Best 5G network

11 March 2024

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.

Almost every UK network now offers 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 many MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) do too.

UK 5G Networks

EE 5G Three 5G Vodafone 5G O2 5G GiffGaff 5G
Tesco Mobile 5G VOXI Mobile 5G Sky Mobile 5G ASDA Mobile 5G ID Mobile coverage
Lebara Mobile coverage Lyca Mobile coverage Talk mobile coverage    

At the time of writing the full list of those we’ll be looking at includes Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, VOXI, Sky MobileAsda Mobile, CMLink, iD Mobile, Lebara, Lyca Mobile, Smarty, and Talkmobile. So we’ll be comparing 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 data we do have, the best is 5G network for coverage might is probably EE, which has brought 5G coverage to 73% of the UK population, according to a January 2024 update.

That’s a higher figure than we’ve seen for any other network. But the networks report coverage updates at different times and in different ways, so it’s hard to be certain.

Still, based on the coverage percentages we have available, Three and its MVNOs might be second here, with over 60% population coverage. O2 meanwhile is at over 50% according to a February 2024 update, and Vodafone doesn’t have a recent figure that we can find.

We’ve also 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 114, followed by Three with 111, O2 with 93, and then Vodafone with 92.

So based on these two sets of data, we’re going to call this a win for EE (along with the MVNOs that share its 5G infrastructure, namely Lyca Mobile and CMLink) – 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 winner

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, Three’s top and average 5G speeds are likely higher than rivals.

For top speeds, a RootMetrics report covering the second half of 2023 found that Three’s 95th percentile 5G speed (described by the site as “best case” 5G speed results) was 853.4Mbps. That’s also the highest 5G speed we’ve seen from any UK network in any detailed report. This report put EE in second with 638.5Mbps, Vodafone in third with 401.8Mbps, and O2 last at 301.2Mbps.

In the same report though EE jumps to first place for median 5G download speed, at 174.1Mbps. That’s closely followed by Three though at 165.7Mbps, then Vodafone at 158.3Mbps, and O2 trailing with just 68.7Mbps.

Three is first again though when it comes to average 5G download speeds, as found in a September 2023 Opensignal report. This put Three’s at 205.5Mbps, followed by Vodafone’s at 114.3Mbps, then EE’s at 99.5Mbps, and finally O2’s at 77.0Mbps.

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 Three the win. Again, its MVNOs should share the win, meaning Smarty and iD Mobile.


Be st 5G Network for Speeds

Best network for 5G unlimited data

At the time of writing, every 5G network we’re comparing other than Sky Mobile and CMLink offers unlimited 5G data. That means you can get it with EE, Three, Vodafone, O2, Giffgaff, Talkmobile, Tesco Mobile, VOXI, iD Mobile, Lebara, Lyca Mobile, Smarty, 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. For that, EE, O2, Lyca Mobile, 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 in the UK.

So our winners here are the remaining networks, all of which tie as joint winners.

That means Vodafone and Three, along with various 5G MVNOs, namely iD Mobile, Smarty, VOXI, Asda Mobile, Tesco Mobile, and Lebara. If you also care about unlimited data when roaming, then Tesco has the edge, as the other networks have fair usage limits for this, but since that’s a niche use case we’ll still call this a tie.

Best 5G Network for Unlimited Data

Vodafone 5GThree 5G

Best network for 5G roaming

Only a few networks offer 5G roaming at the time of writing. The networks in question are O2, Vodafone, VOXI, iD Mobile, Asda Mobile and Talkmobile, all of which use Vodafone’s coverage other than O2 and iD Mobile (the latter of which uses Three’s). EE may also allow 5G roaming according to posts on some forums, but the network doesn’t appear to have officially confirmed this.

Those with Vodafone’s coverage let you roam in at least 344 places across Germany, Italy, Spain, and Ireland.

As for O2, you can roam with 5G speeds in loads of European destinations, including parts of France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Greece, and others.

While iD Mobile offers inclusive 5G roaming in parts of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy (including San Marino), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine.

You can also roam with 5G speeds in parts of Australia, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and the US, on iD Mobile, though it’s not inclusive/free for these non-European destinations.

Given that iD Mobile allows 5G roaming both in and out of Europe, and that European roaming is included at no extra cost, we’re giving this network the win.

Best Network for 5G Roaming

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 all 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, Vodafone, Asda Mobile, Lebara, Giffgaff, Lyca Mobile, and Tesco Mobile.

Of those we’d give Three the edge, because despite being a major network its pay as you go bundles are reasonably priced, and you can get unlimited data, and access to perks like the Three+ rewards app.

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 ‘Inclusive Extras’ 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, Apple One, Netflix, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft 365 Personal, or a TNT Sports on Discovery+ subscription, or you can get free roaming in the EU and beyond, 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, while Three has a similar Three+ app.

Best Network for 5G Extras


Best overall 5G network

Tallying up the wins, Three comes in first place with three wins or ties (not including tethering, which the networks are all equal for), specifically winning for speeds, unlimited data, and pay as you go.

EE takes second place, as it wins for coverage and extras, while Vodafone is in third, with a tied win for unlimited data.

O2 is in last place of the big four networks, with no wins or ties – again, other than tethering, which all the networks perform well at.

That doesn’t include the MVNOs, but they’re mostly limited or lacking in areas like extras, pay as you go, and 5G roaming, so they can’t compete with Three overall either. That said, iD Mobile is worth a special mention, as it won for 5G roaming. It likely also shares Three’s win for speeds, since it uses the same infrastructure, and it’s tied for unlimited data.

That would make iD Mobile joint first place with Three overall for number of wins.


 Best Overall 5G Network    

Three 5G
Jon Mundy
About Jon Mundy

Technical Writer at

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, TechRadar, Trusted Reviews, T3, Digital Spy, What Mobile, Pocket Gamer, and The Gadget Show.

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