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EE vs O2: which has the best network coverage and speeds?

EE and O2 logos

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We compare joining O2 and EE on a SIM only plan or phone contract, to see which has better 5G/4G coverage and speeds, plus extra benefits. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 22nd July 2020

Offer notifications on EE and O2

O2 and EE's networks compared

Coverage on O2 vs EE

Which has the biggest 5G/4G network?

EE and O2's mobile networks

EE and O2 both have their separate advantages

Best network for coverage

Read their claim

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If you use your phone mainly for data, EE have the advantage over O2 in terms of how much of the UK's physical geography they've got covered with 4G, meaning a better connection when you're travelling around.

For basic calls and texts, the roles are reversed and O2 have slightly more of the country covered, meaning there's less chance you can stuck in the middle of nowhere and not be able to make a call.

If you mainly use your phone in urban areas, big cities and small towns, there's very little to split them. Both EE and O2 have 99% population coverage in places people live. Although O2 should have better indoor call signal.

You can get a better deal and the same coverage when you join these providers.

O2: Sky Mobile (read our review), Tesco Mobile (read our review) or giffgaff (read our review)

EE: BT Mobile (read our review) or Virgin Mobile (not identical coverage, read differences here).

Overall coverage is one thing but the most important thing is to check each network's expected signal in the places you'll actually use your phone, not just at home. Use their network maps here.

5G is live and rolling out quickly on both

EE branded map with 5G pointers

Latest 5G news

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If you've got a 5G-ready phone or are getting one soon, both EE and O2 are options to get the new data technology. And they're both racing to get the most UK towns and cities covered.

Currently EE are ahead with 5G data in these 80 locations, while O2 are a little behind bringing 5G to these 60 places. Their rollouts don't focus solely on the same towns so it's worth checking both lists.

Out of the two, we'd say EE tend to have large parts of the towns/cities covered with 5G on their list. Whereas O2 might only have certain areas, like the built-up shopping streets, sports venues or stations covered.

Currently you can get 5G on SIM only or phone contracts with either. On O2, you specifically have to say in the checkout that you have a 5G phone to get the service activated at no extra cost. EE have 5G-specific plans.

Useful link: O2's 5G rollout latest news

How to check O2 and EE's signal

We recommend checking each network's signal in all the places you use your phone. Not just at home

EE coverage checker

EE's coverage checker

Check EE's signal

using their network map
(opens in new window)

O2 coverage checker

O2's coverage checker

Check O2's signal

using their network map
(opens in new window)

Alternative coverage checkers

Independent coverage checkers

Use Ofcom checker
Use RootMetrics checker

Our verdict on coverage:

Win for EE

"EE still have 4G in more places than any other network, including O2 and their expansion plans are impressive. It's still worth comparing each provider's reception in your local area though, as neither have universal coverage."

Compare pricing and deals

Speeds: Is 4G data faster on O2 or EE?

We look at what 4G speeds you can expect with EE and O2

O2 and EE logos with a speedometer

EE's 4G speeds twice as fast as O2's

EE branded awards image

See all awards

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

On 4G downloads, EE have an emphatic advantage over O2, according to independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, who take millions of measurements on people's phones around the UK.

Their latest reports show typical 4G speeds on EE to be around 35.9 Mbps - 32.99 Mbps (mid-range home fibre broadband fast), around twice as quick as O2's at 18.0 Mbps - 16.95 Mbps (copper home broadband).

In reality both networks will deliver lower and higher speeds depending on where you are in the country and how busy the network is - we'd expect EE's top speeds to outstrip O2 too.

Does that mean O2 is unusable? No, things like browsing are fine but some video streaming might start to creak a bit. If you're a big downloader and don't like waiting though, EE are more suitable.

Useful link: EE's guide to 5G vs 4G

5G faster on EE according to early tests

O2 5G banner

See O2 5G latest

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

It's still early days for 5G on all networks and there's not a huge amount of real-life testing data to look at to find out which networks are delivering the fastest speeds.

But early testing by Speedtest shows EE keeping their speed advantage over O2 on 5G too. EE's typical download 5G speeds measured at 205.02 Mbps, compared to O2's whose 5G averaged at 159.48 Mbps.

Both beat even fibre home broadband connections for speed and are a sizeable speed upgrade on 4G, something that's more urgently needed on O2.

Although we'd say a lot of 5G's benefit is increased capacity in busy places rather than out-and-out speed. More people can connect at once without connections grinding to a halt as is the case with older 3G/4G.

Useful link: Read O2's guide to what 5G means on their network

Our verdict on speed:

EE win

"We put EE comfortably ahead of O2 for 4G and 5G. With generally similar prices on SIMs and phones, speed fans will most likely be better off on EE or the networks that use them like Virgin Mobile and BT."

Compare pricing and deals

Is WiFi calling better on EE or O2?

Both networks have a scheme, we look to see if O2 or EE's is best

WiFi calling symbol with O2 and EE logos

EE's WiFi calling is more flexible than O2's

EE WiFi calling banner

See supported phones

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

On any mobile network you can end up somewhere with poor indoor signal for calls. WiFi calling lets your phone make and take calls using WiFi instead of conventional mobile signal.

EE's WiFi calling scheme is one of the best, as it allows you to make/take calls on your usual number with no separate app, and you can also send/receive regular SMS text messages too.

It also lets you move seamlessly from WiFi calling to regular calling if you move away from the WiFi signal mid-way through a call - handy if you like to walk and talk.

The main limitations of EE's scheme is that you only get it on pay monthly and for non-iPhone models EE's are very non-committal about their network supporting your phone, even if it has the feature itself.

Useful link: More about how WiFi calling works at EE.co.uk

O2's WiFi calling supports fewer phone models

O2's WiFi calling

See supported phones

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

There are a couple of subtle differences between the WiFi calling that O2 offer and the technology on EE:

First is that O2's WiFi calling only lets you switch between a WiFi connection and a 4G mobile signal if you walk out of an area with WiFi (EE works on 2G and 3G too). This is probably a very minor point in reality.

You also can't send and receive regular SMS text messages on O2's WiFi calling scheme (you can on EE).

The main weakness on O2 is you'll need to have bought your Android phone from them directly for WiFi calling to work. This could be a problem if you're joining on SIM only and got your phone from somewhere else.

Our advice: check O2's guide to supported phones for WiFi calling before signing up, to avoid disappointment.

Useful link: O2's full guide to WiFi calling at O2.co.uk

Our verdict on this topic:

A narrow win for EE

"Out of the two, EE's WiFi calling is more likely to support your phone, and we like the fact that you can move seamlessly from WiFi onto any mobile signal, which you can't do on O2."

Compare pricing and deals

EE and O2's perks and benefits compared

Going abroad: how EE and O2 compare for roaming

Both O2 and EE offer free EU roaming as standard, we see who's best if you're going further afield

O2 roaming vs EE's

O2 now offer some inclusive worldwide roaming on top of free EU

Free EU roaming on O2

See all roaming costs

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

On every pay monthly O2 tariff, you'll get free roaming in these EU countries included as standard. And on pay as you go, using your phone will cost the same there as it does at home.

In destinations further afield, O2 operate a roaming pass system called O2 Travel. This gives you a block of minutes, texts and data to use for a fixed daily charge (see latest costs and full details here).

As a new feature, O2 are now including roaming at no extra cost in 27 selected non-EU countries with their more-premium phone models and SIM only tariffs (look out for tariffs flagged with "O2 Travel Inclusive Zone").

Altogether, O2 have a pretty standard roaming offering. They make inclusive worldwide roaming more available than EE, and offer a larger amount of extra countries too.

Useful link: O2's full guide to roaming and costs at O2.co.uk

EE have some worldwide roaming and give you 4G everywhere it's available

EE plans with free roaming

See free EE roaming

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

You'll get the same free EU roaming with every pay monthly plan on EE as you do on O2. Here's EE's full list of countries you can visit in Europe without paying extra for normal usage.

And if you take a phone on one of EE's Smart plans, you can choose inclusive roaming in 5 extra countries as a Swappable Benefit too, which includes the USA and Canada (see full list here). This isn't something you can get on SIM only though.

All other roaming on EE is either charged on a pay as you go style basis at the rates here, or you can buy international passes, with a block of allowances to use in certain countries.

Where EE do shine, is by offering 4G speeds in every country where they're available. O2 can be a bit non-committal about what speeds you'll get abroad and even actively slow you down while roaming.

Useful link: EE's full guide to roaming and costs at EE.co.uk

Our verdict on roaming:

Too little to split them

"Both O2 and EE offer inclusive roaming outside the EU but you'll need to make sure you're on the right plan, and both come at a premium (for out-and-out value we still think Three's Go Roam with 71 countries is the best roaming scheme out there)"

Compare pricing and deals

Free extras and rewards on EE vs O2

We compare how O2 and EE cram extra value into their deals with included freebies

Perks and free on EE vs O2

O2 are pretty low on added extra benefits

O2 Extras

See all O2 Extras

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

There's very little by way of unique benefits on O2, it's one of the reasons we think you could be better off joining a provider like Sky Mobile, who use O2's network and have some great extra features on top.

But every O2 customer, whether pay monthly or pay as you go, still gets access to their well-loved rewards scheme O2 Priority, that gets its members exclusive high street offers and leisure experiences.

And if you join on pay monthly, you can also add an O2 Extra to your account for free. These are subscriptions to premium services like streaming providers, print media and internet security (see the full list here).

On first sight it's a generous offer. But it's worth knowing they're only free for a time-limited period (3 to 6 months depending on the plan you pick), after which you'll pay full price via your mobile bill if you don't cancel. Think of it as a free trial, rather than a total freebie.

Useful link: See everything that Priority gets you in O2's official guide

You can get four free trial subscriptions with EE

EE entertainment subscriptions banner

Read full benefits

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

EE don't have anything similar to O2's Priority. Instead they offer free trials for a number of entertainment services to all their pay monthly customers.

New customers can claim at any point in their contract, a free 6-month trial of Apple Music, Amazon Prime Video and MTV Play, plus a 3-month trial of the BT Sport app. EE say the total value is up to £164.

They add more value by not charging you for the mobile data that these apps use during your trial too, so EE are among the few operators to give away free streaming data.

On the face of it, the whole scheme is generous. But remember each service becomes chargeable if you don't cancel after your free trial period (you'll receive a text message before they end).

Useful link: EE's help article about free apps and their costs

Our verdict on included freebies and extras:

No clear winner

"The freebies offered by O2 and EE are radically different. Deciding which is more useful is more down to personal taste, so we're calling this one a draw for the time being."

Compare pricing and deals

Family plans and data sharing on EE and O2

We look at whether O2 or EE offer better benefits for groups

Shared plans on EE and O2

EE's Family Accounts are easier to benefit from than O2's

EE's data gifting family plans

How it works

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Out of the big four networks (EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three), EE probably do the best job with their family plans. You get discounts and some extra useful benefits on top.

You'll get a flat 10% discount against the regular price on most pay monthly products (phone contract, tablet deal or SIM only plan over £12.99) that you add to your existing EE account Just sign in when you order.

And you can share data with anyone on your account thanks to EE's data gifting. So if someone in your family runs out and someone else has some spare, you can move it to their number to avoid paying for more data.

Overall, it's a much simpler system and easier to manage on EE than it is O2. Although you could beat even the discounted rates by joining a cheaper provider that uses the EE network, like BT Mobile.

Useful link: All Family Account benefits on EE from the EE website

O2's savings can go bigger with lots of deals

O2 Family Plan

See O2 Family Plans

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Rather than a blanket 10% discount on extra products, O2 have a tiered system. The first additional line gets a 10% airtime discount, the second 20%, the third 30% and the fourth and any more get a sizeable 40% off.

It works on phone/tablet contracts, SIM only plans or mobile broadband. But it's worth noting for devices, only the minutes, texts and data in your deal are discounted. You don't get 10-40% off the cost of the device itself.

So the discounts are more notable if you're mainly thinking of adding SIM only plans. And if your main plan is a phone contract, there's also a data sharing facility on O2.

It's less flexible than EE's data gifting, because you can only move data from your main account to the others, and it has to be an O2 Refresh contract (so a phone or tablet). If you all join on SIM only, it doesn't work.

Useful link: How data sharing works on O2 from their official guide

Our verdict on this topic:

A win for EE

"EE's approach to shared family accounts is a little more transparent and simple to understand. We also think it'd be easier to use EE's data gifting on a regular basis, so we're saying a win for EE over O2 here."

Compare pricing and deals

EE and O2 deals and pricing

SIM only deals: comparing EE and O2

Here's how EE and O2's pricing stacks up if you're joining on pay monthly SIM only

EE and O2 SIM only plans
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Our verdict on SIM only prices:

Too close to call

"EE and O2 are always very similarly priced for SIM only. Realistically, you're best off comparing deals with mins, texts and data you want and seeing which is best value at the time."

Compare pricing and deals

Latest special offers on O2 and EE

We compare the current promotions running on EE and O2

O2 and EE logos with a special offer ribbon

Phone contracts on EE vs O2

We compare the benefits and prices when you take a smartphone

EE and O2 phone contracts

O2's phone contracts are more flexible

O2 Refresh phone contracts

See custom plans

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

We rate O2's phone contracts highly for flexibility. Their Custom plans, let you tailor the right deal for your budget by letting you play with contract lengths from 3 - 36 months and choosing how much to pay up front.

They do this by splitting your deal into a finance agreement (loan) for the phone and a monthly usage plan for your minutes, texts and data. Spreading the cost over different periods gets you different monthly totals.

It also means you can pay off what's left on the phone part at any point to upgrade to a new model, without extra contract termination fees. Or pay it off and leave O2 altogether after 30 days.

O2's phone contracts are more competitive on price than their SIMs but are still mid-range. They no longer sell through re-sellers like Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk, which could get you better deals than direct.

Useful link: Full details on O2's custom plans from their own guide

EE are less flexible but have more ways to join

EE early upgrades on smartphones

How they work

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

There's no finance agreements to deal with on EE. They offer straight-up 24-month phone contracts in the traditional way: one payment for your phone and usage, with one agreement.

It means you've got less flexibility than joining O2. There are fewer opportunities to upgrade early on EE and there are hefty fees to break a contract early and leave them altogether.

We would say that you can get some better phone deals on EE than O2 if you're willing to join up via a re-seller like Fonehouse, because they source their own phones and can get better wholesale prices than EE direct.

Going direct with EE via their website is rarely cheaper but our phone contract comparison tool here combines all offers to find the best for you, so it's definitely worth using it to find the best EE deal.

Useful link: See EE's range of phones

Our verdict on phone contracts:

No overall winner

"If you're after flexibility, O2 are probably the better choice. While if you're a bargain hunter, you can get cheaper EE deals via re-sellers than O2 offer."

Compare phone deals

Choosing between EE and O2

Key differences between O2 and EE

Consider these points when making your mind up between EE and O2:

EE could be the best choice if...

Their 4G/3G signal is better near you (check here)

You want the network with the fastest 4G speeds

You're happy with mainly free roaming in the EU

You want an included BT Sport app and Apple Music subscription

Their WiFi calling supports your phone and O2 don't (check EE here and O2 here)

O2 could be the best choice if...

They have better coverage near you (check here)

You want a plan with loads of inclusive roaming outside the EU too

You want a phone contract that lets you upgrade early

Their WiFi calling supports your phone and EE don't (check O2 here and EE here)

You'd benefit from the daily offers on Priority

Other useful network comparisons

Comparing EE and Three

EE vs Three

Read EE vs Three comparison

Comparing EE and Vodafone

EE vs Vodafone

Read our EE vs Vodafone guide

Comparing EE and BT Mobile

EE vs BT Mobile

Read differences between EE and BT Mobile

Comparing EE and Virgin Mobile

EE vs Virgin Mobile

Read differences between EE and Virgin

Comparing O2 and Three

O2 vs Three

Read O2 vs Three comparison

Comparing O2 and Vodafone

O2 vs Vodafone

Read O2 vs Vodafone comparison