When visiting the UK, travelers have several options to get online, each with their own pros and cons. In this blog post, we’ll explore the mobile internet in the UK and provide tips on choosing the best connectivity option for your needs and budget.

The Mobile Internet in the UK

I. Mobile Internet Coverage and Speed in the UK

Mobile internet in the UK is readily available and reliable, particularly in major cities and popular tourist destinations, though coverage can be patchy in rural regions. Below are coverage maps for some of the main network providers so you can check signal strength throughout Britain.

1. The UK Mobile Internet Coverage

The UK benefits from extensive 4G LTE coverage from all the major mobile operators, with over 99% of the population covered. 5G networks are rapidly rolling out as well, available in many major cities and towns from all providers. This widespread fast mobile internet reach makes getting online convenient for tourists across most of the country.

Mobile Internet in the UK - Coverage
UK Mobile Internet Coverage. Source: Opensignal

Some key facts about mobile internet in the UK:

  • Three – Across the UK, Three has the most extensive 4G coverage at around 99% of the population. It also has the widest 5G network currently reaching more than 99% of the population.
  • Vodafone – Vodafone has been rapidly expanding its 5G network and now reaches over 97% of the population. Reception in rural parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern England can be intermittent.
  • O2– Its 5G network is growing steadily and now covers a majority of large towns and cities. O2 coverage is slightly less consistent in very remote rural locations.
  • EE– EE has extensive 4G networks across all of the UK’s major cities and population centers. Around 98-99% of the UK is covered by Three’s 4G. Its 5G rollout is progressing well in urban areas. Coverage in sparse rural parts may not be comprehensive.

Overall, travelers in most populated areas of the UK should have a strong 4G signal as well as growing 5G availability when using a local SIM card or eSIM during their stay. Just be prepared for occasional drops in service when in remote areas or underground transit.

2. The UK Mobile Internet Speed

In addition to widespread coverage, mobile internet speeds across major networks in the UK are quite fast and rank among the fastest globally. However, keep in mind internet speeds will vary depending on the mobile operator, network generation (4G vs 5G), and location.

Mobile Internet in the UK - Median Speed
Mobile Internet in the UK – Median Speed. Source: Speedtest

National Ranking:

  • Overall: United Kingdom currently ranks 49th in the world for download speed, with a median of 50.96 Mbps. The UK’s mobile networks deliver internet connectivity that is reliably fast enough to stream HD video, use data-heavy apps, video chat and more without issue. Speeds continue to climb annually as networks invest in infrastructure upgrades.
  • The UK is among the global leaders for average mobile internet speeds compared to neighboring European countries. Continued investment is ensuring Britons enjoy high-performance connectivity on the go.

City Ranking: 

  • London – Average speeds around 100-150 Mbps across all networks. Wide 5G coverage boosts speeds even higher in Central London.
  • Edinburgh – Consistently fast speeds of 70-100 Mbps on average thanks to strong 4G from all carriers. 5G accelerates speeds further.
  • Birmingham – 4G speeds average 60-80 Mbps. Growing 5G infrastructure enhances speeds over both EE and Vodafone 5G networks.

To enjoy the fastest mobile data speeds look for a 5G compatible device and SIM card or eSIM on a network like Three with broad coverage. But even 4G speeds should be sufficient for typical tourist usage like maps, social media, messaging, web browsing and more.

Note: Kindly note that since Brexit, only Three prepaid SIM cards still provide limited free EU roaming.

II. Mobile Internet in the UK: Connection Options for Tourists

When visiting this country, travelers have four main options to connected to internet in the UK on their mobile devices: using free public WiFi, purchasing a local SIM card, using an eSIM plan, or sticking with their provider’s international roaming. Below we summarize the key pros and cons of each option to consider:

Option Pros Cons Price Guide
Public WiFi Free to use; Available at many shops, cafes, transport hubs Poor security risks; Spotty connections; Slow speeds due to shared public use Free
Pocket WiFi Rental Portable WiFi hotspot; Multiple devices can connect Need to arrange rental pickup/drop off; Battery life limitations; Extra device to carry around ~$6-10 per day
International Roaming Use existing smartphone & number; Works upon arrival Very expensive data rates; Pay per MB used; Easy to accidentally rack up huge bills $5-15 for 100MB $50 for 1GB
Local SIM Card Affordable data rates; Local UK number; High speeds Need to purchase SIM and swap into device; Without roaming, only works locally in UK ~$15-30 for 10-30GB monthly
eSIM Digital Plan Easy setup; Affordable rates; Keeps your original SIM active Requires eSIM compatible device; Carriers have limited eSIM support ~$10-15 for 10-15GB monthly

As you can see, of the connectivity options available for visitors to the UK, local SIM cards and eSIM plans offer the best combination of affordability, speed, convenience and security for tourists wanting reliable mobile internet access during their stay. Public WiFi is very hit-or-miss, while international roaming rates are exorbitant making it easy to rack up a huge phone bill inadvertently. 

Our recommendation: Connect to internet in the UK with an UKeSIM. Reliable Three network, activation is a breeze – just download the eSIM profile to your compatible device and you’ll be up and running on the UK’s fast 4G and 5G networks.

Best UK eSIM plans
Best UK eSIM plans

III. Mobile Internet Rates in the UK

When getting a local SIM card or eSIM in the UK, you can expect very reasonable data rates compared to what you would pay for international roaming. Here’s an overview of typical costs for mobile internet packages from major UK providers:

  • Pay-as-you-go – Prepaid SIMs with pay-as-you-go data cost around $1-2 per GB, very affordable for light use.
  • Monthly Plans – SIM plans with monthly data allowances of 10-50GB typically cost between $10-30 depending on data amount. This works out to $1-3 per GB.
  • Unlimited Data – Truly unlimited data is hard to find, but some plans offer “unlimited” data for rates around $20-35 per month with speed reductions after 30-100GB used.
  • 5G Plans – 5G-enabled SIMs with higher speeds will cost a small premium over comparable 4G plans, usually around $5 more per month.
  • Short Term Plans – Tourists who only need data for a week or two can find 7-day plans from around $10 for 10GB, very cost effective.

With so many options, doing a bit of comparison shopping can help find the perfect balance of data amounts and price for your trip’s connectivity needs. But generally expect very reasonable rates compared to international roaming, making local SIMs and eSIMs the budget-friendly choice.

IV. Best Mobile Operators in the UK

Mobile Internet in the UK - Best Mobile Operators in the UK
Best Mobile Operators in the UK

The UK has four major mobile network operators – EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three. Here is a brief overview of each to help you select the best provider for your mobile internet needs while visiting the UK:

Carrier Main Points Pros Cons Best For
EE Largest provider with fastest 4G/5G networks Broadest 5G coverage; Fastest data speeds; Robust nationwide coverage Can be expensive; Limited rural coverage Travelers wanting cutting-edge 5G in cities/towns
Vodafone Second largest provider aggressively expanding 5G Reliable nationwide service; Competitive plans; Expanding 5G Patchy rural coverage Travelers wanting a dependable provider with a combination of connectivity and value.
O2 Range of affordable SIM deals and int'l options Low cost SIM plans; Attraction deals Small 4G footprint; Behind on 5G rollout Budget travelers for urban areas and EU use
Three Focuses on value plans and unlimited data Unlimited data plans; Competitive rates; Growing 5G; EU Roaming Limited rural coverage; Slower speeds Heavy data users for cities/towns on a budget

Three UK stands out as the top choice for mobile coverage in the UK. While other carriers may have broader networks or faster speeds, Three provides the best overall value and focuses on the aspects of a mobile plan that matter most to users.

V. FAQs

How much data do I need for 10 days in the UK?

For light use like maps and messaging, 3-5GB per week is ample. For heavier use including streaming, plan at least 10GB per week as a minimum. Get unlimited data if you want to use without worries.

Will my unlocked phone work with a UK SIM?

Most modern unlocked phones are compatible, but verify your device has the required cellular bands to work with UK networks before purchasing a local SIM. eSIM has fewer device restrictions.

Can I use the SIM/eSIM across Europe?

UK SIMs and eSIMs only provide service domestically. To travel elsewhere in Europe, you’ll need a separate local plan or use international roaming. Some providers offer roaming add-ons.
Getting mobile internet access with a UK eSIM is easy and affordable. With the above questions answered, you’ll be equipped to stay conveniently connected during your British travels.

Will my phone work on UK networks?

It needs to be unlocked and support UK network frequencies. Most US/European phones should work, but check your model.

VI. Conclusions

Having constant access to mobile internet and data while visiting the UK is extremely valuable for navigation, logistics, communication and sharing the highlights of your trip. While free public WiFi is available, the best options is using an affordable and fast UK eSIM during your stay. This provide reliable service and avoid exorbitant international roaming fees.