The United Kingdom has a competitive mobile telecommunications market, with several major operators like Three, EE, O2 or Vodafone.

This article will help you to pick one based on different needs.

Best Mobile Operators in UK

I. List of Mobile Operators in UK

1. Main Mobile Operators in UK


Three aims to distinguish itself from competitors by prioritizing affordable cellular data plans above additional features.

3 (Three) - Best Mobile Operators in UK
3 (Three)


EE tends to be more expensive than competitors, but offers extras like swappable benefits that include free Apple Music, BT Sport access, and more.

EE - Among top Mobile Operators in UK


While O2 trails EE and Vodafone for rural reception, its urban network coverage is excellent. With O2’s upcoming merger with Virgin Media, its infrastructure is set to improve further by combining with Virgin’s fibre network.

O2 - Top Mobile Operators in UK


Vodafone tends to be more expensive, it delivers fast, reliable connectivity.

Vodafone - On top Mobile Operators in UK

2. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in UK

MVNOs provide flexible, low-cost alternatives by leasing access from the major four networks above. Some popular MVNO choices in the UK include:

  • Tesco Mobile – Runs on O2 network, with competitive plans and Clubcard points perk.
  • Virgin Mobile – Uses EE infrastructure, packages with broadband/TV bundles.
  • Sky Mobile – Provides O2 coverage, data rollover feature, Sky TV extras.
  • Giffgaff – O2-hosted, members-run MVNO with unlimited offerings.

MVNOs often have lower monthly costs than major operators, at the expense of some features and slightly slower peak speeds. But they allow flexibility with options like shorter contracts or data rollovers. Picking the MVNO using your preferred major network can give you affordable access to that coverage and performance.

II. How to Choose the Best Mobile Operators in UK

When choosing between the many operators in the UK, consider these key factors:

  • Coverage – Check coverage maps to see providers with strong reception in your area. Rural users may benefit most from EE or Vodafone.
  • Speeds – Look for operators offering fastest downloads based on 3G, 4G or 5G availability. EE currently has quickest maximum data speeds.
  • Price – Compare monthly costs and one-off phone fees. MVNOs like Three tend to offer lowest prices.
  • Contract length – Consider if you want the lowest monthly cost with longer contract, or flexibility of SIM-only or 1-month plans.
  • Usage needs – Pick an operator that fits your preferences, whether that’s unlimited data, international options, or extras like smart home connectivity.

To find the ideal operator, check coverage maps for your locations of use and compare the performance metrics that matter most. Unlimited data isn’t necessarily needed for light users – a thrifty MVNO could work. For rural reception, EE and Vodafone tend to excel. Heavy data users are often best served by Three’s unlimited plans.

III. Best Mobile Operators in UK – Detailed Comparison

Let’s dive deeper into how the major networks compare across some key metrics:

Mobile Operators

Operator Coverage & Speeds English Support Prices & Plans Other Factors
EE Widest 4G coverage at over 99%. Fast 5G speeds. Live chat, online help, stores. Broad range of plans for pay monthly and pay as you go. Medium pricing. Largest number of spectrum holdings giving fastest speeds.
O2 Extensive 4G coverage at over 98%. 5G in most major towns and cities. Phone, online chat and social media support. Stores. Pay monthly, pay as you go, SIM only plans. Low to mid-range pricing. Mobile bank Monese and entertainment service O2 Priority.
Three 4G coverage over 93% of UK. Continued 5G rollout. Phone support as well as online chat. Stores. Affordable pay monthly, SIM only and pay as you go plans. Lowest pricing. Known for unlimited data plans. Roaming in 71 destinations at no extra cost.
Vodafone Fastest 5G network in many areas. Near universal 4G coverage. Phone, online chat, social media, stores. Variety of pay monthly, SIM only and pay as you go deals. Premium pricing. Best international roaming support in over 100 destinations. Very reliable network.

Three is likely the best mobile operator for tourists coming to the UK as it offers very affordable plans combined with excellent roaming support in many destinations around the world.

With Three, tourists can purchase pay as you go SIM cards at low prices and benefit from unlimited data plans to use their phones freely while travelling in the UK without fearing high bills

All these features from Three collectively offer tourists great value and convenience during their visit to the UK and subsequent travel across borders.

IV. Where to Buy SIM Cards from Mobile Operators in UK?

To enjoy coverage from a chosen network, you’ll need to get one of their SIM cards in your device. Here are some ways to buy a UK operator’s SIM:

  • Airport Outlets – Major UK airports often have stores or kiosks from operators selling travel/tourist SIMS perfect for visitors. Check UK Airports SIM for more details.
  • Direct from operator – The mobile networks sell SIMs on their websites, and some may offer signup perks. This ensures you get the latest SIM suited to your plan.
  • Online SIM resellers – Many third party e-commerce sites sell UK operator SIMs, often at discounted rates. These can be more convenient but check reviews.
  • Supermarkets – Local grocery stores like Tesco often sell major carrier SIMs both in-person and online. Their own MVNOs like Tesco Mobile are also available.

To have connectivity right away, buying in advance from a trusted provider is wise. If buying in-person after arriving, you can think about UK eSIM from GIGAGO.

V. Do Mobile Operators in UK Offer eSIM?

Along with traditional plastic SIM cards, some UK operators have now launched eSIM support. An eSIM is an electronic or “embedded” SIM chip built into your phone, allowing instant connectivity.

Here are the major UK networks offering eSIM capabilities:

  • EE – Provides eSIMs on compatible Apple and Google devices. Can be used alongside a physical SIM.
  • Vodafone – Launched eSIMs in 2020. Offers dual SIM functionality on latest phones.
  • O2 – Rolled out eSIM support on iPhones and Samsung models. Activates in-app or online.
  • Three – Launched eSIMs in 2019. Usage and allocations mirror physical SIM allowances.

You can also find your own plan in UkeSIM. They provide affordable global data plans for travelers to the United Kingdom. Plans include flexible data allowances from 1GB up to 20GB per day.

Let’s take a look at their best plans: 

Best UK eSIM plans
Best UK eSIM plans

Using an eSIM with these operators provides convenience when travelling, dual SIM flexibility, and the ability to switch plans digitally. However, eSIM setup needs to be completed on a supporting device.

💡Note: Check if your phone is eSIM compatible before selecting a plan. Support is available on newer iPhone and Google Pixel models, as well as some Samsung Galaxy devices.


Which is the best mobile operator for 5G coverage?

EE currently has the most comprehensive 5G coverage, reaching around 50% of the UK population. Their head start launching 5G in 2019 has allowed them to expand availability quicker than competitors.

Which operator is the cheapest?

If looking purely at monthly costs, Three tends to offer some of the cheapest SIM-only deals. However, MVNOs can undercut the major networks further – Lebara for instance offers data, calls and texts for under £5 monthly.

What about reception in rural areas?

For rural UK coverage, EE and Vodafone tend to perform strongest thanks to their wide-reaching infrastructure. O2 can also piggyback off Vodafone’s signal in some areas. Always check coverage maps for your specific locations.

Can I use a UK SIM card abroad?

Most UK operators offer international roaming, but this incurs costly out-of-bundle fees. Some providers like Three include roaming allowances in Europe on higher tier plans. Vodafone meanwhile has competitive roaming add-on bundles.

Do I need a UK ID to buy a SIM card?

Yes, you’ll need to show valid photo ID when purchasing a pay-monthly or pay-as-you-go SIM in the UK. For locals, a driving license or passport is accepted. Visitors can use their foreign passport to verify identity when buying a UK SIM.

VII. Conclusion

Picking the best mobile operators in UK is an important things for your trips. The major infrastructure providers like EE, O2, Vodafone and Three all have strengths and weaknesses..

Consider eSIM from UK eSIM with affordable plans for the best experience. Enjoy!