By Steve McCaskill | Tuesday, January 15th 2019
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 phone plans into two distinct groups – Essential and Max. Essential is the cheaper option and offers customers unlimited minutes and texts alongside 4G speeds of ‘up to’ 60Mbps. When you consider that most entry-level fibre (home, not mobile) broadband speeds register at ‘up to 38Mbps’, EE’s entry-level speeds are pretty quick by anyone’s standards, but even they’re not the fastest that EE can deliver.
For this you’ll need an EE Max plan, which offers speeds up to 150Mbps and allowances up to 100GB. This has all the benefits of the Essential range, but adds roaming in five non-European destinations, including the US and Australia, and three months of BT Sport. EE has switched on 429Mbps in some locations (although this is extremely limited at present) – quite an upgrade!
Most pay monthly deals with a handset are subject to the usual two-year contract, although there are some attractive SIM-only deals ranging from a paltry 250MB a month to a huge 40GB that last just 12 months. These all come with unlimited texts and calls too.
EE also offers data-only SIMs for tablets and mobile wi-fi devices, with a range of allowances on a 30-day, 12-month or 24-month basis. Unlike its smartphone deals however, there is no distinction between ‘Essential’ and ‘Max’ and all users are given access to 60Mbps as standard.
Unfortunately, EE has discontinued most of its shared plans which allowed users to use their allowances across multiple devices.
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 X and iPhone 8 models, the recently-announced Samsung Galaxy S9, and the Google Pixel 2. Flagship devices from Huawei, Sony and HTC are also available.
There’s a degree of choice at cheaper price points, with the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy A3 and Nokia 3 in EE’s catalogue. But the OnePlus range isn’t stocked, and don’t even think about the latest BlackBerry (what do you mean you didn’t know they still existed?).
The pay-as-you-go selection is much more limited, with customers restricted to low-end smartphones like the Nokia 2 and Samsung Galaxy J3. But if you’re looking for a feature phone, like the rebooted Nokia 3310, then you’re in luck.
EE also stocks tablets, ranging from top-end productivity devices like the iPad Pro and Samsung Galaxy Tab range, to smaller, media-focused slates like the Alcatel Pixi 3. EE is the only operator to support the Apple Watch series 3, the first Apple smartwatch to offer built-in cellular connectivity, while there are a range of accessories such as the Google Daydream VR headset and Apple HomePod to purchase.
EE’s forays into action cams may be over, but there’s no questioning the range of devices you can connect to its 4G network.
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 access to live sport through the BT Sport app and six months' free Apple Music with every contract. What’s more, any streaming or downloading on the service doesn’t count towards your monthly allowance.
Shared plans might be gone, but 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, it will give you a mobile data bonus of at least 5GB. 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.
Sadly, EE Wednesdays, which famously offered 2-for-1 cinema tickets, is gone for good.
You can check EE's national coverage map on its website. Simply put, EE has the best 4G network of any UK mobile operator. Its basic LTE service is available to 99.6 per cent of the UK population, although it must be noted that double speed 4G is largely limited to urban areas and 4G+ is restricted to certain parts of major cities at the moment.
While the initial focus of 4G rollout was on population coverage, EE is now making a big deal about ‘geographic coverage’ in a bid to push home its advantage. Its network is now available to 90 percent of the UK landmass and the operator wants to increase this to 95 percent by the end of the decade. This is not only good news for mobile customers, but could be a lifeline for 580,000 premises that cannot access fixed broadband faster than 10Mbps.
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 4G network 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 4GEE Max 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.