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The UK's best 5G networks for coverage and fastest speeds

5G mobile signal bars and lightning bolt

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We compare the UK networks with 5G data to see which have the best overall 5G coverage and 5G speeds around the country. Last updated: 20th December 2021.

5G mobile networks in the UK

5G is now offered by every major network

Map of UK with 5G dots

Each network's rolling 5G out now

The four major UK networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) have offered their 5G networks for a while now and have expanded them to cover more and more of the country.

Not only have more locations received 5G, but coverage has got better and better in those areas too (though it still won’t cover an entire location). With more data available, speed testers have a better understanding of each network’s speeds.

In this guide we compare each major network against one another to name the best 5G network. For us, coverage is as important as sheer speeds (what’s the point of fast speeds if no one can get them), but speed is also important to consider.

Here’s the current state of play with 5G on each UK mobile network - and the virtual operators that use them.

How each network compares for 5G

Joint 1st: EE have best combo of 5G coverage and speeds

EE 5G map

They cover a lot of the UKSee latest list

(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Best coverage on street by street basis
Green plus sign Long list of UK locations
Green plus sign Consistently fast speeds

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Generally pricey to join
Red minus sign No 5G on pay as you go

EE no longer have the most amount of locations covered, nor do they have the outright fastest speeds. So why are they first place in our list for the best 5G networks?

According to EE's 5G coverage checker here, their 5G covers more of each location than other networks claim to (though this is a computer generated test and not from actual measurements).

Speed testers Opensignal and Speedtest put average 5G speeds on EE from around 131.9 Mbps to 144.5 Mbps. This isn’t the fastest (see Three) but it’s a home fibre-matching score and EE have less variation in speeds between testers.

EE sell 5G on distinct plans from their 4G ones - you don't get 5G at no extra cost. They have a decent range of 5G contract phones but the choice on SIM only is limited to an unlimited data plan only.

If we had to bet on which network would have the best 5G network coverage in five years time, EE would probably be our choice, just based on how they rolled out 4G fastest when it came out and never looked back.

Useful link: EE's full guide to their 5G rollout

Our ranking:
Joint 1st

5G towns/cities in UK:
160 (see latest list here)

Extra locations this year:

5G plans available:
Phone contracts
SIM only plan

Joint 1st: Providers that use EE’s 5G network

BT Mobile logo1pMobile canvasPlusnet canvas

There are a few smaller providers that operate on EE’s network and so have access to their brilliant 5G scheme:

BT Mobile - BT own EE and have access to the same 5G network. You’ll get the same speeds as EE and in the same areas (check their coverage here).

1pMobile - Despite being a cheap, no-frills provider, 1pMobile gives you access to the same 5G network that you’d get with EE directly. They offer the cheapest way to get on the EE network (see their coverage)

Plusnet Mobile - They’re the cheapest provider on EE’s network to offer SIM only plans, but unfortunately they don’t currently get you access to EE’s 5G network and don’t seem like they will any time soon.

Useful link: Check EE’s network coverage

Joint 2nd: Three have the fastest 5G speeds and good coverage

Three's fast 5G banner

The fastest 5G speeds in the UKRead why

(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Longest list of covered locations
Green plus sign 5G with no extra cost
Green plus sign Fastest speeds in the UK

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Coverage within locations can be poor

Three can provide the fastest 5G speeds as they've secured more of the frequency spectrum for 5G than the rest. This is confirmed by Speedtest who call Three the fastest network in the UK for 5G speeds.

There’s some variation in results. Between Opensignal and Speedtest’s results, Three’s 5G speeds can be put anywhere from 103.9 Mbps to a lightning fast 221.8 Mbps. That’s enough to download a HD movie in seconds.

Three also cover a larger number of individual locations with 5G, with 300+ towns and cities all over the UK. This is far more than any other network. They also offer it on all their plans.

So, why aren’t they number one on our list? Well, it’s because they only cover a smaller area within these 300+ locations. You’ll likely only get 5G in busier areas. Is it worth having the fastest speeds when you get them less often?

We don’t think you’ll notice the speed difference between Three and the others for your typical browsing and streaming needs and their weaker coverage compared to EE can be an issue. Still, Three get second place on our list.

Useful link: Latest 5G news on Three

Our ranking:
Joint 2nd

5G towns/cities in UK:
300+ (see full list)

Extra locations coming:

5G plans available:
SIM only
Phone contracts

Joint 2nd: Other providers on the Three’s 5G network

iD Mobile canvasHonest Mobile canvasSMARTY Mobile canvas

There are a couple of providers that operate on the Three network, but only one of them gets you access to Three’s 5G network.

iD Mobile - They offer the same network experience as being on Three, but at much cheaper prices (check coverage here).

Honest Mobile - They sell themselves on being a “carbon-negative” network that have full access to Three’s 5G (check coverage here).

SMARTY - They’re a sub-brand of Three that operate on their network. They’ve been promising to introduce 5G for a while, but they still haven’t.

Useful link: iD Mobile’s guide to their 5G

Joint 3rd: O2 are middle of the range for 5G speeds and coverage

Screenshot of O2 coverage map

O2’s street-by-street coverage is greatUse O2's 5G map

(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Great street-by-street coverage
Green plus sign Good amount of covered locations

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Speeds are only average

O2 are what we’d call “middle of the range”. Their speeds according to Opensignal and Speedtest are between 110.9 Mbps and 141.3 Mbps, which is fairly typical for 5G, but still very good.

They do cover a good amount of locations, with 190+ towns and cities covered. Within those locations they have pretty good street-by-street coverage (check here).

5G is offered on all of their pay monthly options, but you’ll have to specifically say you have a 5G-ready phone in the checkout or they’ll only send you a 4G-ready SIM. Look at their range of 5G phones on contract here.

Useful link: Latest O2 5G rollout news

Our ranking:
Joint 3rd

5G towns/cities in UK:
190+ (see list here)

Extra locations this year:

5G plans available:
SIM only
Phone contracts

Joint 3rd: Other providers that use O2’s 5G network

Sky logoTesco Mobile logogiffgaff logo

There’s a fair few providers that operate on the O2 network and get you access to their 5G:

Sky Mobile - They’re the largest network to piggyback off O2’s network and get you full access to their 5G on all of their plans (see their coverage here).

Tesco Mobile - They’re a cheaper network that get you access to O2’s 5G where you’d usually get it on O2 directly and without any difference in speeds (check coverage here).

giffgaff - Another cheap network that get you full access to O2’s 5G network. You’ll notice no difference in 5G between them and their host (see their coverage here).

Useful link: O2’s coverage checker

Joint 4th: Vodafone are still behind the other networks

Vodafone 5G coverage map

They cover the least amount of locationsSee latest cities

(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Get 5G while abroad
Green plus sign Speeds should be above average
Green plus sign Offered at no extra cost on most plans

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Shorter reach in covered locations
Red minus sign Strangely low speed result

Vodafone come in last place for just about everything. They cover 120+ locations for the moment, being far behind the competition, although their coverage within those locations is a bit better than Three’s.

While Speedtest say Vodafone have average speeds of 149.9 Mbps, Opensignal report average speeds of an underwhelming 73.3 Mbps. It’s unclear what’s driving that low score from Opensignal. Expect typical speeds between the two.

Vodafone used to have an edge in offering it on most of their plans where other networks didn’t. Now, other networks actually offer it on more of their plans than Vodafone. You still get it on most SIM only and phone plans.

The only real upside of Vodafone over the others is that they offer 5G while roaming. This combined with their decent (but expensive) roaming scheme does mean you can get some serious speeds while abroad in the EU.

Overall, their 5G is still an improvement over 4G and where you can get it you’ll definitely notice a difference. But they’re far behind the competition in terms of coverage and speeds, putting them at the bottom of our rankings.

Useful link: Vodafone's latest 5G news

Our ranking:
Joint 4th

5G towns/cities in UK:
120+ (see list here)

Extra locations this year:
10 (see list here)

5G plans available:
SIM only
Phone contracts

Joint 4th: The other providers on Vodafone’s network

Virgin Mobile logoVOXI logoLebara logoASDA logo

Vodafone have more small providers on their network that offer 5G than the other major networks. These all offer full access to Vodafone’s 5G at generally lower prices:

Virgin Mobile - They used to be on the EE network, but have since moved over to Vodafone’s. This unfortunately means they’ve moved from the best 5G network to the worst. 5G on Virgin is the same as on Vodafone (check coverage here).

VOXI - They are owned by Vodafone and operate on their network. You get access to the same 5G network as being on their host (see their coverage).

Lebara - They’re a super cheap network, but just because they have low prices doesn’t mean you get an inferior network experience to being on Vodafone directly (check coverage here).

ASDA Mobile - They technically offer you the same network access as being on Vodafone. But on their unlimited plans data speeds are capped depending on deal cost. Their priciest one caps it at 150 Mbps, which is about average anyway.

With that in mind, you’ll get 5G in the same areas you would get it being on Vodafone directly (check coverage here).

Of the four, only VOXI and ASDA explicitly say you can get 5G while abroad. We’d assume Virgin would also get you 5G while abroad while Lebara should also do the same. But we can’t say for sure.

Useful link: Vodafone’s coverage checker

Networks that we expect to have 5G soon

SMARTY's 5G banner

SMARTY have said they’d get it for a whileRead latest

(opens in new window)

Most of the networks that have claimed they will introduce 5G have already done so, namely Tesco and Virgin.

But SMARTY, Three’s sub-brand, have been claiming that they will release 5G for a long while now. As of yet they still haven’t.

This is rather odd as SMARTY are directly owned by Three, a network that uses its expanding 5G network as a main selling point. We can only speculate as to why it hasn’t been released on SMARTY.

But, let’s just say SMARTY will soon be part of the fastest and most widespread 5G network in the UK.

Networks we're not expecting to have 5G any time soon

Plusnet logoTalkmobile logo

Here we’ll show which networks haven’t promised to bring out 5G. We don’t expect any of these to do so any time soon.

Plusnet Mobile are a cheap, low-frills network owned indirectly by BT (and so use the EE network). Though quite a few cheap networks now offer 5G, Plusnet don’t offer the same network features as EE, so we don’t expect them to.

Talkmobile are owned directly by Vodafone and we’d guess it’s not really worth it for Vodafone to offer 5G on such a cheap network, especially since customers expect a no-frills experience from Talkmobile.

Useful link: Reviews of each UK mobile network

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