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In the US, we have 4 options for cellular plans (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint).

To get a comparison, who are the top 3-4 companies that I have to choose from in London? and which one has the largest coverage outside of London i.e. Verizon has the largest coverage in the US?

  • Asking for the "best" is almost always off-topic, as what is best for one person may be worst for another. But having said that, I believe this question has already been answered. – Flimzy Aug 22 '15 at 22:12
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    Why was this closed as a duplicate of a question where the content is all about what type of iPad to buy?! This person already has all the devices they need. Sloppy work, guys. – user568458 Aug 23 '15 at 9:08
  • possible duplicate of travel.stackexchange.com/questions/9328/… – EdmundYeung99 Aug 24 '15 at 5:29
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    Rico - the question has changed massively! Before, you were asking only about London, now, you're asking about coverage outside of London? I'd suggest asking the "coverage outside of London" part as a new separate question, and be specific about where in the UK you want to go, rather than turning this question upside down – user568458 Aug 24 '15 at 8:35
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    @user568458 the answer may be old, but not out of date. Three still offer unlimited data for £15 (the bundle lasts for 1 month) on PAYG. The only thing out of date is the sim cards are now free – EdmundYeung99 Aug 24 '15 at 11:11
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The question was since edited to ask for the "top" 3-4 mobile networks in the UK. That's a bit subjective, but answerable I think. The four below come first in most comparison tables (e.g. the Three one below), and in listings in resources like OpenSignal.com, and also matches my perception as a Brit of which are most prominent:

  • O2 have been around for ages, and initially were set up from former national telecoms supplier BT. They've always been a big player, with prominent sponsorships etc.
  • Vodafone, likewise, are long standing and also have a presence in many countries.
  • EE are new but were formed from the merger of two other long-standing mobile companies, Orange and T-Mobile, and have a very extensive network
  • Three are fairly well established, but newer than the others above. They've always pitched themselves as being a bit different - e.g. they were the first 3G-only network (now 3G and 4G only). Now they market themselves on being mobile data specialists and (more recently) for having the most simple and flexible pricing

Those are also the four that OpenSignal.com list, collapsing the others in an "Others" category, of which:

  • Virgin are another long-standing big player but almost certainly the smallest of the big players, and I've heard more than a few complaints from friends who use them about signal problems
  • Lycamobile and Lebara mobile are large international companies who appear to mostly market to immigrant communities on the basis of more competitive prices for international calls
  • The others listed are relatively new, small or niche, or don't have networks of their own. That's not necessarily a reason to dismiss them, however, and they often get good signal through renting use of the bigger players' networks.

To get set up for smartphones, you'll want a 'Pay as you go' SIM card, and you'll want to check if the company does 'data bundles' (aka packages aka add-ons, various other marketing names). The other type, "Contract" SIMs in the UK, are generally 12 months minimum. Some companies do data only SIMs but these tend to be tied in to products like dongles and on a monthly rolling basis.

Most UK companies' Pay as you go SIM cards are free, you just pay for what you put on it.

You can buy SIM cards with usually £5-£20 credit already added in supermarkets, phone companies' own shops, and I believe WH Smiths at most London airports.


As for which company I'd recommend, I was very impressed with Three's pay as you go plan which I used for a few weeks in London:

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Alternatively, for "mobile broadband" through a separate device like a dongle or mobile hotspot, add-on prices include: 7GB for £25 lasting 30 days or 3GB for £15 lasting 30 days.

Three have always positioned themselves as being all about 3g (hence the name) and (recently) 4g - consequently they had a bad reputation for coverage in rural areas in the UK, but in London, their 4g and 3g coverage is excellent.

You can check coverage in any area with the map at http://opensignal.com/coverage-maps/UK/ (thanks to CMaster for the link) - but everywhere in London gets good coverage (unless it's underground, or has thick concrete walls).

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    If you want to expand your answer to better handle coverage: opensignal.com/coverage-maps/UK – CMaster Aug 24 '15 at 0:00
  • Three's network only supports 3G and 4G which you touch on, but could be useful to stress that 2G only phones (i.e. non-smart phones) will likely not work at all – EdmundYeung99 Aug 24 '15 at 5:24
  • Many modern-ish non-smartphones can work with 3g and work on Three, I used to have a Sony Ericson phone on Three back before smartphones existed, and it worked, only problem was bad signal outside of large towns and cities. But it's something to consider if you have a seriously old or "no frills" phone (though this asker seems to have a collection of high end smart phones, or did before the edit!) – user568458 Aug 24 '15 at 8:03
  • that's why I said 2G only phones (yes there are still some that exists)... however I didn't realise the OP edited the data part of his question out, the question as it currently stands doesn't explicity state that he has a smart phone, hence my comment – EdmundYeung99 Aug 24 '15 at 11:13
  • also @user568458 I believe the data bundles you quoted are for mobile broadband rather than mobile phones which are found here: three.co.uk/Support/Pay_As_You_Go/Phone_tariffs – EdmundYeung99 Aug 24 '15 at 11:14
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There are four real mobile networks with significant coverage in the UK* EE (formed by the merger of Orange UK with T-Mobile UK), O2, Vodafone and Three. On top of this there are a bunch of Virtual networks reselling the services of the four real networks.

In major UK cities all four of them will have good coverage, If you are thinking about more rural or small-town locations though it can pay to check the coverage maps of each provider.

Personally for pay as you go service I like EE's "£1 data pack". It's about the cheapest option I could find for keeping data active all the time with a usable (though not huge) allowance and it only gets better with time as free-boosts build up (tip: they don't encourage you to restart your pack early, but it's possible to do it and it's a much better deal than buying the add-ons). Importantly for me it doesn't seem to have any restrictions on tethering.

I tried three a few years ago, their advertised PAYG data pricing looked great, but I found they would not allow use of regular PAYG data for tethering which was a deal-breaker for me.

All UK networks use SIM cards and the GSM/WCDMA/LTE family of standards (three only have WCDMA/LTE). Different networks do use different frequency bands though, if you are using a lower end foreign phone it may pay to check which networks have the most frequency band overlap with what your phone supports.

Paradoxically you often get better coverage if you roam in on a foreign SIM. The UK networks don't have any roaming arrangements with each other but it's not unlikely your foreign provider will have roaming agreements with all of them. The downside of that of course is cost, unless you are from the EU your foreign carrier is likely to charge you a premium for roaming.

* IIRC there are also some local upstarts in some rural corners of the UK, but they are not relavent here.

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It is critical that you check which frequencies your cell phone operates on, as those in London are generally different to those in the US, in particular for our 4G service.

If you want to check the frequencies used on 2G, 3G and 4G in London see this link: http://www.broadbandlondon.com/jargon-buster/4g-3g-london-coverage/

  • Welcome to TSE, you should expand your answer to elaborate the difference of bands. and also be more specific to the question as the OP seems to be more interested in plans rather than cellphones. – Newton Nov 16 '16 at 11:46

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