When it comes to SIM only deals, there is now an overwhelming amount of choice. And while there's a wide range of MVNOs and lesser-known brands to choose from, there are four main networks that still rule supreme at the top.
EE, O2, Vodafone and Three are the 'Big 4' networks and the platforms that many other smaller networks piggy-back off, so it is obvious why these are the first picks you'll think of...but which is the best.
Unfortunately, that question isn't as easy as giving one obvious answer - each network has its own benefits and strengths. Choose EE and you'll get the benefit of the UK's fastest speeds. Or go with Three, which comes out on top for data.
Vodafone and O2 offer some pretty well rounded plans hitting all of the bases and not driving prices as high as some other names (EE, anyone?). To really know which network is best for you, all of the factors need to be taken into account.
We've broken down each of the four main networks below so you can decide the one that best appeals to you.
- See the best unlimited data SIM only deals
Three: best for data
Three: at a glance
Three in recent years has become a safe haven for those who require large amounts of data. It has the cheapest prices on unlimited data, is frequently the cheapest option in the 30GB+ range and even has a few options in the 3-10GB mark that lead the way. While it can't quite keep up with EE or Vodafone for speeds, its affordability is its key selling point.
Compare the best Three SIM only deals
Three is going to be best for those who aren't worried about getting the fastest speeds or all of the flashy incentives. Instead, Three is there to provide the most amount of data for the lowest price possible.
To get those market-leading prices, you're losing out on the impressive reward schemes the other three networks have in place, offering free coffees, holiday discounts and more.
Three however does slightly make up for this through its travel incentives. It offers free roaming in 71 countries and a host of travel incentives like early bag drop off with EasyJet.
At the end of the day, it's hard to argue with Three's affordability. In our 2019 Mobile Choice Awards, we named Three the best network for data, value and even roaming.
Three is best for:
- Those who need a lot of data
- Anyone who doesn't want to pay a lot
- Anyone who finds themselves travelling a lot
EE: best for speeds
EE: at a glance
Ah EE, the UK's most popular option, the network with the fastest 4G speeds and winner of industry awards all over. While it does frequently have some of the highest prices around, it makes up for it with its big data options, a boat-load of free subscriptions, speeds and excellent customer service.
Compare the best EE SIM only deals
As we said above, EE is by no means cheap. In fact, EE is the most expensive of the four main networks. Despite its higher cost, EE is, and has been for a long time, the most popular of these four networks.
That comes mainly down to its performance. EE will be the absolute perfect choice for people who don't mind paying a bit more money for reliability from their network. EE has the UK's fastest 4G speeds and was the first to install 5G connections with the largest coverage.
While EE won't be roping in people looking for a bargain (Three seems to have that market on lock), EE throws in a number of additional incentives to increase its value.
When you sign up for an EE SIM only deal, you'll get access to a number of free subscriptions to BT Sport, Apple Music, BritBox and more, all totalling £220 worth of subscriptions.
EE also rewards families who sign up together, allowing you to share data between your different devices and an additional 10% off for every device you add. With all of those factors considered, it is no surprise that EE won our award for the best network at the 2019 Mobile Choice Awards.
EE is best for:
- Those who want the fastest speeds available
- Anyone looking to bag a load of free subscriptions
- People who don't mind paying a bit more for more features
Vodafone: excellent all-rounder
Vodafone: at a glance
Vodafone is a network that seems to offer the best of all departments. Like Three, it keeps prices affordable, even when you venture into big data plans. But it also follows in EE's footsteps with impressive speeds across the UK, a tempting reward scheme and a well-thought out app to guide you through data caps, add-ons and more.
Compare the best Vodafone SIM only deals
If Three is a no-thrills affordable option and EE is a pricier feature-packed network, Vodafone sits comfortably somewhere in the middle. It will be perfect for those who like EE but aren't willing to match its prices but also find what Three offers to be a little too simplistic.
When you sign up to Vodafone, you get access to the network's app with the ability to manage data caps, add advanced security features (for an extra cost), keep an eye on how much data you have left and make use of the VeryMe feature.
VeryMe is Vodafone's secret weapon. It aims to match O2's Priority rewards scheme by offering free coffees, competitions, discount codes, data boosts and a whole lot more. Vodafone has even introduced a special offer every Friday, frequently collaborating with a big name company to bring you big discounts.
Vodafone covers a lot of different data caps and like Three, goes easily from 1GB through to unlimited with a lot of choice in the middle. While Vodafone isn't usually quite as cheap as Three, it frequently receives cashback from 3rd party retailers (such as Mobiles.co.uk and Fonehouse) meaning if you don't mind relying on cashback, you can get Vodafone very cheap.
While it won't be quite as fast as EE, Vodafone doesn't fall all too far behind when it comes to ping, download or upload speeds. Unless you're the kind of person using their phone for data-intensive tasks, this shouldn't be all too noticeable.
Vodafone is best for:
- People who want a well-rounded package of data, price and benefits
- Those looking for a strong reward scheme, competitions and more
- Anyone who likes EE...but not the price tags it carries
O2: heavy on the incentives
O2: at a glance
O2 is very similar to Vodafone as a network. It doesn't go quite as cheap as Three, nor is it as market-leading for speeds and features as EE but it takes the best of both worlds for a well-rounded package.
Also like Vodafone, O2's Priority scheme is an excellent reward system giving plenty of free gifts throughout your contract - especially for music fans. O2 then has a big advantage thanks to its wide collection of Wi-Fi spots scattered across the UK.
Compare the best O2 SIM only deals
O2, like the other three networks, has massively raised its game recently. Its prices have come down, its data packages have improved and it has gone all out on its incentives.
One of the major factors that stands out with O2 is its competition with Vodafone over which network has the best rewards scheme. O2's Priority rewards lands you early access to gig tickets, free coffees, competitions and more.
Those who go to a lot of live events will find O2's occasional offers on tickets and pre-orders to be a major incentive. Another worthwhile benefit of O2 is its Wi-Fi points.
Across the UK, O2 has over 15,000 Wi-Fi points to use in cafes, shops, restaurants and more. This means that even if you don't have a great data plan with O2, you're always able to connect when you're out and about.
When it comes to speeds, O2 has a performance that is incredibly similar to Vodafone. In a 2019 report from OpenSignal, Vodafone and O2 had almost identical outputs in video experience, 4G availability, latency and upload speeds.
O2 is best for:
- Fans of live music looking to score tickets
- Those who need to connect to Wi-Fi when they're out and about
- Anyone looking for a well-rounded plan with an affordable price