Choosing between mobile operators in UK can be a challenging task with so many options available. This complete guide examines the top four mobile operators in the UK – EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone – to help you find the best fit.

Best Mobile Operators in UK

I. List of Mobile Operators in UK

1. Main Mobile Operators in UK


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

Three is known for providing affordable plans, with competitively low prices on pay monthly, SIM only and pay as you go options. It popularized unlimited data plans in the UK. Three’s 4G network reaches over 96% of premises, and it is continuing to rollout 5G services.


EE - Among top Mobile Operators in UK

EE has invested heavily in 5G technology, rolling out its high-speed network to over 50 cities. It offers a variety of pay monthly plans and SIM only deals. Customers can also benefit from EE’s home broadband and TV packages in selected bundles. However, prices are in the mid-range compared to competitors.


O2 - Top Mobile Operators in UK

As the mobile network of Telefonica, O2 has an extensive 4G network covering over 98% of the UK population. It has focused on expanding its 5G network in recent years. O2 offers competitive pay monthly, pay as you go and SIM only plans. 


Vodafone - On top Mobile Operators in UK

As one of the largest networks globally, Vodafone has near-ubiquitous 4G coverage and many locations with the fastest 5G access. It offers a full range of pay monthly and SIM only deals. International roaming works across a vast network of over 100 countries/regions without additional charges.

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

Best Mobile Operators in UK - Mobile Experience Awards
Mobile Experience Awards. Source: Opensignal

Choosing a mobile provider is an important decision when travelling to the UK. Here are some tips to help you select the best network for your needs:

  • 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, O2 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

Each of the main mobile operators in the UK – EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone – have their own pros that may make one a better choice than others depending on a person’s needs. 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.

Overall, O2 offers extensive 4G coverage and 5G in many major areas, along with lower mid-range pricing. Three is known for its affordable plans and offers the lowest prices overall. Vodafone has one of the fastest growing 5G networks and the best international roaming support. So, the best network will depend on your priorities like coverage, speeds, cost of plans, roaming needs,…

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

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:

  • 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.
  • Airport Outlets – Major UK airports often have stores or kiosks from operators selling travel/tourist SIMS perfect for visitors. See UK Airports SIM for more information on acquiring a SIM and staying connected while visiting the country.
  • 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.

V. Do Mobile Operators in UK Offer eSIM?

Yes, 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. The top carriers EE, O2,Vodafone and Three both firmly support eSIM use cases now.

With, you can enjoy the best cellular networks throughout the country. Running on the 4G LTE networks of operators like Three, Vodafone and O2, provides fast and reliable coverage whether you’re in a major city or rural town., affordable data plans, wallet-friendly prices.


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 with affordable plans for the best experience. Enjoy!