Steve McCaskill | Updated June 24th, 2022
EE is the UK’s largest mobile operator in terms of customers and has the fastest, most widespread 4G network of any operator. EE was the first to launch 4G back in 2012 following the merger of Orange and T-Mobile (remember them?) and has set the bar for the UK market ever since.
It has rolled out new features and network upgrades that have helped Britain catch up to other countries, and this is why BT bought EE for £12.5 billion in 2016.
This sounds like a ringing endorsement, but having the best network is only part of the equation. EE has a reputation for being more expensive than the competition, and other providers claim to have better customer service. So is the UK’s biggest network the best for you?
EE divides its pay monthly plans into three plan types: Essential, Smart and Full Works for iPhone. All the deals are 5G ready but as 5G is still not rolled out across the country you may find that your signal dips to 4G fairly frequently.
There is currently a choice of four Essential plans, with two 4G plans on 12-month contract and two 5G plans on a 24-month contract. If you have 5G in your area, it is well worth going for a 5G plan. Choose between data allowances of 160GB or 200GB, both costing around £20 per month. In comparison, the 4G plans offer just 1GB or 3GB of data and only cost fractionally less than the 5G plans.
The Smart plan comes with a choice of one Smart Benefit. These are free extras thrown in to your subscription that are usually charged at an extra monthly cost. Customers can choose from BT Sport Ultimate, a Video Data Pass, Roam Further, which permits you to use your monthly allowance in additional internal destinations, Apple Music, Apple TV+ or Apple Arcade. Customers that sign up for the Full Works for iPhone plan can choose three Smart Benefits.
All EE’s pay monthly deals with a handset are subject to the usual two-year contract. Data allowances range from 4G to unlimited and all plans come with unlimited minutes and texts.
EE also offers data-only SIMs for tablets and mobile wi-fi devices, with a range of allowances on a 30-day or 24-month basis.
If you’re looking for a pay monthly plan, then EE has a wide range of phones to choose from. This is especially true of high-end handsets, including the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, along with the Google Pixel 5 and the Microsoft Surface Duo. Flagship devices from Huawei, Sony and OPPO are also available.
There’s a degree of choice at cheaper price points, with the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy A21s and the basic Doro 8050 in EE’s catalogue. Nokia phones are no longer available as pay monthly with EE and don’t even think about the latest BlackBerry (what do you mean you didn’t know they still existed?).EE also has a good selection of refurbished handsets if you are looking for a bargain.
When it comes to handsets available with pay-as-you-go, EE offers a range of lower-end, affordable handsets from brands including Samsung, Motorola, Alcatel and Huawei.
EE stocks a handful of tablets, ranging from top-end productivity devices like the iPad Air and iPad Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab range, to the child-friendly Alcatel TKEE MID.
The brand also offers a superb selection of smart watches from Samsung and Apple, including the latest Apple Watch Series 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.
if you are looking to buy some sort of new home tech, such as a smart speaker, VR headset or games console, you can choose to take advantage of EE’s Add to Plan concept, whereby you can add the price of the product to your pay monthly plan and spread the cost over the duration of your contract.
Having made all the improvements to its network infrastructure over the past few years, EE has also been working hard on its customer service operations. It now answers 100 per cent of calls from its centres in the UK and Ireland, while it has also invested in an improved online chat service and a new My EE application, which provides 24-hour support.
Ofcom’s recent figures show that EE receives just three complaints per 100,000 customers, below the industry average of five, and an improvement on previous years. This is level with Three and O2, and better than Vodafone which has ten per 100,000. The best performance was from Tesco Mobile, which recorded just one.
When it comes to customer satisfaction, EE is on par with the industry average for overall satisfaction, satisfaction with reception and satisfaction with complaints handling.
There’s no getting away from the fact that outside of a sale, you do pay a premium for EE’s network. But there are plenty of extras included, such as the Smart Benefits range, which include free access to BT Sport and Apple Music.
Shared plans might be gone, but customers wanting a second SIM deal can claim a ten per cent discount on the price, and EE still supports tethering, which means you can use your phone’s connection to create your own wi-fi hotspot – perfect if you don’t have a wireless connection to hand.
And if you take out a home broadband subscription with EE as well, it will give you a mobile data bonus of at least 5GB and a ten per cent discount. EE offers a TV service as well, so if you’re looking to get broadband, TV and mobile, then it can be very beneficial to go through the one provider.
You can check EE's national coverage map on its website. Simply put, EE has the best 4G network of any UK mobile operator, available to 99.6 per cent of the UK population.
It is also making great strides with its 5G network rollout, with 5G now available in 160 towns and cities across the UK, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast, as well as smaller towns including Aylesbury, Colchester and Portsmouth. 5G offers speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and the provider is set to extend coverage still further over the next few years.
Independent testers RootMetrics have ranked EE as best in category for network reliability, network speed, data performance and text performance categories and for overall performance. This is the ninth time in a row that EE has come out on top in RootMetrics’ report.
If you want the best network in the UK, then it’s a no-brainer to go with EE. It has the fastest speeds, the best coverage, and the latest handsets. It also has a reputation for innovation: it was, for example, the first UK operator to offer wi-fi calling.
There are some nice perks, but you have to have a 5G plan to take full advantage. Other operators are catching up in terms of coverage and offer bonuses like free streaming and roaming without requiring you to sign up for the most expensive tier of plan.
If sheer network performance is your biggest criteria, then EE is the way to go. But if you’re looking at getting the most bang for your buck, it might be an idea to keep shopping around.