What is the best mobile network in the UK for coverage?

Hands holding smartphones with speech bubbles

Which UK network operator offers the best mobile phone coverage? For the clearest signal, we look at the main players’ mobile reception across the UK.

When considering SIM only deals and switching to other mobile networks, price is a big factor. But it’s not everything. The network’s coverage is just as important – sometimes more so, especially if you live in an area prone to patchy reception.

But which is the best network for nationwide coverage? Well, this has been put to the test, and there’s a clear victor. Here we look into which mobile networks offer the best – and worst – mobile phone coverage in the UK.

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Connect’s 2024 UK Network Test

German company Connect, in partnership with umlaut, publishes an annual UK Mobile Network Test study to see how the network operators stack up when it comes to signal. Here we look at its results for what it calls its 2024 test – despite the tests being carried out in 2023.

What’s the best UK network for coverage?

The results are in:

  • Best network for coverage: EE
  • Worst network for coverage: O2 (Virgin Media O2)

It’s official – EE is the best mobile network for coverage in the UK. It came first in all three of the data, crowd and voice categories. Its overall score was 882 points out of a possible 1,000.

Vodafone offers the second best coverage, with a score of 809. Three UK scored 770 points. Bringing up the rear was O2 (Virgin Media O2) with 700 points. However, all network operators had improved on their 2023 score, suggesting that coverage is improving across the board.

How was the network test scored?

Testing is rigorous. Several benchmarks are used to test both the performance of 4G (voice and data, plus broadband) and 5G. This is conducted in walk tests across 19 cities and 38 towns. Networks are also tested in drive tests, along 10,400km (6,462 miles) of major roads.

Some walk test teams visited several cities, also testing on the trains between them. The overall test area accounts for 17.7 million people, which is approximately 26.5% of the entire UK population.

For the 2024 report, both walk and drive tests were conducted between 31 October and 17 November. For each network, Samsung Galaxy S23 handsets are used.

And for good measure, the company gathered crowdsourced data from UK mobile users. This was collected over 24 weeks from May to November 2023. Various popular smartphone apps sent diagnostic results to be analysed, with the data being anonymous. This method gathered over 10 billion data samples, covering a whopping 99.9% of the population. This method accounted for 25% of the overall results.

A map showing Connect's methodology of testing UK mobile network operators' coverage
Overall results of the UK network operators' coverage test
Total scores of the network operator tests, showing EE in the lead

Which network has the best 5G?

The report also focused on 5G performance, AKA mobile broadband. Where the option was available, the testers chose to connect to 5G rather than 4G.

Results here are a bit more mixed. EE still takes the top slot in terms of 5G data rates in cities and on trains. But EE was outperformed by Three UK in drivetests in cities, towns and on the roads between.

All operators performed well in cities, with 75% of the areas now boasting 5G coverage.

Results of the UK network operators 5G test

Want to know more?

Going overseas? If you’re thinking of heading off abroad this year, find out more about data roaming and what each of the big providers have to offer.

Looking for a new mobile deal? If you’re in the market for a new phone, check out the best mobile phone deals available at the moment.

Need to cancel your mobile deal? Find out how to get out of your current mobile contract.

Finding it hard to afford your mobile? Find out about whether you’re eligible for a social mobile contract, which are available to help those on Universal Credit, Pension Credit or similar benefits.