Although there are numerous mobile brands in the UK – as evidenced on our homepage – these companies all rely on the networks of four primary operators.
They belong to Vodafone, O2, Three and EE – the latter increasingly being managed as a subsidiary of parent company BT.
Between them, these four networks deliver coverage to every other company offering mobile phone services, from Sky to Tesco, and from Virgin to Voxi.
But which one delivers the best 4G and 5G signal coverage across the UK?
Results may vary
When Opensignal published their latest mobile network analysis of 4G and 5G signal coverage in April, they concluded EE was the best performer.
This was based on crowd-sourced data from hundreds of thousands of devices, gathered during the first two months of this year.
As well as being by far the best network for upload speeds, EE offered the highest percentage of 4G availability nationwide – almost five per cent higher than next-best Vodafone.
However, it was download speeds (perhaps the most important metric of all) where EE truly crushed its competitors.
Its average download speed of 39Mbps was almost double that of Vodafone (21Mbps), far outstripping Three’s figure of 19.3Mbps and O2’s relatively meagre 17.3Mbps.
O2 also recorded the worst average upload speed – 6.7Mbps, versus Three (6.8), Vodafone (8.1) and EE (9.1) – though it did record the biggest speed increase since the previous round of testing.
All four networks have experienced a marked rise in average upload speeds in recent months, which is especially welcome as these are usually a fraction of download speeds.
However, that’s nothing compared to the huge 4Mbps jump in average download speeds recorded by EE, whereas the next most-improved network saw an uplift of just 0.6Mbps.
Five (not) alive
It says a lot for the UK’s disappointing 5G rollout that Three topped the national coverage charts with a figure of just 6.5 per cent. EE was uncharacteristically beaten into second place.
Once again, O2 propped up the table, covering 3.3 per cent of the UK with its 5G network.
On a brighter note, its 5G speeds were second only to EE, with O2’s average download speed of 128.9Mbps trumping Three (115.9) and Vodafone (103.1).
There are many large towns and small cities across the UK where 5G simply isn’t available, and others where a network has a small presence in the urban core but not in the suburbs.
Anyone impatient for the lightning-fast connectivity promised by their 5G handset will be relieved the auction of additional spectrum bands is finally going ahead after years of delays.
In time, 5G will become the key performance benchmark. But for now, 4G is all that’s available to most consumers – and EE presently offers the best coverage and speeds.