How To Check & Compare UK Mobile Coverage: Networks & MVNOs

July 27th, 2017

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

Mobile phone coverage is provided by mastsIf you’re choosing a new mobile network, the level and quality of coverage should be the first thing you consider.

If your mobile network has poor coverage, potential problems can include missed phone calls, delayed text messages and web pages failing to load. It can also result in substantially poorer battery life as your handset will need to work harder to maintain a connection.

At first glance, it seems like a daunting challenge to find the mobile network offering the best coverage in your area. This is because there are about 30 different brands of mobile network to choose from in the UK. In reality, however, things are much simpler as all of the 30 different mobile networks use one of four underlying coverage providers.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about mobile coverage in the UK. We’ll start by showing you how to check and compare coverage on different networks. We’ll also discuss the UK’s system of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs): understanding this will make it much easier to compare coverage on different networks. Finally, we’ll discuss the factors that can influence your coverage and we’ll present some apps & accessories for improving your coverage.

Check & Compare Mobile Coverage

UK Mobile Coverage is provided by four providersIn the UK, only four companies hold a license to build and maintain their own mobile network infrastructure. These companies are EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. They each license some spectrum from the Government and build their own network of mobile phone masts to cover the country.

In addition to the four network coverage providers, there are a large number of mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs for short). MVNOs do not maintain their own mobile network infrastructure: instead, they piggyback on infrastructure from one of the four coverage providers. As a result, the signal and coverage you receive on a MVNO is exactly the same as the coverage on the underlying provider.

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 you might receive a BT Mobile or giffgaff branded service, the underlying coverage will still be coming from either 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 mobile network, we’ve shown the underlying coverage provider and the types of coverage available on that network. You can click on the relevant link for each network to access an online coverage map and checker.

Mobile Network BrandCoverage Provider2G3G4GCoverage Checker
1pMobileEE Check 1pMobile Coverage
ASDA MobileEE Check ASDA Mobile Coverage
BT MobileEE Check BT Mobile Coverage
C4C MobileO2 Check C4C Mobile Coverage
Co-operative MobileEE Check Co-operative Mobile Coverage
Delight MobileEE Check Delight Mobile Coverage
EEEE Check EE Coverage
FreedomPopThree* Check FreedomPop Coverage
giffgaffO2 Check giffgaff Coverage
iD MobileThree Check iD Mobile Coverage
IQ MobileEE Check IQ Mobile Coverage
Lebara MobileVodafone Check Lebara Mobile Coverage
LycamobileO2 Check Lycamobile Coverage
O2O2 Check O2 Coverage
OrangeEE Check Orange Coverage
Plusnet MobileEE Check Plusnet Mobile Coverage
ROK MobileThree Check ROK Mobile Coverage
RWG MobileThree Check RWG Mobile Coverage
Sky MobileO2 Check Sky Mobile Coverage
SmartyThree Check Smarty Coverage
T-MobileEE Check T-Mobile Coverage
TalkmobileVodafone Check Talkmobile Coverage
TalkTalk MobileVodafone** Check TalkTalk Mobile Coverage
TelloThree Check Tello Coverage
Tesco MobileO2 Check Tesco Mobile Coverage
ThreeThree Check Three Coverage
TPO MobileThree Check TPO Mobile Coverage
Utility WarehouseEE Check Utility Warehouse Coverage
Vectone MobileEE Check Vectone Mobile Coverage
Virgin MobileEE Check Virgin Mobile Coverage
VodafoneVodafone Check Vodafone Coverage
VOXIVodafone Check VOXI Coverage

* FreedomPop uses the mobile data connection for calling and texting. This means the coverage and service reliability is more limited compared to other networks using Three.
** TalkTalk Mobile is currently closed to new customers. The service is expected to re-launch in the second half of 2017 using coverage from O2.

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.

How To Assess Mobile Coverage

The first step in assessing mobile coverage is to use the relevant online coverage map applicable to your mobile network. You can use the table above to find the relevant coverage map for mobile networks you’re thinking of joining.

On the online coverage map, it’s worth checking all of the places where you might regularly spend some time. So besides your home, you may also want to check the coverage at your school, university, local pub or workplace. Ideally, you’ll be looking for a mobile network that provides you with good coverage in all of these places.

Finally, it’s worth spending a little bit of time to review the types of coverage available. You should ideally have good indoor coverage and if you’re a smartphone user, this should be either 3G or 4G coverage. If you’re using a basic handset without smartphone capabilities, it may be necessary to have 2G coverage.

Indoor & Outdoor Coverage

Coverage is weaker in buildings

Mobile coverage is weakened by buildings. Look for a network with good indoor mobile coverage.

If possible, you should choose a mobile network that offers you both indoor and outdoor coverage. This is vital if you want to use your phone inside of a building. If your mobile network only promises outdoor coverage, we’d recommend staying clear as you’re likely to have a poor experience.

Please be aware that actual indoor coverage depends on a number of factors that are not always considered by online coverage maps. Factors affecting your indoor coverage include building construction materials, your location inside of a building and the proximity of other nearby buildings. For instance, if you’re living in a basement flat, your actual indoor coverage could be worse than suggested on online maps. If you have reason to believe this might be the case, you can order a free Pay As You Go SIM card to test out your coverage.

If you’re struggling to find a mobile network with good indoor coverage, consider using one of the apps or accessories listed here to improve it.

2G, 3G & 4G Coverage

RoadWhen studying an online coverage map, you’ll often be shown the breakdown of 2G, 3G and 4G coverage:

  • 2G is the oldest type of mobile network still in use today. It’s mainly designed for calling and texting, but you can also use it to browse the internet at dial-up speeds.
  • 3G (recommended minimum) is the basic level of coverage expected on mobile networks today. It allows you to call, text and browse the internet on your smartphone. A good 3G connection should provide broadband-level speeds and should be fast enough for almost any activity on your smartphone (including online radio, online video and downloads).
  • 4G is the latest generation of mobile technology, with download speeds around 5 times faster than 3G. While it isn’t necessary for a good smartphone experience, you’ll find it a lot zippier and smoother when using 4G instead of 3G.

Where possible, we strongly recommend choosing a mobile network with either 3G or 4G coverage. On basic handsets without smartphone functionality, it may be necessary to choose a network that supports 2G coverage (2G isn’t offered on Three and on Three’s MVNOs).

Real World Experimentation

SIM Cards Stacked

You can order a free Pay As You Go SIM card to test the coverage on each provider.

Finally, it’s worth noting that online coverage maps only provide a prediction of what the coverage will be like in your area. This prediction is based solely on geography and the location of phone masts. However, as previously discussed, actual real-world coverage may differ due to other reasons (e.g. the materials used to construct your home).

Before signing up to a lengthy 24-month contract, it may be worthwhile carrying out a real-world experiment on coverage. For instance, ask people living in your household about their experience of using a certain network coverage provider. Is their mobile service normally reliable at home? Do they ever experience any problems with indoor coverage?

A further way to test this out is to order a free Pay As You Go SIM card from the network you’re planning to join (or you can get a free SIM card from any mobile network sharing the same coverage provider). You can insert the free SIM card into any unlocked smartphone to test the level of coverage. How many bars of signal are you able to get on that mobile network? Are you able to use it indoors without any problems?

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.


EE (99% coverage)

EE is the UK’s largest mobile network provider. Formed from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile in 2010, the company became a part of the BT Group in 2016. As of 2017, EE offers high-speed 4G coverage directly to consumers through the BT Mobile and EE brands.

A number of MVNOs use coverage from EE: notably ASDA Mobile, 1p Mobile, Plusnet Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Most MVNOs offer access to both 3G and 4G coverage, but a number are restricted to offering just 3G coverage.

As of May 2017, EE has 99% population coverage for 4G internet. This is the widest 4G coverage of any UK mobile network. Double-speed 4G coverage currently stands at 80% and 4G+ coverage is available to customers in London.

EE has recently won a contract to provide the UK’s emergency services network. As such, EE is investing heavily in improving rural coverage. Their 4G network is therefore expected to cover 95% of the UK’s landmass by 2020.

Check Coverage on EE & EE MVNOs ยป

2G Coverage: 99% population coverage (1800MHz frequency)
3G Coverage:
99% population coverage (2100MHz frequency)
4G Coverage:
99% population coverage (800MHz, 1800MHz & 2600MHz frequencies)


O2 (99% coverage)

O2 provides a mobile service through their own branded network. They also power the underlying coverage for MVNOs like giffgaff, Lycamobile, Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile.

In general, we’d recommend giffgaff as a better value way of accessing coverage from O2 but with a much lower price.

All of O2’s MVNOs provide access to both 3G and 4G coverage. As of November 2015 (the most recent time O2 published their network coverage statistics), O2 had 78% population coverage on 4G. The company has made a public commitment to offering 98% population coverage on 4G by the end of 2017.

Check Coverage on O2 & O2 MVNOs ยป

2G Coverage: 99% population coverage (900MHz frequency)
3G Coverage:
98% population coverage (900MHz & 2100MHz frequencies)
4G Coverage:
78% population coverage (800MHz frequency)


Three (97% coverage)

Three is the UK’s newest network coverage provider, and claims 97% population coverage on their 3G network. At the end of 2015, Three also offered 65% population coverage on 4G.

The following MVNOs are using Three as their network coverage provider:

It’s worth noting that Three doesn’t provide any 2G coverage (for this reason, it’s not possible to use a 2G-only handset on Three or on one of Three’s MVNOs). For customers using their phone in a rural area, it may be advisable to instead choose a rival mobile network with coverage from either EE, O2 or Vodafone.

Check Coverage on Three & Three MVNOs ยป

2G Coverage: Not available: you’ll need a 3G handset.
3G Coverage:
97% population coverage (2100MHz frequency)
4G Coverage:
65% population coverage (800MHz & 1800MHz frequencies)


Vodafone (98% coverage)

In the UK, Vodafone provides 98% population coverage. Of this, 96% population coverage is on 3G and 4G (as of May 2017).

As well as providing services directly to the consumer, Vodafone also powers the coverage for Lebara Mobile. TalkTalk Mobile also currently uses coverage from Vodafone, but they are expected to change their coverage provider to O2 very soon.

At present, 4G is only available on the Vodafone-branded service. Vodafone’s MVNOs are restricted to having only 2G and 3G coverage.

Check Coverage on Vodafone & Vodafone MVNOs ยป

2G Coverage: 98% population coverage (900MHz frequency)
3G Coverage:
96% population coverage (900MHz & 2100MHz frequencies)
4G Coverage:
96% population coverage (800MHz & 2600MHz frequencies)

Apps & Accessories for Better Indoor Coverage

Wi-Fi Calling Handsets

It might be possible to use app or accessory for better indoor coverage.

We strongly recommend following the instructions above to find the mobile network that offers the best coverage in your area. In some cases, however, this won’t be possible (for instance, if you’re tied in to a 24-month contract or if there are no mobile networks offering coverage in your area). In this case, you may be able to use a smartphone application or a special accessory to improve your coverage at home:

  • EE: On EE, it might be possible to use wi-fi calling (this requires you to have a compatible handset with the service). An EE signal box may also be available to customers who lack a smartphone with Wi-Fi Calling support.
  • O2: On O2, you can download the TU Go application to make and receive phone calls over a wi-fi connection.
  • Three: Customers on Three can use the inTouch application to make and receive phone calls over a wi-fi connection. Alternatively, it may also be possible to request a Home Signal box.
  • Vodafone: Vodafone has a wi-fi calling service for compatible smartphones. For anyone using a non-compatible handset, it may be possible to buy a Vodafone Sure Signal.

Typically, MVNOs do not provide or support apps and accessories for better indoor 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).

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) piggyback on capacity from a network coverage provider.

The UK has four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. The coverage provider manages all of the fixed network infrastructure (including the required licenses and the network of mobile phone masts).

MVNOs such as BT Mobile, giffgaff and iD Mobile provide a mobile service on top of the coverage provider’s infrastructure. The underlying coverage will come from the network coverage provider, but things like billing and customer support will be handled by the MVNO.

Giffgaff Run By You

giffgaff is a MVNO on the O2 network. It’s targeted at younger and more price-conscious consumers.

In some cases, MVNOs are either owned or partly-owned by the underlying coverage provider. This is a common technique for targeting different groups of customers. For instance, giffgaff is a subsidiary of O2 targeted towards younger and more price-conscious consumers. Lower prices can be offered on a sub-brand without cannibalising the revenues made on the core brand.

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

Historical Information

The information in the table above shows the current line-up of UK virtual network operators. In the past few years, certain MVNOs have changed the network they lease spare capacity from. 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.
  • Family Mobile. Family Mobile (originally from IKEA and then from Coms Mobile) previously used coverage from EE. The service closed in August 2015.
  • LIFE Mobile. In November 2016, customers on LIFE Mobile transitioned to Plusnet Mobile. Customers who originally signed up for a LIFE Mobile plan 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. From July 2013 to 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. As of February 2015, Orange and T-Mobile are closed to new customers.
  • OVIVO Mobile. OVIVO Mobile previously used coverage from Vodafone. The service closed on March 19th 2014.
  • Post Office Mobile. The Post Office Mobile previously used coverage from EE. The service was closed in August 2016.
  • TalkTalk Mobile. In November 2014, TalkTalk signed an agreement to change their network coverage provider from Vodafone to O2. At present, customers are still yet to be moved over to O2, though this is expected to happen in the second-half of 2017.
  • TPO Mobile. In July 2016, TPO Mobile (The People’s Operator) changed their network coverage provider from EE to Three.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 110 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Haydn said:

    Hi Ken

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



  2. cm said:

    if i buy a 2g or 2.5g phone in the uk, can i expect at least a yr or two of use? thx

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  3. Ian said:

    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?

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  4. Tim Barrow said:

    In the UK is 2G ever likely to be switched off like in other countries?

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  5. Steve Thurgood said:

    Where is pebble in this list? It uses all networks ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  6. Will said:

    Since Plusnet use EE’s mobile network do you know if EE’s signal box will work with a Plusnet sim card? I’ve seen on this forum (post 804) that it depends on how much of an independent network Plusnet is from EE. Do you happen to know the answer? Thank you.

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

      1. Will replied:

        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.


  7. Laura said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  8. Dorian said:

    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:

  9. 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

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  10. Mike said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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 ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Bill replied:

        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…

        1. Ken replied:

          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 ๐Ÿ™‚
          Hope this helps,

          1. Bill replied:

            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…?

          2. Ken replied:

            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).

  11. Ben said:

    Hi Ken,

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


    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  12. Shaun McDonald said:

    Need to remove the 2G off the TPO row in the table, as that’s no longer available with the move to Three.

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  13. Sarah said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  14. Serena said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

      1. Serena replied:

        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!

  15. Newbs said:

    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?

  16. Phippster said:

    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.


    1. Claire replied:

      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!

  17. phil said:

    P.S. Sainsbury Mobile will be defunct from 15/01/16

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  18. phil said:

    I.D. Mobile is listed as 2g 3g and 4g yet it is on the Three network that doesn’t do 2g

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  19. Mick best said:

    Update My BT sim arrived 4g signal ๐Ÿ“ถ
    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

  20. Arpit Kadia said:


    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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).

  21. John Osborne said:

    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 . .



    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  22. Richard said:

    What network are White Mobile on ( and are they any good?

    1. Ken replied:

      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).

  23. 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

    1. Dan replied:

      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.

  24. Ian said:

    Hi Ken,

    Family Mobile is stopping their service soon ๐Ÿ™

    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.


  25. Richard said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  26. Stephen said:

    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!

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  27. Paul said:


    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.

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  28. Vanessa said:

    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?

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  29. Matthew said:

    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 ยฃ30pcm.

    One thing I have found, and may be of use, is that PAYG on Three seems to be better value than monthly contracts! ยฃ15 on PAYG gives you 300mins, 3000 texts and Unlimited Data. Compared to a rolling 30 day contract of ยฃ20 that gives 600mins, 5000 texts and Unlimited data.

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

      1. Graham replied:

        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.

  30. Tracey said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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,

  31. Torkeer said:

    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.


    1. Ken replied:

      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)!

  32. Tom said:

    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?

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the Vodafone Sure Signal will only work with Vodafone SIM cards (you can’t use it on Vodafone MVNOs). Sorry about that!

  33. Martin said:

    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 ?

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

      1. Martin replied:

        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.

        1. Ken replied:

          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).

  34. Ash said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Ash,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, EE charges ยฃ20.42 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).

  35. Jill said:

    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

    1. Ken replied:

      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,

      1. Jill replied:

        Thanks for the advice Ken

  36. Simon said:

    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!

  37. 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?

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

      1. 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?

        1. Ken replied:

          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!

  38. Austin said:

    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.

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  39. Dave La said:

    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.

    1. Martha replied:

      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.

      1. Ken replied:

        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.

  40. Andy D said:

    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?

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

      1. Martha replied:

        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

        1. Ken replied:

          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.

  41. Rob said:

    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

  42. morgan said:

    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 ?

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

  43. patsy chapman said:

    very informative for someone about to get their first smartphone

  44. Brian said:

    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!

    1. Ken replied:

      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.

    2. Mick best replied:

      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

  45. andy said:

    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

  46. Derek said:

    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.

  47. Joythi said:

    Hi Ken, Thanks for the articles
    you made greatful contents!! amazing ๐Ÿ™‚
    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?

    1. Ken replied:

      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!

  48. Michael said:

    Thanks for the article! ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™ therefore, experience a lot of ‘drop-outs’ during a calls no matter where called from.

    1. Ken replied:

      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.


      1. 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…!

  49. Adrian said:

    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?


  50. Len Cooper said:

    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 ……

  51. lee said:

    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

  52. karl said:

    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.

    1. Ken replied:

      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 ๐Ÿ™


  53. jadam said:

    Hiya, great site, very small correction Lebara uses Vodafone same as Asda

    1. Ken replied:

      Right you are – thanks! I've updated the article.


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