the same speed?

    I have read some recent forum posts that GiffGaff network speed is terrible (<1MBps)

    I must say, Im happy with Three, but looking to reduce my bill from the £30pcm.

    One thing I have found, and may be of use, is that PAYG on Three seems to be better value than monthly contracts! £15 on PAYG gives you 300mins, 3000 texts and Unlimited Data. Compared to a rolling 30 day contract of £20 that gives 600mins, 5000 texts and Unlimited data.

    • Hi Matthew,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s an absolute maze shopping around for a new tariff or mobile network so I can definitely appreciate how you’re feeling right now!
      RE: MVNO data speeds. This is a really good question, and I’m afraid there isn’t a simple answer. Essentially, MVNOs will buy airtime in bulk from one of the four network operators (EE, O2, Three & Vodafone). They’ll then provide this to their own customers using the network operator’s network. The details of each MVNO’s agreement is obviously confidential so I can’t definitively tell you how traffic is prioritised. The thing we are able to determine quite easily is the type of coverage offered to each MVNO (e.g. you’ll see that most EE MVNOs are 3G-only, BT Mobile has standard 4G coverage and EE has double-speed 4G or 4G+ for customers on 4GEE Extra). So yes: data speeds vary depending on MVNO but not in a way that’s easy to measure, excepting from reading online reviews.
      With regards to Three, I do agree that their Pay As You Go tariffs are great value for anyone wanting all-you-can-eat data! I suppose there are a few downsides: no tethering on Pay As You Go and a very limited number of minutes.

      • I moved one of two Tesco contracts to giffgaff. I have found giffgaff is much slower than Tesco from experience and by testing the two side by side on speedtest. I’m going back to Tesco again. Tests done with two xperia Z2 phones side by side on giffgaff and Tesco. Giffgaff was approx 30 % slower up and download.

  • Hi There
    Could you help me I am on Three but my signal isn’t very good.
    I live in Nottingham I want to leave them but I don’t know who to go with either EE or O2 or Vodafone.
    My work mates are on EE but didn’t get any signal today at work but another mates who is on 02 & Vodafone did.
    So which is better.
    But I heard that EE is meant to be one of the top networks
    Thank you

    • Hi Tracey,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to give you a specific answer with regards to coverage (it will differ substantially based on where you live and work). In the first instance, I’d definitely use the coverage checkers here (it might help to rule out a few networks). Once you’ve done that, it’s definitely worth ordering some free Pay As You Go SIM cards. They’ll allow you to test the coverage on each network (there’s no need for you to top-up before you do this). Your smartphone will need to be unlocked for you to use SIM cards from another network (if your handset was purchased from Three, it should already be unlocked for use on any network).
      Hope this helps,

  • Hi Ken,

    Firstly, great site. Keep up the good work.

    I have a question about smartphones. I would like to buy a dual sim Samsung galaxy phone – note 4 or the A7. I was wondering if you know a reputable seller whom I could purchase from in the UK or from abroad?

    I know Samsung dual sim phones are not available in Europe but are sold mainly in the far east. I find this quiet bizarre as I am sure there is a demand for them in Europe too but the manufacturers are doing nothing to sell them.


    • Hi Torkeer,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t officially sell dual-SIM handsets here in the UK. Hence, anything you buy is likely to be imported (double-check the frequency bands supported in case they don’t match up with networks in the UK). With regards to retailers & importers, I’m afraid I can’t advise on reputable sellers (this isn’t something I’ve ever tried myself)!

  • Hi,
    I have poor coverage in my house and currently use a sure signal box to boost this, for that reason I’m keen to stay on vodafone but am wondering if I could continue to use the signal booster on the vodafone network through any of the piggyback providers. Is this possible?

  • Hello Ken this is a strange problem I have come across, I’m a helper on the giffgaff network a user came on the forum with a problem. He has a Samsung Galaxy S5 mini he purchased this from talk talk who said it was unlocked. It connects to the giffgaff network but only stays connected for 5 minutes. I’ve suggested everything but nothing works. Any ideas ?

    • Hi Martin,
      Thanks for your comment. I think the question has stumped me as much as it’s stumped you! I can’t think of any obvious reason why the phone will only connect for 5 minutes at a time (is it always exactly the same amount of time or does the 5 minute figure vary every time?). The obvious things to try are:
      1) Using a SIM card from another network in the Galaxy S5 mini – ideally, the SIM card should be on another coverage provider and should not be a network using coverage from O2.
      2) Using the giffgaff SIM card in another handset (perhaps borrowed from friends/family).
      Doing these two things should help diagnose whether it’s a problem with the handset or a problem with the network. Beyond that, I don’t have any further thoughts to mind as to why this is happening on his Galaxy S5 mini.

      • Hello Ken, thank you for the quick reply, it disconnects after 5 minutes each time. My assumption is the phone isn’t saving the settings automatically once the giffgaff sim is installed. He’s tried manual apn configuration but still the same. He’s tried the sim in a Sony Z10 and it works fine. So looks like the phone has compatibility issues. I’ve suggested trying another sim from a network provider like EE. Just to see if the phone is unlocked. He said there was no branding on start so that’s not an issue.

        • Hi Martin,
          Count me in as totally stumped! Can’t think of any obvious answers but definitely worth trying the two things I mentioned in my comment. One other thing that did come to mind: is the handset imported from another country? If so, Samsung is known to use region locking on their phone. I’m not quite sure how the region locking works but you normally need to make a 5 minute phone call in the region where you bought the handset (otherwise, it won’t work abroad in another country). Not sure if this is possibly related (if so, I’m not sure why it’s managing to work for the first 5 minutes every time).

  • Could any one give me the unlock code from ee to giffgaff as I’ve got Samsung galaxy s5 mini and no longer want to be with ee. I want to go to giffgaff but now they’re telling me I have to pay to change. not good. another thing, I brought the phone now they want to charge me to go to giffgaff. any one with unlock pls help – it’s a s4 mini (GT-I9150). thanks

    • Hi Ash,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, EE charges £20.42 if you want to unlock a phone from their network (see this article for more information). Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways you’re able to get around this (unless you’re able to find a working unlock method that’s free).
      With regards to a PAC Code for moving your number from EE to giffgaff, it should always be free to receive this code (it’s your legal entitlement and EE must provide it free of charge within two hours of your request).

  • Hi, I am a volunteer for a village ‘good neighbour’ network. We have 6 volunteers who share a basic 2G phone on EE network to take calls from villagers wanting transport to hospital etc. We are in a very poor network coverage area (coverage worsened in last few months). We cannot use a signal box as that would mean moving it to a different house each week. We have lobbied network providers, local MP, council etc. re getting improved coverage. In long term there’s possibility of mast on new community centre. Any advice on how we could improve things on short term basis? Would a 4G phone give us any advantages – e.g. transferring calls to a landline?
    We would appreciate any advice you may be able to offer

    • Hi Jill,
      I’m afraid I can’t give you very much advice regarding the situation beyond trying to get a femtocell e.g. a Vodafone Rural Open Signal.
      I would say that 4G probably isn’t useful for calling at the moment: today’s 4G networks don’t actually support voice calling (they use a technology called CSFB whereby your phone actually falls back to a 3G network in order to make a phone call). Hence, it’s probably best to focus on getting 3G coverage rather than 4G (at least for the time being).
      Wishing you all the best of luck with the campaign,

  • Hi Ken, after being given the “truth about supermarkets mobile providers/coverage” by 1 of the big 4 mobile providers keen on getting my business, but not keen on me going elsewhere, here i found the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!!

    I can now get a good deal at less cost & with more minutes/texts & data per month.
    So glad i found this site before being pressurized in to a 12 month contract!

  • Adam Garfunkel said:

    Hi there. I am a Vodafone customer (and pay for my wife and eldest daughter’s phones through Vodafone). I have just been told by a Vodafone call-centre salesperson that if I go with buy the phone and the Vodafone contract through Carphone Warehouse then as Carphone Warehouse ‘only rents’ our masts, the signal will be weaker. I said I thought that sounded like bullshit. She declined to comment and said that she could not discount iPhone 6 prices. Is this ‘weaker signal’ because of renting correct?

    • Hi Adam,
      Thanks for your comment and a very Merry Christmas! It does sound as if the call centre staff are giving you incorrect info:

      • You’ll always get the same service & coverage on a Vodafone-branded contract regardless of whether you signed up directly or via another company (e.g. the Carphone Warehouse). The signal strength will be exactly the same.
      • If you’re signing up for Talkmobile (the Carphone Warehouse MVNO which uses Vodafone’s network) the story might be slightly different. The signal strength and coverage will still be the same as Talkmobile uses Vodafone’s masts and signal. The service quality could theoretically be different (i.e. if Vodafone decides to prioritise their own customers when a mast becomes busy) but there isn’t any concrete information about what actually happens in real-world usage.

      Anyhow, it sounds to me as if the first is applicable to your situation so you can safely ignore what the call centre have told you!

      • Adam Garfunkel replied:

        Thank you Ken. That is the way I was thinking. It is very poor that Vodafone get their staff to say that, don’t you think. More than ‘very poor’, it’s downright misleading and they shouldn’t do it. Don’t you agree?

        • Hi Adam,
          Definitely agreed that they shouldn’t be saying this – probably a combination of poor staff training and them trying to pressure sell you a contract over the phone. Anyhow, you can rest assured you’re getting the same Vodafone service even when buying the contract elsewhere!

  • Hi Ken,
    Can you give me some advise, I would like to get a smart phone from TalkTalk who use Vodafone.
    I need the phone for London and Eastbourne, I know vodafone are OK in London but have heard their reception is poor indoors in Eastbourne, have you any info on this?
    I have been told that O2 would be better, what do you think?
    Thanks Austin.

    • Hi Austin,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I can’t say anything about the coverage in Eastbourne (the people living locally would probably be the best ones to ask). In the first instance, I would definitely use Talkmobile’s online coverage checker. This will tell you whether indoor/outdoor coverage should theoretically be available at home, work, etc.
      In reality, your actual coverage may differ from this map (e.g. due to buildings, trees, obstructions, etc). For this reason, it’s always a good idea to first try the signal out directly in your phone. You can order a free SIM card from the network you’d like to trial (I’d probably go for Vodafone Pay As You Go in this case). Stick the free SIM in your existing unlocked smartphone and count the number of bars you get on the network. If the coverage looks OK then you should be good to sign up on Talkmobile!

  • Thanks for some really useful information and comparisons especially on pay-as-you-go which well-known price comparison web sites don’t seem to cover.

    I think it is worth emphasising that impressive network coverage figures like 98% and 99% are percentage of the population, not percentage of the land area which is very different, so it is worth checking the coverage maps.

    A network that only supports 3G/4G may be OK in towns and cities but if like me you like to visit rural areas at weekends or on holiday then you will find substantial gaps in coverage for 3G/4G only networks. In that case, you will probably want to choose a network that also provides 2G as a backup in areas with no 3G coverage.

    As you can see from the table above, there is one network that doesn’t provide any 2G service so that would be one to avoid if you are likely to venture outside the more densely populated areas.

    • 3 does actually have some 2G coverage via a roaming agreement with EE.

      It has been turned off in areas of 3G/4G coverage and is limited to voice/text but works seamlessly from a customer’s point of view.

      • Hi Martha,
        Thanks for the heads up on this! As you say, Three used to have a 2G roaming agreement with Orange. They began turning this off in 2011. I’m not sure how much 2G coverage is still available on Three but I’m willing to assume incredibly little. Anyone trying to use a 2G-only handset on Three will probably find their phone unable to pick up a signal.

  • Hi
    I spoke with vodafone as my contract is up and I am moving to Phone Coop which uses EE

    Before giving me my PAC code, the salesman told me that the virtual networks typically only have access to 25 %, or maybe he meant 25 % of the capacity.

    What do you make of this? Is my coverage likely to be that poor? Or is this misleading sales patter?

    • Hi Andy,
      Thanks for your comment. You raise a really good point – virtual network operators such as the Co-Op mobile will lease their capacity from one of the network providers (EE in this case). There has been some talk about variable service quality – for instance see the comments here and here. In terms of what the salesman has told you, it’s highly likely the statistic was made up. I’ve not yet seen any concrete figures about how much priority is actually assigned to each virtual network operator (I suspect this will differ depending on the network and will only be specified in the confidential agreement between the virtual network and the underlying network provider). My feeling is it’s probably nothing to worry about and the suggestion of 25% capacity is probably a lot of nonsense.
      Hope this helps!

      • MVNOs do get lower priority on the network than the MNOs

        E.G. O2s Hierarchy

        1st priority are O2 Business and Contract.
        2nd priority are O2 Prepay and Tesco Mobile.
        3rd priority are Giff Gaff, MVNOs and international roamers.

        It’s obviously more noticeable in congested areas and in the lower capacity bands such as 800/900 MHz

        • Hi Martha,
          Thanks for your comment. I’ve read rumours online about this type of prioritisation but never seen anything confirmed (either in terms on a detailed independent study or an official statement from O2). Do you have any resources to this effect? I’d really love to see a detailed study (this is something the guys at OpenSignal or RootMetrics should definitely look into!) so I could update the advice given in this article.

  • Hi is anyone else experiencing the Three sim activation failure syndrome, their stock answer from customer services and technical departments is “you have to wait another 24 hours” 4 days now met 18 other customers in their shop today according to their staff over 7,000 customers are affected and the issue may take weeks to rectify, you can not even move your number or cancel your contract as when you ring the cancellation line you are let on hold tried 4 times each time left for up to an hour and no answer, how can such a majo failure go unpublised? Ironicall Three have illuminated displays in their shops rubbishing the other providers bad customer relations as reasons why peole moved over to Three yet they themselves are selling phones with sim cards they know they can not activate pot calling kettle springs to mind.

    just in case antone is having a problem try emailing or ringing 01628 765000 and asking for either Mr. Cocker or Mr. Reilly

  • Thanks for article. Where can I get a full list of MVNOs and providers. Shouldn’t ofcom hold an up to date list of MVNO’s and their actual network providers ?

    • Hi Morgan,
      Thanks for your comment. I’d recommend having a look at the MVNO Dynamics site for a more comprehensive list of MVNOs. Do be aware that not all of the MVNOs are active, some are really small and many don’t sell directly to UK consumers.
      I’m sure Ofcom must also maintain a list of licensees but I’m not aware of this being available online.

  • This is a great article but I still can’t get to the bottom of whether MVNO’s have the SAME service level as the native operators. Are they treated the same when cells are busy or do they get lower priority and suffer higher drop rates? Is there any evidence of Data throttling for the MVNOs? There is very little transparency on this as far as I can see and I haven’t found a definitive statement anywhere!

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your comment and you raise a really interesting point! The coverage should always be the same on a MVNO and the underlying network provider. This, however, doesn’t mean the level of service will always be the same (i.e. you can have the same coverage but speeds could be lower). Each MVNO can implement their own policies on the quality of service and how traffic is prioritised. As an example of this, see my article on traffic management policies and how they differ for each UK network.
      Unfortunately, there’s no public data regarding the quality of service and which customers will receive priority over others. The exact details are likely to be defined in the confidential agreements between each MVNO and the underlying network provider. It’ll also be a function of how each MVNO manages the traffic internally on their network. The answer to your question could be different depending on the MVNO (and all such evidence would be somewhat anecdotal).
      I’m aware there have been discussions regarding traffic priority on giffgaff and O2. Several people have suggested that customers on O2 often get priority (e.g. here). That said, I’m not sure if the question has ever been answered officially.

    • I have just left giffgaff today due to very poor data speeds 3g/4g.
      Throttling from the main operator (in this case o2).
      Definitely goes on but you can’t get a straight answer from either network.
      I’ve tried eventually being given an email address for Telefonica.
      O2’s parent company.
      And the response from them was as clear as mud.
      Yes data and calls can drop out at busy times and it’s something you’ll have to live with if your going to a network that essentially piggybacks on another network.
      So BT mobile here I come

  • Hi just wondering if you know what operators and MVNOs have uk call centres, due to accent,
    getting point over and quality of call thanks Andy

  • I’m a member of giffgaff and found this thread very helpful in deed. I’ll probably be linking to it on the giffgaff forums so expect some more traffic.

  • Hi Ken, Thanks for the articles
    you made greatful contents!! amazing 🙂
    I have a question about MVNO
    Could we know how many MVNO in UK?
    17 operators in the table except main operators are total MVNO?

    • Hi Joythi,
      You’re right… in the UK, all of the mobile networks are MVNOs except from EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. I’m not sure about a complete list of MVNOs… the list I’ve provided is far from comprehensive (it only covers the largest consumer MVNOs). There’s also lots of business and specialist MVNOs. The PrepaidMVNO website has a list of 90 UK MVNOs. I’m not sure how many are current – it’s possible that some of them aren’t currently trading or selling to consumers so do double-check the reliability of the list!

  • Thanks for the article! 🙂 This is a extremely useful site for those looking at Virtual operators and how to assess coverage and quality in the UK.

    I am finding that some of the Virtual operators have ‘variable’ quality in that some of them only use the spare capacity of their host network and perhaps at a lower priority 🙁 therefore, experience a lot of ‘drop-outs’ during a calls no matter where called from.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks! You make a really interesting point… When mobile masts are congested (i.e. when there is abnormally high traffic), I guess there would be some kind of system prioritising different types of user (e.g. business customers get priority over normal consumers). I’m not sure if there’s any specific data on how traffic is prioritised and which MVNOs receive priority over others. If any other readers have a thought on this issue or some real-world data which illustrates this happening, I’d be really interested in hearing about it!

      That said, if your local mast has plenty of spare capacity (as it should under normal circumstances) then there’s unlikely to be a difference between MVNO service quality.


      • David Thompson replied:

        Hi Ken
        Interesting comments re MVNO receiving priority. I’m on TalkTalk mobile which piggybacks on Vodafone. I live in a small rural village and I suspected that Vodafone were squeezing TalkTalk and prioritising their own customers because my data signal has virtually disappeared over the past few months (although voice signal is good). However on checking with a different handset which uses Vodafone, and testing signal strength with the OpenSignal Android app which is installed on both the TalkTalk and Vodafone handsets, the data signal is identical (i.e. practically zero). I have a tracker installed on my handset which was a Godsend a year ago when I dropped it in a remote location, and I managed to locate it from my PC. Now it no longer works reliably where there is a poor signal.
        Maybe it’s time for a move away to EE…!

  • The network coverage may exist (in theory) but network availability is another matter. Having toured the UK extensively including Wales and Scotland there are so many places where there is no Vodafone coverage and 3G is like vapourware. I have to use a Sure Signal box at home to get a signal, even that is not perfect. I am not picking on Vodafone they are my provider of choice the others seem no better. Cross the channel and there is a strong 5 bar signal and plenty of capacity everywhere.
    Am I the only one to feel this way?


  • This is a great web site as Ive searched for ages to discover a reason that my mobile phone fails often to receive incoming calls with a Tesco Sim – I have seen here that the Tesco Network is Virtual – When I use my phone on Orange now EE I have no problems and The EE Network is real and giving me a more reliable connection. It may well be that other users in different locations and using different mobiles of course can get different results but I will be sticking to main and real networks in future. My reason for using Tesco in the first place was the reasonable price of the calls, however as my business depends on my answering calls quickly then price is not relevant against quality of service. Well done for this most informative site please keep it up to date as some of us out here want to learn or need to learn ……

  • orange and T-Mobile have had native 3g cross native network (it picks the best signal now) now for last 3 months please correct your list

    apart from that list is very good

  • hey ken this website is great but ive had a problem with talk mobile where they wont let me change my number , they say i had to use it a point of sale and beacuse there a virtual proivder cant change the number afterwards.

    • Hi Karl,

      I'm not sure it is true that MVNOs cannot change the number afterwards: for example giffgaff do this all the time. Though perhaps there is a limitation on the Talkmobile system? I'm afraid I can't really advise beyond what Talkmobile customer services can tell you, sorry 🙁


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