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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: 4th June 2021

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

4G is better on EE, calls are better on O2

Best network for coverage

Read their claim

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

EE and O2 are separate companies operating their own mobile networks, unreliant on anyone else. And they've both got their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to reception across the UK.

For 4G data, EE have more of the country's physical geography covered. So you're generally more likely to get 4G signal as you travel around or if you live rurally. Larger residential areas, there's no huge difference.

For basic calls and texts, O2 have the advantage, particularly indoors where their signal is on better frequencies to get through building materials. Rural calls are also generally better on O2.

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 Plusnet Mobile (not identical coverage, read our review).

So a lot of your choice should be about what you use your phone for and where you use it. It's worth giving both their network maps here a check. Don't just check at home but everywhere you regularly use your mobile.

Useful link: EE's targets for geographical 4G coverage

5G is live on both and rolling out fast

EE branded map with 5G pointers

Latest 5G news

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

Each of the main four networks have their 5G networks live. But it's still early days for coverage. We're still talking about location-by-location vs percentages of the population or landmass.

According to their latest lists, EE have got 5G in 125+ locations, compared to  150+ on O2. And it's different places they're targeting for their early rollouts.

Out of all the networks, EE and O2 are doing the better jobs within those named places of getting as much of it covered as possible. EE are doing better. We've found O2's 5G quality dips at the edge of coverage areas.

Every plan on O2 is 5G-ready, though if you're joining on SIM only, be sure to specifically select that your phone has 5G when you check out. On EE, some plans are still 4G-only, so be sure to pick a 5G one if you want it.

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:

Minor win for EE

"We'd say the overall blend of coverage on EE is better than O2, especially if you've got WiFi calling to fall back on, as indoor coverage can be EE's main weakness"

Compare pricing and deals

Speeds: Is data faster on O2 or EE?

We look at what 4G/5G speeds you can expect with EE and O2

O2 and EE logos with a speedometer

EE's 4G download speeds are much faster than O2's

EE branded awards image

See all awards

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

On paper and in our real-life experience, EE are noticeably faster than O2. According to indpendent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, EE have long been top of the pile for speed, with O2 bottom.

They put typical EE 4G downloads at 32.99 - 35.9 Mbps and O2 at 16.95 - 18.00 Mbps. While EE's is like a mid-range fibre home broadband, O2's is more like older copper broadband for speed.

In our experience, EE can go at 3x or 4x that average in cities (and around half it in more rural places), while O2 rarely gets about double the average. They have been slowly improving though.

It depends what type of user you are, for basic browsing, social media and email checking, either is fine. For big downloaders, streamers and gamers, you're way more likely to be happy on EE.

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

5G looking faster on O2 in early testing

O2 5G banner

See O2 5G latest

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

There's still not that much 5G about but Speedtest have managed to do some 5G speed tests on each network in London and they found EE to lose their advantage to O2 (it's unclear if this will be the case long-term).

Their tests found home fibre-optic-beating downloads for EE to be typically in the area of 142.86 Mbps (245.73 Mbps peak). O2's were typically measured around 181.19 Mbps (289.65 Mbps peak).

So both are vast improvements on 4G. Realistically at that high a speed, you won't feel a difference between and EE and O2 unless you're doing something like downloading a massive file like an Xbox game.

We'd also point out a lot of the benefit of 5G is around capacity too (not just raw speed). Getting more people connected in a busy place without suffering from drops in speed, like happens on 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)

Both EE and O2 have had WiFi calling and 4G calling in place for a while now. The technologies let your phone use a WiFi/4G signal to make/take calls if regular 2G/3G can't reach where you are, like indoors.

Out of the two, we've found EE's probably works smoothest. O2's can be reluctant to "kick in" (maybe because their indoor signal is generally better) and it doesn't work with SMS texts (EE's does).

EE's list of supported devices here is bigger than O2's one here too. And we've found that EE are a little better if you've bought your phone from another network or separately, especially if it's quite old.

Both EE and O2 only include WiFi calling on their pay monthly plans. Pay as you go and EE's Flex plans don't include it. And we found you had to go into your account and turn it on with O2, which is an added step.

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

O2 have a better network of free WiFi hotspots

O2's WiFi hotspots

Find local hotspots

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

If you're someone that regularly takes their data allowance down to wire, it can be useful to have your phone connect to free WiFi hotspots as a way of saving data. All these networks offer some free WiFi.

EE get you free WiFi on London's TFL network (on pay monthly plans), which is useful and is something that O2 offer too. But where O2 trump EE is with their own network of hotspots:

O2 WiFi is free to anyone but you normally have to at least sign in. If you're an O2 customer though, over half of their hotspots will automatically detect your phone and let it use the WiFi free.

We've tried it ourselves for real for our O2 review and it genuinely works. And the hotspots are in useful places like restaurants, shops and stations. Despite being owned by BT, EE don't have anything simlar.

Useful link: O2's full guide to WiFi calling

Our verdict on extra network features:

Minor win for EE

"EE's WiFi calling is better than O2, because it supports more phones and does SMS texts too. That's probably more important than O2 WiFi, which is good but not critical."

Compare pricing and deals

EE and O2's perks and benefits compared

Roaming: how EE and O2 compare for roaming

Are O2 or EE better for going abroad?

O2 roaming vs EE's

O2 offer worldwide roaming on select plans

Free EU roaming on O2

See all roaming costs

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

Like every UK network, O2 offer inclusive roaming within the EU as standard with all their pay monthly plans. You'll pay nothing extra to use your regular UK minutes, texts and data while there.

But some of their more-expensive SIM only and phone contracts also include roaming within the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone. The full country list can be seen here and includes popular travel destinations like the USA.

These all include O2 Travel Inclusive Zone

It's not as generous as Three's&nsbp;Go Roam, you can't just use your regular allowances. You get 120 minutes, 120 texts and about 200MB full-speed data per day, to keep you ticking over.

It's enough to avoid extra charges for just checking Google Maps but you're not going to be streaming films on it though. You can also buy an O2 Travel pass (see latest costs here) to get it if your plan doesn't include it.

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 Smart Benefit too, which includes the USA and Canada (see full list here).

Choose extra roaming as your Smart benefit with any of these SIMs:

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 BritBox, plus a 3-month trial of the BT Sport app. EE say the total value is around £200.

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)

O2's Family Plans can be more or less generous than EE's, depending on what product you choose. You'll get a flat 20% discount of the airtime element of any extra mobile deal you take with them on the same account.

It's most generous if you're adding an extra SIM. You'll get a straight-up 20% off the full asking price you'd see if you were a new customer. You do have to text O2 to tell them you want the discount though.

If you're taking extra phone contracts, you have to know that O2's deals are split into a payment for your phone (the cost of the device divided by however months) and your airtime (your minutes, texts and data).

The discount applies to the airtime element only. You're not getting a 20% off the total combined price of the deal, like you are on EE. But it's not to be sniffed at.

You can also share data on O2. But you can only share from your main account to others. And that deal has to be an O2 Refresh phone contract. So it's a lot less flexible than EE's data gifting.

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

Networks

Providers:

Three logo
ASDA logo
BT Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
Honest logo
ID logo
IQ logo
Lebara logo
O2 logo
Plusnet logo
Sky logo
SMARTY logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

Plan

Data: (0MB+)

Minutes: (0+)

Contract

Maximum length: (Any)

Added features

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

More EE guides

More O2 guides

Individual network reviews