Looking for more data on your SIM-only deal or faster 5G performance? We’re here to help you find the best mobile network for you
Choosing between the UK’s best mobile networks never gets easier. The four major UK providers – EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 – have been joined by over 20 virtual mobile networks, some selling smartphones and SIM-only contracts, and some specialising in flexible, no-frills deals.
Luckily, we’re here to point you in the direction of the UK’s best mobile networks. We’ve compared prices, plans and features across all the big names, and factored in the latest performance figures from RootMetrics, whose researchers roam the length and breadth of the UK, testing signal strength, connection speeds, reliability and more.
Also, as part of our annual reader survey, we conduct our own research to gather your opinions on the customer support, value and reliability of the networks you use, along with your experiences with 5G. We used our 2023 survey figures as the basis of our Mobile Network Awards.
The best mobile networks in 2024
1. Voxi: The best all-round mobile network
Price: From £10/mth (SIM only) | View deals at Voxi
Voxi was the big winner in last year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards, taking home the overall Best Mobile Network award plus the awards for both Best Value and Most Reliable. Its customer satisfaction scores speak for themselves: nearly 59% of users told us they would be very likely to recommend the network to a friend, and another 33% said they were fairly likely – the best overall results for any network. While Voxi’s deals aren’t quite as cheap as those of rival Smarty, Voxi makes up for it with unlimited streaming and social perks.
Even the most basic package throws in unlimited data for use on the UK’s seven biggest social media apps, while the more expensive plans allow you to use Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and others, without touching your data allowance. All of this comes on a 30-day rolling subscription that you’re free to cancel at any time.
In our survey, Voxi’s scores for customer service were above average, while it also had fantastic results for reliability, streaming performance and value for money. Voxi runs on Vodafone, now the second fastest of the big four UK networks for median download speeds according to the latest figures from RootMetrics.
Read our full Voxi review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Vodafone); Minimum plan: £10/mth, 15GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £35/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: None; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Unlimited data for streaming and/or social media, 4G calling, visual voicemail
2. EE: The best mobile network for performance
Price: From £14/mth (SIM only) | View deals at EE
Three now beats EE on 5G speeds in some locations, but EE remains the fastest mobile network overall. RootMetrics’ latest round of testing gives it a UK-wide median download speed of 68.6Mbits/sec, well ahead of Vodafone at 34.5Mbits/sec and Three at 32.2Mbits/sec. It was the fastest network in 13 of the 16 cities where EE runs its metropolitan 4G and 5G speed tests, with median 5G download speeds of over 100Mbits/sec in 15 of them.
And while EE isn’t quite as fast as Three when it comes to the highest-speed 5G connections, it still has the fastest UK-wide median 5G download speed of 174.1Mbits/sec, and average speeds for the top 5% can go as high as 638.5Mbits/sec. With superb 4G coverage and 5G services reaching over 60% of the UK population, EE is a great choice if you’re looking for consistently good performance, everywhere you go.
EE didn’t win any awards, or even any Highly Commendeds, in last year’s Mobile Network Awards survey, but it had good scores for customer service, mirroring the strong results in Ofcom’s latest report, where EE had fewer complaints per 100,000 subscribers than its major network rivals. It’s undeniably expensive, which explains some of its less impressive scores for value and overall customer satisfaction: only 16% of EE users told us they were very satisfied when it came to value for money.
Read our full EE review
Key specs – Network type: Primary network operator; Minimum plan: £14/mth, 2GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £43/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts plus 3 inclusive extras; Discount options: Discounts for BT broadband contract holders; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Free streaming services and extras on All Rounder and Full Works plans, family data gifting, spending cap
3. Lebara: The best mobile network for low-cost plans and international calling
Price: From £4.50/mth (SIM only) | View deals at Lebara
Having scooped our Value award in 2022, Lebara went home empty-handed last year, but it still has some great low-price plans and ways to cut your costs if you make a lot of international calls. Prices start at just £4.50/mth, going up to £30/mth for an unlimited data deal with free unlimited international calls.
In fact, all of Lebara’s plans come with between 100 and 500 minutes for international calls on top of the usual UK minutes, making them a great option if you have friends or family abroad.
Despite poor scores for customer service – just over half of Lebara customers told us they were satisfied with their customer support – the company still ranked highly for value and customer satisfaction. In fact, 70% of the users we spoke to said they were very satisfied with the value of their plan and 87% of Lebara users would recommend the network to a friend.
Read our full Lebara review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Vodafone); Minimum plan: £4.50/mth, 5GB, 1,000 UK minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £30/mth, unlimited data, minutes, texts, international minutes; Discount options: None; Data rollover: No; Additional features: 100 minutes to unlimited international calling; Inclusive roaming in EU and India (within chosen data plan)
4. Smarty: The best mobile network for no-frills big data deals
Price: From £6/mth (SIM only) | View deals at Smarty
Smarty couldn’t repeat its 2022 winning run in 2023’s Mobile Network Awards, but it still scooped the prize for Best 5G services and a Highly Commended in the Value category, not to mention a Highly Commended for the best network overall. An impressive 93% of Smarty users told us they would recommend the network, and over 95% of those surveyed were satisfied with its value for money.
Smarty’s SIM-only deals are fantastic, often providing more data than the competition or the same amount of data at a substantially lower price – its Unlimited data deal is one of the cheapest at just £20/mth.
What’s more, Smarty benefits from continued 5G network improvements on its host network, Three. Three’s 5G services now reach over 60% of the UK population, and in the last round of Rootmetrics testing it was the fastest 5G network overall, with speeds reaching 853.4Mbits/sec for the top 5% of users. On UK-wide median 5G download speeds it’s second only to EE (174.1Mbits/sec), with 165.7Mbits/sec, while it’s now third-placed for 4G/5G median download speeds, at 32.2Mbits/sec.
Read our full Smarty review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Three); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 5GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £20/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: 10% off group plan; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Inclusive EU roaming (12GB cap)
5. Tesco Mobile: The best mobile network for family-friendly perks and customer support
Price: From £7.50/mth (SIM only) | View deals at Tesco Mobile
You don’t necessarily go to Tesco Mobile expecting cutting-edge performance, but if you’re after great customer service and excellent value, you’re in the right place. In last year’s Mobile Network Awards, it beat our 2022 winner, Sky Mobile, to take away the Customer Service award.
Over 42% of the customers we spoke with said they were very satisfied with the network’s customer support, and a further 36% were fairly satisfied – the highest scores in 2023’s survey – and that’s backed up by Ofcom’s latest research, which sees Tesco Mobile with the joint highest score for customer satisfaction and the highest score for value.
Tesco Mobile is a virtual mobile network running on top of Virgin Media O2. This means performance may not be as good as other networks, since O2 has the lowest UK-wide median download speed of any of the four majors, though its 5G coverage and performance is improving, and both 4G and 5G speeds are up from where they were last year.
Read our full Tesco Mobile review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Virgin Media O2); Minimum plan: £7.50/mth, 2GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts; Maximum plan: £30/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: Clubcard discounts, family perks; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Spending cap, Inclusive EU roaming (cap depending on contract)
6. Giffgaff: The best mobile network for rock-solid reliability and great value plans
Price: From £6/mth (SIM only) | View deals at Giffgaff
The pioneering no-frills network always has its share of great deals, and it’s one of the best options if you want a cheap, low-data package for a casual smartphone user, or if you’re looking for a larger data allowance on a £12 to £20 budget. Giffgaff also scores well when it comes to value, reliability and overall customer satisfaction.
Over half of the Giffgaff users we surveyed for last year’s Mobile Network Awards said they would be very likely to recommend it, and a further 41% said they would be fairly likely – only Smarty and Voxi enjoyed better customer feedback. Ofcom’s latest research is even more complimentary, with the best scores for overall satisfaction and value for money outside of Tesco Mobile.
On top of that, Giffgaff won a Highly Commended in last year’s Mobile Network Awards, coming in second to Smarty for Best 5G. While Giffgaff’s speeds are sometimes limited by its reliance on Virgin Media O2’s core network, this didn’t seem to impact its 5G performance, where it had more satisfied customers than Sky Mobile or Voxi, and fewer dissatisfied users. And, unlike Voxi, it still offers free EU roaming, albeit with a slightly stingy 5GB data cap.
Read our full Giffgaff review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Virgin Media O2); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 2GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts; Maximum plan: £35/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: None; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Free EU roaming (5GB cap)
7. iD Mobile: The best mobile network for low-cost phones and unlimited plans
Price: From £6/mth (SIM only) | View deals at iD Mobile
iD Mobile works as a kind of halfway house between the more traditional mobile networks and the budget, no-frills crowd, offering both competitive SIM-only contracts and some amazing pay-monthly smartphone deals. It’s definitely worth considering if you’re after the latest iPhone, Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S device, but it also has some fantastic packages with budget and mid-range phones from Motorola, Honor and Xiaomi. Its customers are definitely impressed: in our 2023 Mobile Network Awards survey, 86% of iD’s customers were satisfied with the network’s value for money.
iD didn’t score as highly on customer service, though, and Ofcom’s latest research notes that it has more complaints per 100,000 users than the industry average. Yet its use of Three as a host network means you can expect good 4G and 5G coverage and speed, particularly in the UK’s biggest towns and cities, and the network scores high for coverage and reliability as well.
It’s also one of the few networks still bundling free EU roaming into all of its contracts. Add the rollover feature – with unused data rolling over from one month to the next – and you have a real contender, particularly if you’re interested in its brilliant, wallet-friendly Unlimited data deals.
Read our full iD Mobile review
Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Virgin Media O2); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 5GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts; Maximum plan: £18/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: None; Data rollover: Yes; Additional features: Free EU roaming (Up to 30GB cap depending on plan)
How to choose the best mobile network for you
How much data do you need?
You can easily find 2GB to 4GB packages for £5 to £6/mth nowadays, with 10GB deals for not a whole lot more. We’d suggest looking at 10GB to 20GB contracts as the minimum, while some of the best value packages now come with 30GB, 100GB or more. That gives you the freedom to stream music and video or play online games, and if you plan to use your mobile as a Wi-Fi hotspot or use game streaming services, you might want to go even further. Unlimited data deals are no longer the expensive luxury they once were, either.
How long should the contract be?
Most SIM-only contracts generally last a year, but some networks are now offering some compelling deals that sign you up for 18 months or two years. If you’re happy to make that commitment, you can save a few pounds per month or bag some extra data. Pay monthly phone contracts tend to last two years, and sometimes three.
You’ll also see SIM-only deals that work on a rolling monthly basis, which gives you the flexibility to buy lots of data when you need it, then switch down to a cheaper plan when you don’t. Smarty, Giffgaff, Voxi, Lebara and iD Mobile all offer great value options here, but on other networks you may want to check that a monthly contract isn’t costing you a lot more per year than the standard 12-month option.
Do you need a family plan or spending cap?
A few virtual networks allow you to take multiple SIMs on a single contract, and even share data between them. This may work out cheaper than taking out separate contracts, or see you getting useful perks or bonus data as a reward. What’s more, it gives you more control over spending, as you can decide which plan different family members need. Some plans even allow you to share unused allowances or a rollover pot.
Another way to keep costs under control is by setting spending caps. Most providers now support these, and they help ensure that, should you (or your offspring) burn through the allowance, you won’t get a horrific shock when you open the next bill.
Are you planning to roam abroad?
Until recently, all UK networks allowed you to use your call, text and data allowances while travelling within the EU, while a few allowed you to use them in other popular destinations, such as the US and Australia.
Sadly, post-Brexit, this is no longer the case. Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 now charge customers for inclusive EU roaming, and while most of the virtual network operators have yet to follow, you’ll still find a data cap, typically 25GB per month, in place for while you’re travelling abroad.
What’s the coverage like in your area?
There’s one other crucial thing you should check before you sign up: 4G and 5G coverage. If your network is weak in your area, it won’t matter how fast or how good it is elsewhere. All mobile networks offer an online coverage checker, so you can enter your postcode and find out what services are available where you are. Ofcom also has its own coverage checker that can tell you which of the four networks will give you data and enhanced data services.
How we test mobile networks
We base our mobile network reviews on research conducted specifically for our annual Mobile Network Awards, and on published customer service, coverage and performance research from Ofcom and RootMetrics.
Our Mobile Networks Awards survey asks nearly 4,400 UK readers about their satisfaction levels with their current provider, and how well their connection holds up while watching video, browsing the internet or streaming podcasts and music. We also ask for more detail on any 5G services being used, to find out the benefits and problems readers may be experiencing with 5G connectivity on the major UK networks. Meanwhile, Ofcom’s Comparing Customer Service: Mobile, Landline and Home Broadband report provides detailed indication of customer satisfaction with service, value and support for each UK network, including data on how many complaints are made and how they’re handled.
Finally, RootMetrics runs in-depth performance tests across the length and breadth of the UK to capture figures for 4G performance and coverage – and also runs more specific 4G and 5G performance tests in 16 of the UK’s largest towns and cities. The results are updated twice a year.
We take all these results into account while picking out the best deals based on price, features, any hidden charges, plus any useful perks or extras.