If you live in a built-up area, you won’t have to worry about mobile network coverage.
There’s a time-honoured pattern for infrastructure roll-outs – begin in London, progress to major cities, expand into highly-populated regions and finally start on the countryside.
As a result, if you’re surrounded by pine forests rather than Pret A Mangers, mobile network coverage may be a significant factor in choosing a phone provider.
What percentage of the UK is covered?
It’s important to answer this question in terms of population, rather than geography.
Scotland alone has 790 offshore islands, of which only 95 are inhabited.
Mobile companies clearly aren’t going to install cell towers on 695 uninhabited islands, to improve the percentage of UK land mass they cover.
Equally, the solitary residents of Sanda, Shuna and Eilean Donan have almost certainly accepted 4G isn’t coming any time soon.
However, there are more densely-populated parts of the country where a mobile signal remains elusive.
And mobile network coverage doesn’t always stretch as far as you might expect:
- Of the big four network providers, O2 performs best with a reported 99 per cent coverage. The only parts of England and Wales where coverage isn’t available are uninhabited terrain like remote parts of the Kielder Forest. Much of Northern Ireland’s border territory receives a signal only strong enough for outdoor use, though
- EE claim to serve 98 per cent of the UK population, and the whole of England appears to be covered. The highest peaks in Wales are off-grid, with patchy signals on the main (populated) Scottish islands. On a brighter note, EE has the widest 4G coverage of any network operator, helping people to remain connected for more of the time
- Three’s coverage is less comprehensive at 97 per cent, and the mobile network coverage map on its website is difficult to use. There are blackspots just outside Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and Boston in Lincolnshire, while coverage in rural Scotland is poor. In a recent 4G signal survey, Three had the worst coverage across all four home nations
- Vodafone offers the least coverage of the four main network providers, contributing to its disappointing customer satisfaction levels. Their network map doesn’t indicate areas of no coverage – just limited ones. And that’s a large swathe of the UK, from Easington in Lincolnshire to Cranborne in Dorset. At least their 4G coverage is better than Three’s.
O2 and EE provide fairly comprehensive coverage, whereas Three and Vodafone deliver inferior availability in terms of both signal strength and 3G/4G coverage.
That’s worth thinking about if you’re a regular traveller, or if you live outwith a major population centre.
It’s also important to remember every mobile provider – from Virgin to Voxi – uses one of the big four’s cell networks.
As an example, Tesco Mobile customers receive whatever signal O2 provide in that area.
Before purchasing a SIM-only deal from any provider, make sure you visit the appropriate website to check coverage in relevant areas.