Best 5G network

11 May 2021

Contents list

  1. Which networks offer 5G?
  2. Best network for 5G coverage
  3. Best network for 5G speeds
  4. Best network for 5G unlimited data
  5. Best network for 5G roaming
  6. Best network for 5G tethering
  7. Best network for 5G pay as you go
  8. Best network for 5G extras
  9. Best overall 5G network

5G is now readily available in many parts of the UK, so you might well be considering upgrading to it, in which case you’ll probably be wondering what the best 5G network is, and that’s where this guide comes in.

Many (but not all) UK networks now offer 5G, but their coverage, speed, plans, extras and terms all differ, so there’s a lot to consider before signing up for one.

To make things easier, this guide looks at all the key factors you should bear in mind when making your 5G network decision. We’ve included headings for each consideration, along with a rundown of which networks perform best for each thing, and then below all that you’ll find our pick of the best overall 5G network.

Note that all of the information below was accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing, but if in doubt check directly with a network.

Which networks offer 5G?

Before we get started it’s worth establishing which networks we’re actually comparing here. All four major UK networks (EE, Three, Vodafone and O2) offer 5G of course, but on top of that a number of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) do too.

UK 5G Networks

EE 5G Three 5G Vodafone 5G O2 5G BT 5G GiffGaff 5G
Tesco Mobile 5G VOXI Mobile 5G Virgin Mobile 5G Sky Mobile 5G ASDA Mobile 5G  

At the time of writing the full list of these includes BT Mobile, Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, VOXI, Virgin Mobile, Sky Mobile, and Asda Mobile. So we’ll be looking at all of these companies when deciding on the best 5G network.

Best network for 5G coverage

5G coverage is growing rapidly, so unless you live somewhere very rural then chances are you’ll be able to get a 5G connection on at least one network now or soon. But of course while having coverage where you live and work is the most important thing, beyond that it’s useful to have good coverage UK-wide, so you can still get a 5G signal when you’re away from home.

It’s hard to get a complete picture of which network has the best 5G coverage, and with all of them expanding their 5G service rapidly this might also quickly change, but based on the number of places with 5G available in them (as reported by the networks themselves) the best is 5G network for coverage might be Three, which has 5G coverage in parts of 194 UK towns and cities at the time of writing.

EE and O2 are tied for second here, with 5G in parts of 160 places each, and then Vodafone’s last with 5G in parts of 100 UK towns and cities.

However, that won’t tell the whole story, as the amount of coverage in each of these places – and how big the covered places are – will vary from network to network.

As evidence of that, we’ve created a chart (visible on our 5G network pages) to track 5G coverage in 120 of the most major towns and cities across the UK, and EE has the most places ticked in that at 75, followed by O2 with 72, Three with 67, and then Vodafone with 44.

So based on these two sets of data, we’re going call coverage a tie between EE and Three for now – but you should use their official coverage checkers to make sure they have 5G near you.

 

 Best Network for 5G Coverage

Best network for 5G coverage winnerBest network for 5G coverage winner  

Note: BT Mobile is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) which shares EE's winning "best network for 5G coverage" and therefore obviously worth consideration too.

Best network for 5G speeds

5G is always going to be fast, but the exact speed can vary. We have a whole guide to 5G speeds if you’re after an in-depth look at how each network stacks up, but the gist is that based on the data we can find, EE’s top speeds are likely higher than rivals.

It recorded a maximum 5G speed of 753Mbps in tests from Point Topic, which is significantly higher than any rival network achieved in those tests, or in others that we’ve seen. The highest 5G speed that we’ve seen recorded from Vodafone for example is a 545.6Mbps one recorded by RootMetrics, while Three’s highest (also recorded by RootMetrics, albeit in earlier tests) is 478.1Mbps, and O2’s is 302.1Mbps.

If we stick with Point Topic where EE’s highest speed was recorded, then the other networks fare even worse, though Three’s is very similar at 473Mbps, suggesting some consistency.

That might explain why Three appears to have the highest average 5G speeds across the UK, coming in at 158.7Mbps according to Point Topic. EE’s results there are close at 149.9Mbps, Vodafone comes in at 143.6Mbps, and O2 at 115.7Mbps.

We don’t have much data for MVNOs, but it can be assumed that speeds will be similar to the major networks that they share infrastructure with.

So with all that in mind, we have to give EE the win for offering the highest top speeds and coming a close second for average speeds, but if you care more about a consistent experience then Three might have the edge.

           

Be st 5G Network for Speeds

Best network for 5G coverage winner

Note: BT Mobile is an MVNO which shares EE's winning "best network for 5G speeds" and therefore obviously worth consideration too.

Best network for 5G unlimited data

At the time of writing, every 5G network in the UK other than Sky Mobile offers unlimited 5G data. That means you can get it with EE, Three, Vodafone, O2, BT Mobile, Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, VOXI, Virgin Mobile, and Asda Mobile.

You do have to watch out for speed restrictions on some plans – for example, both Vodafone and Asda Mobile have unlimited data plans that are advertised as 5G but cap your speeds at a low level. However, they also have ones that don’t do this, so we’re not holding that against them, just pointing it out.

The only real considerations here then are fair usage limits, and terms that limit who can get unlimited data. For the former, EE, O2 and Giffgaff all have a fair usage policy of either 600GB or 650GB per month – so not actually quite unlimited, but functionally close to being. Still, that puts them a step below the other networks, which don’t advertise specific limits.

For the latter, BT Mobile only makes its unlimited data plans available to BT Halo customers, which is a pricey combination of BT mobile and broadband. So our winners here are the remaining networks, all of which tie as joint winners.

Best 5G Network for unlimited data

Vodafone 5GThree 5G

Note: Tesco Mobile, VOXI, Virgin Mobile and Asda Mobile all share Vodafone's winning "best network for 5G unlimited data" and therefore are obviously worth consideration too.

Best network for 5G roaming

This is an easy one, as while all of the UK’s 5G networks let you roam in numerous countries at no extra cost, only two of them let you do so at 5G speeds at the time of writing. The networks in question are Vodafone and VOXI (the latter of which is owned by Vodafone), both of which at last count offered 5G roaming in 193 places across Germany, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

Best Network for 5G Roaming

Vodafone 5G

Note: Tesco Mobile, VOXI, Virgin Mobile and Asda Mobile all share Vodafone's winning "best network for 5G roaming" and therefore are obviously worth consideration too.

Best network for 5G tethering

All of the UK’s 5G networks let you tether at the time of writing, so there’s little to choose here really – though things like coverage and speed will play a role in your overall experience here too, so bear the winners of those sections in mind.

Beyond that, some networks do have slight tethering limits, with O2 and EE having fair usage policies that say you shouldn’t regularly tether more than 11 devices at once. We’re not convinced that will be an issue for many people though so we’re calling this one a draw.

Best Network for 5G Tethering

EE 5GO2 5GVodafone 5GThree 5G

Best network for 5G pay as you go

Not many networks offer 5G on pay as you go (though many have 30-day SIM Only plans, which isn’t much different to a pay as you go bundle).

For genuine pay as you go though, at the time of writing your 5G options are limited to Three and Vodafone. Of those two we’d give Three the edge, because its pay as you go bundles are slightly cheaper, topping out at £35 for unlimited everything. Three should also offer 5G if you don’t purchase a bundle and just spend your credit directly, which Vodafone doesn’t appear to.

Best Network for 5G Pay As You Go

Three 5G

Best network for 5G extras

Extras are a very subjective thing, but for its sheer range of options we’ve got to give this one to EE, which on select plans gives you a range of ‘Smart Benefits’ to choose from.

Some plans let you choose one, while others allow three, and the exact selection varies from plan to plan but the full list includes Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade, Amazon Prime Video, BritBox, or a BT Sport Ultimate subscription, or you can get free roaming in five additional locations, or the ability to use data on certain video services without it affecting your allowance.

Vodafone comes a close second by allowing you to add a YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime or Spotify Premium subscription to your plan for the duration of the contract, but that’s a smaller selection, you only get one, and these plans cost more than equivalent ones that come without the extra.

O2 is also worth a mention for its Priority service, which includes various offers and early tickets to events.

Best Network for 5G Extras

EE 5G

Best overall 5G network

Tallying up the wins, EE and Three come out in joint first place with three wins or ties (not including tethering, which the networks are all equal for).

EE won for extras and tied for coverage and speed, while Three won for pay as you go and tied for coverage and unlimited data. So Three and EE are our choices as the best overall 5G networks at the time of writing.

However, Vodafone, VOXI and BT all come close with two ties to their name – roaming and unlimited data for Vodafone and VOXI, and coverage and speed for BT Mobile.

       

 Best Overall 5G Network    

EE 5GThree 5G

Note: The best overall winner for MVNOs is BT Mobile as they share EE's winning 5G network. Three themselves have no MVNOs which have launched 5G in the UK to-date.

Jon Mundy
About Jon Mundy

Technical Writer at 5G.co.uk

Jon has nine years experience of writing and editing copy for leading publications, as well as attending technology shows and events and conducting interviews. Currently working with 5G.co.uk, TechRadar, Trusted Reviews, T3, Digital Spy, What Mobile, Pocket Gamer, and The Gadget Show.

View more posts by Jon Mundy >
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