We look at the latest independent network tests to see how EE and O2's 4G speeds and coverage compare, plus review their deals, roaming and extras. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 19th September 2018
✔ Which has better 4G and 3G coverage?
✔ Who offers the fastest 4G speeds?
✔ Will EE or O2 ever slow you down?
✔ Roaming plans and add-ons
✔ Loyalty and reward schemes
✔ Free entertainment subscriptions
✔ Phone contract prices
✔ SIM only deals compared
✔ Extra costs and price rises
Get 20GB for £20 a month with O2's 12-month SIM only deal before 3rd October.
Plus there's free worldwide roaming in O2's Inclusive Travel Zone on SIMs over £20 and most smartphone plans over 8GB.
See all O2 offers > (opens in new tab)
We look at who has better nationwide 4G and 3G coverage: O2 or EE
If you look at the statistics of how much of the UK population each mobile network brings signal to, you'll see EE and O2 have identical 4G coverage stats (both 99%).
But remember this is just 4G in the places people live. The new battle is for how much of the UK's physical geography EE and O2 can cover.
EE have big ambitions to bring 4G to non-residential areas too like roads, rail and countryside. After all, the point of a mobile phone is you can use it when you're travelling between places, not just when you're there.
So use their coverage checkers below to check signal on your route to work and anywhere else you go, not just at home.
In the age of 4G, you might wonder whether 3G signal is still important. We think it is, as it's still used for data where there's no 4G and it carries calls and texts too.
In terms of population coverage, EE and O2 shape up practically identical to one another for 3G signal. EE offer 98% , while O2 have 99%.
Remember these stats relate to people's residences, so it's worth using the network maps below to check other locations like your journey to work etc.
We recommend checking each network's signal in all the places you use your phone. Not just at home
using their network map
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using their network map
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"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."
We look at what independent tests say about EE and O2's 4G download speeds
This is an area that O2 needs to improve rapidly because independent tests show their 4G speeds to be the slowest out of the four major networks.
The results show EE customers cruise along nicely at 29.02 - 32.99 Mbps on average, while people on O2 drag their heels between 15.16 - 16.95 Mbps on average.
That's likely to be a noticeable difference. O2's results would suggest data-heavy activities like watching HD video could lead to frustrating buffering, even if basic internet browsing and social media would fast enough.
You might wonder why we're still talking about 3G data speeds, when there's faster 4G on both networks. The answer is because there are still areas where you won't get a 4G connection on both networks.
Independent testing shows O2 to lag behind EE here too, with average 3G downloads speeds of 4.76 Mbps compared to 7.78 Mbps on EE's 3G.
3G's never really great for data-heavy activities but both speeds will let you do basic internet browsing and social media without pulling your hair out waiting.
They then collect this data to put together regular reports into each country's mobile phone networks.
Below is a detailed look at what they say about EE and O2:
Ookla is a speed testing app that anyone can download to check what 4G and 3G speeds they're getting. Ookla collect this data to put together annual mobile network comparisons.
Looking at O2 vs EE's performance in Ookla's latest UK mobile networks report, you can EE were runaway leaders for speed against O2 and all other networks.
Their data showed EE's average download speed across the UK on 4G was 32.99 Mbps. This is ahead of O2's average of 16.95 Mbps recorded.
Ookla also offer the functionality to filter speeds per city, which shows similiar results to the UK average with EE beating O2 for speed consistently.
OpenSignal also measure average speeds with a free app you can download but in a different way to Ookla. OpenSignal's app runs constantly in the background to get a more general reading, everywhere you go.
This explains the difference in speed results from their 2018 'State Of The UK Mobile Network' report and the results from Ookla.com recorded for EE and O2.
In this report, O2 are still a fair way behind with a 15.16 Mbps average 4G speed compared to EE's 29.02 Mbps.
"All independent testing puts EE comfortably ahead of O2 for 4G. With generally similar prices on SIMs and phones, speed fans will most likely be better off on EE."
Both networks have a scheme, we look to see if O2 or EE's is best
EE were the first mobile network in the UK to launch WiFi calling, a system that lets you make and take calls over WiFi if there's no conventional mobile signal where you are.
EE's scheme works on pay monthly phone contracts and SIM only plans (it doesn't work on pay as you go) but you'll need a supported phone. EE publish a list of phones that will work with their WiFi calling here.
For SIM only, they're a little cagey about which Android phones will work on it, if you've bought from another network. But on Apple, they say iPhone 6 and up will work.
If you're joining on a smartphone contract, be sure to take one of the phones here that EE guarantee will work on WiFi calling.
Useful link: More about how WiFi calling works at EE.co.uk
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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.
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
"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."
Both O2 and EE offer free EU roaming as standard, we see who's best if you're going further afield
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
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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 Max plans, you'll get inclusive roaming in 5 extra countries too, like the USA and Canada (see full list here). This isn't something you can get on SIM only though.
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
We compare how O2 and EE cram extra value into their deals with included freebies
We still think O2 Priority is the biggest and best loyalty scheme offered by any of the mobile networks (even Three's Wuntu app doesn't match it), and EE have nothing similar.
If you've not heard of it, Priority is essentially an exclusive club for anyone on O2 (pay monthly or pay as you go) that gives you access to special offers, food and drink discounts, and event tickets hosted at O2 venues.
It all works using The O2 Priority app where you'll find the deals, which update daily. It's a decent benefit, as long as you don't pay extra to join O2 in the first place.
Before you let Priority be the reason you join O2 over EE, we'd recommend checking the types of offers you'll get below and making sure they'll actually be things you use.
Useful link: See everything that Priority gets you in O2's official guide
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EE don't have anything similar to O2's Priority. Instead they focus on giving you extra things that will get more out of your mobile deal with them:
Every pay monthly customer on EE gets a free 6-month subscription to the music streaming service Apple Music. They'll also not charge you for the data listening to the app uses (here's how it works).
On top of that every pay monthly customer also gets at least a free 3-month subscription to the BT Sport App (or get it free for 24 months if you take a phone on an EE Max Plan)
These are nice extras from EE but a bit of shame that they're time-limited. After the inital 3 or 6 months, you'll start paying for them, so be careful if you don't want to spend more.
Useful link: EE's help article about free apps and their costs
"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."
We look at whether O2 or EE offer better benefits for groups
EE have just made some big improvements to how managing multiple plans on one account works, and it's put them ahead of O2 in our family plan rankings here.
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 an existing account you have with EE. Just sign in when you order.
And a really nice feature they've included is called data gifting. This lets you switch chunks of data between the different plans that you manage on your account.
So if one member's running out of data, and another has some spare, you send it over and avoid paying extra for going over your limit. It's a flexible system and it's the best data-sharing scheme we've seen.
Useful link: All Family Account benefits on EE from the EE website
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If you're taking out multiple contracts with O2, there are some similar benefits to what you get on EE. We just think they're slightly less flexible and a little harder to take advantage of.
In terms of discounts, it's only really phones that O2 offer group-savings on. And the money-off is only on the airtime (your mins, texts and data), not the device itself. You can save up to 50% as O2 explain here.
Sharing data on O2 is possible too but you'll need to have a phone contract with them for it to work.
You have one lead device, which can give data to other users on your account. You can't swap data between the other plans like you can on EE.
Useful link: How data sharing works on O2 from their official guide
"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."
Here's how EE and O2's pricing stacks up if you're joining on pay monthly SIM only
Use our deal finder below to find the right SIM only plan for you, and look out for special offers running on each network.
O2 have both 12-month and 1-month contracts, while EE only sell 12-month deals online:
Choose what you want in your deal:
Choose which networks you'd consider:
"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."
September is an excellent month to take a SIM only deal from O2, because they've added more data to lots of the plans, and discounted their largest deals such as:
Each qualifies for free worldwide roaming in O2's Inclusive Travel Zone too, including the USA and 75 countries in total.
Useful link: See all other O2 offers
If you're looking for a SIM only plan with a huge data allowance, there's not really a better time to join than now:
Get 20GB for £20 a month here. We monitor EE constantly and you genuinely never see a better price for 20GB than this.
Or for £5 more a month, you can get twice the data with EE's 40GB for £25 a month deal on a 12-month contract too.
Meanwhile, if you're after a phone, take a look at EE's offer page here, which has all their discounted models and extra data offers.
Useful link: See full list of EE offers > (opens in new tab)
We compare the benefits and prices when you take a smartphone
Compared with EE, O2's new custom plans are much more flexible. You can upgrade early, choose your contract length between 3 - 36 months, and tweak the upfront cost you're willing to pay. How does it all work?
Your deal is split into two parts: a loan that covers the cost of your device, paid off monthly. And a contract covering the cost of your minutes, texts and data (read O2's full explanation here). This has a few benefits:
Firstly, you can pay the loan off in full at any point you like, with no exit fees. You're then free to upgrade to a new phone, leave O2 altogether, or stay and only pay the lower cost for your mins, texts and data.
The other advantage is having the ability to spread the device cost over your choice of months. Pay it off quickly at a higher monthly rate. Or more slowly at a lower monthly cost. The total phone cost is the same whichever you choose.
If you find standard 24-month contracts constraining, O2 could be a better choice than EE. You'll need a good credit history though, as the contracts are based on finance.
Useful link: Full details on O2's custom plans from their own guide
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Most of EE's contracts work like what we'd call "standard mobile contracts": ones that last 24 months and give you a phone, plus your mins, texts and data, for one single monthly payment.
This probably means the credit check on EE isn't as hard to pass as O2's whose contracts are based on loans (although we have no specific information on either's requirements).
On selected top-end phones, and more-premium plans EE offer "Annual Upgrades". This is basically a scheme where EE will buy you out of your contract but you have to give them back your phone.
We're not huge fans of this sort of deal, because you're giving back a phone that you've already half paid for. When you could go sell it yourself via a second-hand phone store, potentially for more.
In short: EE are less flexible than O2 but their deals are a lot simpler to understand and compare.
Useful link: See EE's range of phones
"The two providers are reasonably closely matched on phone contract prices. Use our phone deal comparison tool to find deals "
Consider these points when making your mind up between EE and O2:
✔ 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
Useful link: Read our full EE review
✔ 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
✔ You'd benefit from the daily offers on Priority
Useful link: Read our full O2 review