Check your local area’s network coverage for the UK’s main mobile networks.
What does mobile phone coverage mean?
Without complicating things, the term ‘mobile phone coverage’ essentially refers to the strength of signal or reception you’ll get, both for data and voice calls, in your area.
Who provides mobile coverage within the UK?
There are four major mobile networks: EE's, O2, Three and Vodafone. Each one maintains its own infrastructure, which other mobile phone operators rent and use to provide their own 3G, 4G and 5G services. Companies that use a network run by another mobile operator are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs.
So, even if you’re with a MVNO, you’ll be using infrastructure that belongs to the most-trusted, household-name providers.
What types of coverage are there?
You’ve likely heard of 3G, 4G and, more recently, 5G. And if you’re using a mobile phone, you’re going to be using one of these connections.
Each generation of wireless mobile tech is a step-up from its predecessor, but what are the main differences?
Introduced at the turn of the millennium, 3G gave us access to the internet, which was rather revolutionary at the time. All networks provide 3G coverage for 99% of the UK population, and there are still some rural areas that rely solely on 3G.
However, with most people upgrading their smartphones and turning to 4G and 5G, it’s becoming obsolete. It’s likely that mobile operators will begin to switch off their old 3G networks in the coming years. In fact, at the time of writing, Vodafone has already switched it off in some areas.
The most common connection, 4G is the default: all SIMs are 4G-enabled, and all devices from the past decade can support it. Although it used to be less widespread than 3G, these days network coverage for 4G is the same as 3G, covering 99% of the UK.
Speeds are much faster – around the same as basic fibre broadband – and connections are more stable.
The latest generation of wireless mobile tech, 5G is also the fastest and most reliable connection. Average download speeds are around the 100Mbps mark, although theoretically it can reach top speeds of 1,000Mbps.
It’s now pretty common, as all handsets released in recent years are 5G-ready, and SIMs usually come with 5G at no extra cost. However, whether you can access it depends on where you are. It’s still being rolled out across the country, and coverage isn’t quite as widespread as 4G.
Who provides the best network coverage?
That depends on whether you’re looking at 3G and 4G, or the more recently available 5G.
When it comes to 3G and 4G, all the big four networks provide 99% coverage or more across the UK. So, whichever network you’re with, you can expect a strong and reliable 4G connection in most areas.
At the same time, networks are also continuing to expand their 5G coverage to reach more areas of the country. EE was the first to launch its 5G network, with both Three and EE saying they now cover more than 50% of the UK.
In terms of speed, Three often comes out top in speed tests.
Read our guide to the best 5G networks.
What is mobile phone coverage like in my area?
The coverage you’ll get in your local area will depend on a few things:
- the type of connection, whether it’s 4G or 5G
- the network you choose
- the handset you’re using
- the amount of network traffic at the time
- whether you’re indoors or outdoors
- the weather
Also, your location affects coverage. If you’re in a city or town, you’re more likely to get good 4G and 5G connections. However, if you’re somewhere rural, you might only have access to 4G, or even be limited to just 3G.
How do I find the best network in my area?
It’s easy to find out your mobile operator’s coverage in your area – either have a look on their website or get in touch with them.
If you’re with EE, O2, Vodafone or Three, you can also use Ofcom’s mobile coverage checker.
Ofcom is the UK’s communication regulator, and they offer a service that lets you check the availability of 4G and non-4G data across the country.
How does Ofcom’s mobile phone coverage checker work?
You can enter your postcode into the coverage checker and it’ll tell you what kind of voice, data and enhanced data availability you’ll have. Here’s what to look out for:
- A green tick – This means you’re likely to have good coverage
- An amber triangle – This means you might experience issues with your reception (however you won’t see this for voice calls)
- A red cross – This means you likely won’t get any signal
You’ll also be able to see a map of coverage in your area.
Network speeds and data limits
While all networks have 4G coverage across 99% of the UK, and similar 5G coverage as each other, speeds may vary between them.
It’s a little hard to definitively say which network is the fastest – there hasn’t been any extensive testing comparing the networks, plus reports differ.
Still, based on the data that’s out there, EE has been found to have the highest average 4G speeds in major cities, as well as the lowest latency (the time it takes for a network to respond to a request). Three has also been named as the UK’s fastest 5G network in various speed tests.
As for data limits, many networks offer either unlimited data plans, or at least plans with large monthly data allowances. However, they may still have a fair usage policy in place, even if you have unlimited data – for example, if you regularly tether to multiple devices, or if you’re using more than 650GB of data a month.
Different networks have different policies, so it’s always good to check.
What if I’m not with EE, O2, Vodafone or Three?
If you aren’t with any of the big four networks, your provider will still be powered by one of them – for example: