You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the best UK phone providers. The big four – EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three – all claim 99% UK coverage over 4G, but the figures drop dramatically for 5G coverage. It’s worth remembering that ‘coverage’ doesn’t guarantee a strong signal, so it’s a good idea to ask local friends which network they use and their experiences with it before diving in. That’s especially important if you live in a rural or remote area.
Each network offers different strengths and weaknesses, from call quality to add-ons to the big one – monthly cost. You also need to consider which smartphones the best UK phone networks offer, as this varies. Make sure you check out our buying guides to the best Xiaomi phones, best OnePlus phones, best Samsung phones, best Sony phones, and best Google Pixel phones to figure out which smartphone is the device for you.
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No time to read the whole list? Here are our top three picks:
Here are the best cell phone providers in the UK:
- EE – best overall
- O2 – service with the best extras
- Vodafone – service with the best signal
- Three – best UK contract costs
- iD Mobile – best for SIM-only deals
- Sky Mobile – best for data rollover
- Smarty – best contract-free option
- Mobiles.co.uk – best comparative service
The best UK cell phone provider overall.
- Strong signal in the majority of places
- Fast speeds across the nations
- Contracts aren’t the cheapest
I can speak from experience when it comes to using EE as your cell phone provider in the UK, as I’ve been with the company for years at this point. EE is, by far, the best provider for cell phones in the UK because not only can you get an assortment of phones across a range of contracts, but the company fully supports 5G compatibility, and it’s available all across the UK. I’m yet to go anywhere and not be able to get a signal.
Of course, as wonderful as having a signal is and knowing that you can have a strong connection, that doesn’t go too far if the cost of a contract is too much for you. Well, luckily, like many cell phone providers in the UK, EE has a range of contracts for those who are after sim-only deals, as well as consumers in need of a new device. EE has contracts as low as £10 a month and others that are pushing the £100 boundary.
Beyond the signal and prices, EE does offer exclusive extras with some of its contracts, these can include Apple One, Apple Music, BT Sports, and more, making EE a prime choice if you want to cut out the cost of one of these subscriptions.
It all comes down to what exactly it is you’re after. Either way, you can get a strong signal no matter where you are, not just in the UK, but in other countries, too. I recently enjoyed a holiday in Lanzarote off the West coast of Africa, and I had a signal all over the island.
The best UK cell phone provider for extras.
- O2 priority gives freebies and extras
- Reasonable signal
- Contracts typically last three years
If you like going to the theatre, eating in restaurants, and going to various events and concerts, O2 might be the phone provider for you in the UK. Big names such as Madonna and Taylor Swift make use of the famous O2 arenas found throughout the UK and, as extremely popular artists who know how to put on a show, it can be hard to get tickets to see them. That’s where being an O2 customer comes in, as you get access to priority tickets, giving you a chance to secure your ticket before the general public even gets a look in.
Looking beyond the extras, O2 offers a good signal service, so you can always get hold of someone in a pinch. Back when I used O2 as my provider, I could always get a signal, though, depending on where you are, you might not be able to get 5G, or might have slightly less signal power than those with different providers. A problem that you may encounter with various cell phone providers.
The typical length of an O2 contract may also put you off, as they typically last three years, one to two years more than other service providers. However, as GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile both use O2’s network, you can go ahead and get a shorter contract with one of them and still get some of the benefits of O2’s network.
The best UK cell phone provider for signal.
- Fantastic signal
- Stores across the UK
- Fewer bonus incentives
Vodafone is a solid pick if you want a reliable signal, but with the price that a contract costs, you might want to be sure that this is the network for you. I can’t fault the company’s reliability with its services, but there are things that let it down when compared to the likes of EE and O2.
For some, a great signal only gets you so far, but others want the great bonuses you can get with O2 and EE, so should you want Apple Music to be part of your contract or wish to get priority tickets for a gig, this isn’t the network for you.
Finally, there are Vodafone stores all over the place in the UK (it’s perhaps the most common one to stumble across when out shopping), so should you be in need of assistance, or are looking to join the network, it’s as simple as walking into a store.
The best UK cell phone provider for contract costs.
- Cheap contracts
- No bonus incentives
You can frequently land a good contract with Three, particularly if you opt for a sim-only contract. However, killer prices come at another cost – cell phone signal. Three’s signal strength has a tendency to waver pretty much all over the place, so it can be a bit of a gamble as to whether or not you get a strong signal.
There is one thing you might want to bear in mind and that’s, from personal experience, Three may struggle to uphold its promises from time to time. For instance, when abroad, the company claims you can always connect to the network, but that’s simply not the case. Again, I returned to my holiday in Lanzarote, where I had great signal with EE, yet, despite paying extra money to ensure they could contact family in the UK in case of emergency, my friend couldn’t get a signal with Three, and when they tried to get hold of customer service, they didn’t get any help. Should you want to ensure you have a signal regardless of where you are in the world, it’s Vodafone and EE that you should consider.
Still, for people after a bargain, it’s hard to argue with Three’s prices. However, it’s also worth noting that the likes of Virgin Mobile, GiffGaff, BT, and more use the EE and O2 networks, so if you’re after a bargain with a good signal, you might be able to capitalize on a new customer contract with one of those providers. Just remember that Three may well offer unlimited data, calls, and texts at a better rate. It’s all a balancing act.
5. iD Mobile
The best UK phone provider for SIM-only deals.
- Discount SIM-only deals
- No roaming charges in the EU
- Not quite as speedy as some competitors
- Customer service could be better
Already got the phone of your dreams, but are ready to switch to a new service provider? If that’s the case, we recommend iD Mobile, whose prices can blow its competitors out of the water.
Part of the Currys empire (along with Carphone Warehouse), iD Mobile offers a solid service at a discount price. If you really look closely at it, you can see that providers such as EE do offer better speeds, but the difference in speeds isn’t too substantial, so it might be worth sacrificing that for what could be a better deal with iD Mobile.
Those of you traveling or going on holiday might be happy to know that this service provider doesn’t apply roaming charges when abroad in the EU. It’s always nice not to have to worry about that when you take a trip (I certainly don’t like having to pay them). Roaming fees do still apply outside the EU, so remember that if you visit somewhere like the United States, but that’s still a pretty sweet cherry on the cake.
6. Sky Mobile
The best phone provider for data rollover.
- Amazing rollover features
- Excellent performance
- On the pricier side
- Customer service sucks
Don’t you hate it when you run out of data during a busy month, knowing full well that you had several gigabytes left over the month before? Well, thanks to Sky Mobile that can be a thing of past courtesy of its data rollover feature, of which it boasts the best on this list.
With Sky Mobile’s Piggybank, you can save up your data each and every month and dip into it whenever you want. All of a sudden, your monthly limit feels more like pocket money that you can save up for whenever you might need it. It’s the kind of thing where, once you’re used to it, you’ll wonder why you were ever satisfied with services that don’t do that.
Of course, Sky, being Sky, is an absolutely huge corporation, and if you ever need to get ahold of someone to help you with a problem, might have to jump through several hoops in the form of countless answering machines before you reach a member of staff. It can be, admittedly, quite frustrating but Sky Mobile has so much going for it that you might let lacklustre customer support slide.
Best contract-free phone provider.
- Pay-as-you-go available
- Great customer service
- Lacks special features
Not everybody has the luxury of knowing that they’ll be able to pay a set amount to their phone provider each month. If you’re after a service that just lets you top up as and when you go, then we recommend Smarty.
Of course, without a contract in place, you end up missing out on all the little benefits that a contract provides. There are no special offers for other services or anything like that, but what you do get is a decent phone service with generous data allowances.
Though it is admittedly a no-frills provider, you wanna know one area that it really excels in? Customer service. You can’t say that about a lot of phone providers, but if you encounter any troubles when using Smarty, their staff will do everything they can to get it sorted. Smarty with a hearty.
The best service for network comparison.
- Multiple networks in one place
- Easy to compare price plans
- Once again, customer service sucks
Mobiles.co.uk is a website that specializes in all things mobile. It’s great if you need any phone accessories and, most importantly of all, if you’re looking for a phone provider. Visiting their website, you’ll find that there are plans for Vodaphone, iD Mobile, and Voxi. It’s convenient to be able to compare plans across different networks from a singular location.
They’re also handy when it comes to helping you find one that matches what you need specifically. For instance, should you be in the market for a new iPhone, you can easily find all the iPhone plans together in one place – and we must say that they have some of the best iPhone 15 deals we’ve seen.
Admittedly, like many phone providers, their customer service leaves something to be desired (and they are a part of Currys). But for a phone service one-stop-shop, you won’t find many better than this.
How we chose the best UK phone providers
To select the best UK phone providers, we take into account how reliable the network is in terms of signal and whether or not you can consistently get at least 4G. Not only that, but we consider whether or not 5G is a possibility within the network, as well as whether or not a provider embraces data rollover.
Outside of that, we look at contract prices and whether or not it’s worth your money, alongside potential bonuses such as Disney Plus, and Apple Music, and even whether or not you get priority at certain events. If you want to learn more about how we specifically test phones and tech, take a look at our how we test article.
Who is the best 4G operator in the UK?
EE reigns supreme as the best 4G operator, having the highest 4G speed average throughout cities in the UK. Furthermore, more than half of the population in the UK can use 5G through EE, not just 4G.
Which Network is cheaper in the UK?
As we mention throughout this article, the best price and provider may well vary depending on what you want to get out of your contract. However, if it’s a pay-as-you-go sim that you want, it’s hard to beat the prices of 1pMobile which, as the name suggests charges 1p per text and 1p per minute for calls. Furthermore, its coverage provider is EE.
What are the major UK phone networks?
The biggest networks in the UK are Vodafone, EE, Three, and O2, each of which serves as the coverage provider for other networks such as Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Asda Mobile, and more.
With that, you now know the best cell providers in the UK. Of course, we still encourage you to broaden your search for the best deal, as each provider has different promotions at different times. And again, remember that some of the lesser-known providers do use EE and O2 networks, meaning they’re reliable for signal.