The best 4G network

Virtually every mobile provider offers 4G contracts now, but which one is the best for you?

4G has been up and running for over six years now and it's become the industry standard as consumers and businesses users alike need a high-speed connection to power their streaming, social media networking and of course mobile working. As devices have morphed into mobile offices, employees need access to a solid network and the evolution of 4G has accommodated this.

In fact, mobile provider Three has so much faith in 4G tech, it has phased out all of its 3G handsets in recent months, backing 4G tech wholeheartedly. But now all mobile networks offer competitive 4G services and many have invested a lot of money to boost coverage to beat their rivals, how can you choose which is the best 4G mobile network for you?

There are lots of things to consider, beyond cost. Although all of the UK's major networks offer 4G services, some are more reliable and offer faster speeds than others. The other consideration is which device you want to go for as different networks also offer different phone models.

We've rounded up the best deals and benefits for each of the four major networks in the UK to see which suits your lifestyle and usage best.

(NB: these are the costs for an individual, SIM-only, 12-month contract. Business contracts and contracts with a phone can and likely will vary. Average speed results taken from www.opensignal.com. All data correct as of June 2018)

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See also: What is 4G?

EE: 4G cost and reliability

EE is hailed as one of the first proponents of 4G in the UK, helping to bring the technology to more customers than any other network. According to OpenSignal's State of Mobile Networks report for the UK from September 2017, EE continues to be the best network overall for availability, speeds, and latency.

Customers currently enjoy the fastest 4G speeds, with an average of 28.99 Mbits/sec, almost 6 Mbits/sec more than its nearest rival, although this represents a slight drop from earlier in the year.

EE also continues to serve the largest area in the UK, with coverage now at 99% of the population, representing 86% of the country's geography. The company aims to extend this geographical coverage to 95% by 2020, ensuring some of the most remote areas receive access.

EE's cheapest 4G plans start at 10.99 per month with 250MB of data and unlimited texts. At the top end, you can expect to pay 44.99 per month for 40GB of data, unlimited calls, and texts. All of EE's 4G plans allow for the option to use UK allowance for minutes, data and texts while abroad.

O2: 4G cost and reliability

O2's 4G offering has improved in recent years, connecting more areas of the UK than ever before, however, it still disappoints when it comes to speeds and is still positioned as country's slowest operator.

According to OpenSignal data, the network currently has an average 4G download speed of 15.06 Mbits/sec, almost half that of EE. Despite this, the network enjoys 97% coverage, meaning plenty of customers are able to access 4G services.

However, O2 does offer slightly cheaper services, with its 4G packages available from 10 per month for 250MB of data. At the top end, you can expect to pay 42 for 30GB of data.

Three: 4G cost and reliability

Three has always been the smallest of the UK's four network operators, although its coverage is growing all the time. Currently, it's able to provide services to 91% of the population, although it plans to expand this to 98%.

Despite its smaller coverage, the network boasts the second highest 4G speeds, with an average of 22.31 Mbits/sec.

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It's also highly rated by its customer base for having a variety of mobile packages, unlimited data tariffs, and deals that prioritise downloads over traditional minutes and texts.

Three's contracts range from as little as 5.00 per month for 500MB of data and unlimited texts, up to 35 per month for unlimited data, texts, and minutes, and free international roaming.

Vodafone: 4G cost and reliability

Vodafone's 4G network began life as a London-only service when it launched in 2013, but efforts to upgrade the network has helped position the provider as one of the UK's leading providers, with speeds that are competitive with the likes of Three and O2.

Vodafone 4G infrastructure currently covers 95% of the UK population, and customers can expect average download speeds of 18.94 Mbits/sec, making it the third-fastest operator.

It's considered to be a great all-rounder, with a good mix of high data tariffs, fast 4G connections, and extra rewards for spending with the company.

Cheapest packages are comparable to O2 - 250MB data allowance, 250 minutes and unlimited texts for 10.50 per month. At the higher end, you can get 40GB of data and unlimited calls and texts for 41.

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)

Although the companies above control their own network infrastructures, they are by no means the only choice when it comes to 4G. There are a number of companies that make use of these infrastructures to provide their own services, although 4G coverage is still tied to the controlling company.

GiffGaff

Infrastructure: O2

Voted best MVNO in multiple years, this mobile network is known for its adaptable contracts and reward schemes for community members. Unlike traditional operators, it does not have a high-street presence and relies on its community for customer support.

As it uses O2's 4G network, it has the same coverage at 97%, with average speeds of 15.06 Mbits/sec

Virgin Mobile

Infrastructure: EE

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Although Virgin once restricted its 4G services to its enterprise customers, now everyone can benefit from the super-fast speeds. The company is known for its incredibly low starting prices, with rollover data that allows you to carry over any unused allowance from month to month. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are also free to use on this service, so they don't eat into your monthly data.

The best part is that Virgin Mobile makes use of EE infrastructure, meaning customers get access to market-leading 4G with 99% coverage at average speeds of 28.99 Mbits/sec.

Sky Mobile

Infrastructure: O2

Sky Mobile is a relatively new MVNO that has only been available to the public since January. Its biggest selling point is the idea of 'roll-over' data, where customers are able to make use of unused data from one month and add it to the next. Sky Mobile will also let you switch between tariffs each month, even if you are locked into a contract.

Sky Mobile also uses O2 infrastructure, so expect 4G coverage of 97% and average speeds of 15.06 Mbits/sec.

Tesco Mobile

Infrastructure: O2

One of the first supermarkets to dive into the mobile provider market, Tesco Mobile offers capped services, so you don't go over your allowance, and free roaming in 31 countries. You can even earn points as you use the service, which can be linked to your Tesco Clubcard.

Tesco Mobile also uses O2 infrastructure, so expect 4G coverage of 98% and average speeds of 15.06 Mbits/sec.

Image: Shutterstock

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