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Best mobile network 2022: The UK’s top networks for 4G and 5G speeds, big data deals and customer service


Whether you’re looking for the cheapest data deal or the fastest 5G performance, we can help you find the right UK mobile network for you

Choosing between the UK’s mobile networks never gets easier, especially when the list keeps on growing. The four major UK networks – 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. This means there are dozens of operators, plans and bundles to pick from, and it’s all too easy to sign up for what looks like a great deal, only to find you could have saved some money or had faster speeds elsewhere. Coverage, reliability and customer service also count, and each can vary massively from network to network.

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.

We’ve also conducted our own research as part of our annual reader survey, so that we could canvas your opinions on the customer support, value for money and reliability of your network, along with your experiences of 5G. These figures are the basis of our Mobile Network Awards 2022. Finally, we looked at the latest customer service report from Ofcom, to see how the UK regulator rates the major networks for customer service and satisfaction. Ofcom’s research doesn’t cover every network, but where it does, you’ll find this information summarised in the tables below the review.

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Best mobile networks: At a glance

  • The best all-round mobile network: Smarty
  • The best mobile network for performance: EE
  • The best mobile network for social media and streaming: Voxi
  • The best mobile network for customer service: Sky Mobile
  • The best mobile network for low-cost smartphone deals: iD Mobile

The best mobile networks in 2022

1. Smarty: The best all-round mobile network

Price: From £6 to £20 a month, SIM-only

Smarty had outstanding results in this year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards, scoring Highly Commended awards for reliability and value and winning the overall award. It’s a virtual network owned and operated by the same firm behind Three. It doesn’t offer traditional phone contracts, but its SIM-only deals make up for it by giving you lots of data at incredibly low prices. Even the 200GB and Unlimited plans won’t break the bank.

In our survey, over 92% of users said they would recommend Smarty to a friend, while over 81% of users were satisfied with the network’s customer service. Smarty also had some of the best scores for reliability. Three’s network delivers strong 4G performance and some of the fastest 5G speeds, with RootMetrics’ testing putting its median 5G download speed at nearly 200Mbits/sec, faster even than EE. 5G coverage is also improving, with Three one of only two networks to reach over half the UK population. We don’t have Ofcom results to work with due to low sample sizes, but if Smarty can maintain its quality of service as it grows, it’s going to stay the no-frills, no-contract network to beat.

Read our full Smarty review for more details

Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Three); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 4GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £20/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: 10% off group plan; Data rollover: No; Additional features: None

View offers at Smarty

2. EE: The best mobile network for performance

Price: From £15 to £43 a month, SIM only

While Three offers faster 5G performance in some locations, EE remains the UK’s fastest mobile network overall. The latest testing from RootMetrics puts it in the top spot for the ninth consecutive year, with an aggregate median download speed of 66.2Mbits/sec – that’s over twice as fast as Three, in second place. True, Three has the fastest median 5G download speed – approximately 200Mbits/sec – but EE’s 150Mbit/sec is nothing to be sniffed at. With superb 4G coverage and 5G services in reach of over 50% of the UK population, it’s a great choice if you want high speed connectivity just about everywhere you go.

EE also did well in our Mobile Network Awards survey. With more satisfied 5G customers than any other network, it was a shoo-in for our inaugural Best 5G award, but it also had high scores for customer service, mirroring strong results in Ofcom’s latest report. EE can be expensive, which explains some of the less impressive scores for value and overall customer satisfaction. However, you do get the option of some worthwhile extras, including cut-price streaming subscriptions. If you’re willing to pay extra for a premium service, EE is still the way to go.

Read our full EE review for more details

Key specs – Network type: Primary network operator; Minimum plan: £15/mth, 1GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £43/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts plus 3 Smart Benefits; Discount options: No; Data rollover: No; Additional features: Swappable benefits on selected contracts, family data sharing, spending cap

Industry AverageEE Scores
Satisfaction with service overall91%92%
Satisfaction with value for money85%82%
Customers with a reason to complain9%7%
Complaints to Ofcom per 100K subscribers105

View offers at EE

3. Lebara: The best mobile network for customer satisfaction

Price: From £5 to £25 a month, SIM only

Lebara is another no-frills network that won big in this year’s awards. Not only did it scoop the award for value, with no dissatisfied users whatsoever, but an amazing 95% saying that they would recommend it to a friend. A lot of this comes down to cost, with SIM-only plans starting at £5 and staying very affordable right up to the £25 Unlimited plan. What’s more, Lebara bundles in 100 international call minutes, which makes it an even stronger option for those with friends or family abroad.

Lebara could do better on customer service; 70% of users described themselves as satisfied with it, but that’s still one of the lowest scores in our survey. The network isn’t currently covered by Ofcom’s customer service report. However, as a virtual network based on Vodafone, it’s reasonably speedy, and Lebara’s scores for reliability were up there with the best. Lebara also scores brownie points for free EU roaming. Struggling to keep your costs down? Lebara is well worth a try.

Read our full Lebara review for more details

Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Vodafone); Minimum plan: £5/mth, 3GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £25/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: None; Data rollover: No; Additional features: 100 minutes international calling

View offers at Lebara

4. Voxi: The best budget network for social media and streaming

Price: From £10 to £35 a month, SIM only

Backed by Vodafone, Voxi is a budget, no-frills network with some interesting ideas. The biggest is its Unlimited perks, giving you unlimited data to use on the biggest social media services, along with TikTok, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix if you pay over £15 a month. That makes the £15/30GB plan fantastic value, and there’s still no contract, so you’re free to cancel at any time. An impressive 98% of Voxi users told our survey they were satisfied with the network’s value for money, while nearly 90% said they would recommend it to a friend.

Ofcom hasn’t published any customer service scores yet for Voxi, but the users we surveyed were mostly happy, with 46% very satisfied and 30% fairly satisfied. And while Vodafone is now third place in terms of performance, having ceded second place to Three, its UK-wide median download speed (23.8Mbits/sec) and 5G median download speed (130Mbits/sec) are far from bad. Most importantly, Voxi had fantastic results for reliability. Other networks can handle Web browsing and audio streaming most of the time, but 21% of Voxi users told us that the network was always fast enough for streaming video, while 55% told us it was fast enough most of the time. This was enough to win Voxi this year’s Reliability award.

Read our full Voxi review for more details

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: Yes; Additional features: Unlimited streaming and social media

View offers at Voxi

5. Sky Mobile: A good all-rounder with exceptional service

Price: From £6 to £30 a month, SIM only

After dominating our Mobile Network Awards last year, Sky’s 2022 haul – just the one award and two Highly Commendeds – might seem slightly disappointing. All the same, Sky comes top for customer service, with 45 of the users we surveyed saying they were very satisfied with Sky’s customer support, and 43% describing themselves as fairly satisfied. Ofcom’s latest report also points out that Sky has fewer customers than the average with a reason to complain, and fewer Ofcom complaints per 100,000 users.

Sky also scored well for reliability, while grabbing a Highly Commended for its 5G service; only EE had more satisfied 5G customers. True, its performance is limited by its reliance on O2’s core network; the slowest of the big four, according to RootMetrics’ tests. However, speeds are steadily improving, as is 5G coverage, so choosing Sky shouldn’t hold you back. Another factor in Sky’s favour is a strong set of extra features, including free streaming without draining your allowance while you’re using Sky’s own streaming apps, and a clever Piggyback data rollover that means you can hold on to your unused allowance for up to three years. Sky might not be the overall winner this year, but it’s certainly still a winner – especially if you’re after value on your monthly plan.

Read our full Sky Mobile review for more details

Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (O2); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 2GB, unlimited minutes and texts; Maximum plan: £30/mth, 50GB data, unlimited minutes and texts; Discount options: None; Data rollover: Yes; Additional features: Spending cap, unlimited streaming of Sky apps

Industry AverageSky Scores
Satisfaction with service overall91%N/A
Satisfaction with value for money85%N/A
Customers with a reason to complain9%7%
Complaints to Ofcom per 100K subscribers106

View offers at Sky Mobile

6. Tesco Mobile: The best network for family-friendly perks and customer support

Price: From £7.59 to £30 a month, SIM only

Tesco Mobile has never been the top network for cutting-edge features or bargain-basement deals, but it’s long been one of the best for customer satisfaction. It won its second Highly Commended in a row for customer service in this year’s Mobile Network Awards, with nearly 85% of the customers we spoke to saying they were fairly or very satisfied. Meanwhile, nearly 80% of Tesco Mobile users would recommend the network to a friend. Throw in another complimentary report from Ofcom, with the second highest score for overall customer satisfaction, and it’s clear that Tesco Mobile is still doing something right.

Tesco Mobile is a partnership between Tesco and O2, with O2 providing the underlying network. This means you might not get the best speeds in every area while 5G coverage may be more limited, but that doesn’t make Tesco Mobile unreliable; its survey scores for reliability were actually quite competitive. What’s more, Tesco Mobile still supports free EU roaming, and there are some nice discounts for Tesco Clubcard users, along with family perks if you take out several plans on a single account.

Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (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

Read our full Tesco Mobile review for more details

Industry AverageTesco Mobile Scores
Satisfaction with service overall91%96%
Satisfaction with value for money85%96%
Customers with a reason to complain9%5%
Complaints to Ofcom per 100K subscribers10%4

View offers at Tesco Mobile

7. iD Mobile: The best mobile network for low-cost smartphones and unlimited plans

Price: From £6 to £20 a month, SIM only

iD Mobile used to fight it out with Giffgaff for the title of best value mobile network, but this year both have been upstaged by the newer no-frills networks, Smarty and Voxi. That doesn’t mean you should ignore iD Mobile, however. It’s still one of the cheapest options for SIM-only deals, particularly if you want lots of data and are willing to sign up for the maximum two-years. At just £16 to £20, depending on the contract term, its unlimited plans are the cheapest in town.

Crucially, iD is consistently good value for smartphones on a 24-month contract, often undercutting the competition by £5 to £10 or more a month. iD Mobile also lets you roll unused data over to the next month, only adding to the value of its plans.

iD uses Three as its host network, which means good 4G coverage, growing 5G coverage and decent speeds across the board, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be in reach of 5G. However, there’s evidence both from our survey and from Ofcom’s research that customer support needs to be improved; only 29% of iD’s customers told us they were very satisfied on this count. Keep iD on your shortlist if you’re after a new phone on contract, or if you’re after an affordable 100GB to unlimited data plan.

Key specs – Network type: Virtual network operator (Three); Minimum plan: £6/mth, 4GB, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts; Maximum plan: £20/mth, unlimited data, minutes and texts; Discount options: Extra data or discounts on 12-month and 24-month deals; Data rollover: Yes; Additional features: Spending cap

Read our full iD Mobile review for more details

Industry AverageiD Mobile Scores
Satisfaction with service overall91%N/A
Satisfaction with value for money85%N/A
Customers with a reason to complain9%4%
Complaints to Ofcom per 100K subscribers1012

View offers at iD Mobile

How to choose the best mobile network for you

Mobile phone running costs span a very broad range, from £5 per month for a basic SIM-only contract up to £40 a month or more – so it’s best to start by working out a budget before you think about your wish list.

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How much data do I need?

Now that nearly all contracts include unlimited minutes and unlimited texts, your big concern is probably data. While you can still find plans with 500MB or 1GB allowances, there’s no real reason to stick with such a limited package these days. You can easily find 2GB to 4GB packages for £5 to £6 a month, with 10GB deals for not a whole lot more.

Unless you’re a really light user 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. After all, Unlimited data deals are no longer the expensive luxury they once were.

READ NEXT: The best smartphones you can buy

How long should you tie yourself in for?

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. Make sure you can afford the monthly payments as, once you sign up, you’re locked in until your contract comes to an end.

When it does, review your options. If you’ve fully paid off the cost of your phone, you can now either save money by switching to a SIM-only contract or take advantage of an upgrade. Some networks offer split contracts, where you pay one monthly payment for your plan and another for the phone. In that case, you can save money by letting the latter expire then moving to a lower-cost SIM-only plan.

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.

Family plans and spending caps

A few virtual networks, such as BT Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile, 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, meaning that, say, dad’s unused minutes can be swept through to data-greedy sons and daughters.

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.

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Roaming and rollover features

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 £2 per day 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.

If you frequently travel to one country outside the EU, it’s also worth looking to see how different networks charge for roaming in that country. If it isn’t included in the standard tariff, you may be able to buy an international roaming add-on that slashes the price, even if this means paying daily while you’re away.

Finally, look out for rollover features, where unused minutes or megabytes can be rolled over to the next month, or streaming features that allow you to use specific music or video streaming services without cutting into your data allowance. Some networks also offer additional extras, like a free Amazon Prime, BT Sports, Netflix, Spotify or Disney Plus subscription or early access to tickets for live events.

What else should you consider?

There’s one other crucial thing you should check before you sign up: 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.

If anything, it’s getting even more important to check what data speeds and services are available in your area. The big networks are all now rolling out 5G services, with most of the virtual operators piggybacking on their efforts to offer 5G too. 5G is great if you can get it and you have a 5G phone, and usually there’s no extra cost. However, that’s no use if you can’t get a 5G signal and 5G is unlikely to be deployed near you anytime soon. After all, there’s no point in paying for the UK’s fastest connection if you only get to enjoy it on the odd trip here and there.

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