How To Check Your Mobile Network Coverage

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Mobile data information

It’s not unreasonable to expect decent mobile network coverage in your area. Whether you’re using your mobile phone for work, or you want to be sure that you’re getting the best signal quality possible from your monthly phone plan, you can use various tools to check network coverage in your area. We take a look at how to compare mobile coverage in the area you are living in, or moving/travelling to. In doing so, we’ll also show you how to use a speed checker and a postcode checker to test your coverage, and help you to make sense of the outcomes.

Understanding Network Coverage

Like any form of technology, mobile comes with its own set of technical terms. Before we dive in, it’s important to understand all of the crucial lingo surrounding the topic. Reading through our handy glossary of terms below will make understanding mobile network results that much easier:

  • Download speed: the rate at which data is transferred from its source to your mobile device. Some examples of functions influenced by download speed include streaming songs or videos, browsing the web and receiving Whatsapp messages.
  • Upload speed: The upload speed is the rate at which data can be transferred from a user’s mobile device to the internet. For most consumers, download speed might be more important than upload speed, however those who want to upload content like social media posts quickly will value this.
  • Latency: the term that refers to the delay between information originating at the network transmission end and when it arrives on a mobile device.
  • 2G, 3G, 4G & 5G: The generation of mobile networks. The G stands for generation and the higher the number the more recent the generation. 5G has launched in the UK, and the new network promises much faster upload speeds (especially in crowded areas), however more research is needed into the current level of coverage.
  • Geographic coverage: The level of coverage across the UK landmass.
  • Population coverage: The percentage of UK inhabitants that have sufficient signal to connect to a particular mobile network.
  • Availability: The proportion of time mobile network users experience a certain level of connection on a mobile operator’s network. Unlike geographic or population coverage, availability measures how often users can access a particular network, for example the 4G network.

What can affect network status?Network signal can go down for multiple reasons, including maintenance work or extreme weather damage. Most providers have a status checker through which you can search for updates about service interruptions in your area.

Network Speed Checker

A stopwatch for a network speed test

Telecoms regulator Ofcom provides an impartial tool to test the speed of mobile and broadband connections. The great news about this speed checker is that it’s very easy to use - all you need to do is press the button that reads start test. Once your speed checker results are ready, your download, upload and data delay statistics will appear in the details tab on your screen. The speed checker also gives you the availability of a number of common internet uses at the time of testing, including:

  • Web browsing
  • Online gaming
  • Internet phone calls
  • Video calling
  • Video streaming (HD)
  • Video streaming (4K)

Network Postcode Checker

Most leading mobile networks offer a service through which you can check the level of coverage in your current location, postcode or place name. Usually these services take the form of a handy interactive map on a provider’s website.

Ofcom offers a useful tool that helps you check mobile coverage across any network in areas where you live, travel or are moving to. The tool shows where coverage is likely to be available and how reliable it will be by drawing on Ofcom research into the signal strength needed to provide a high quality connection.

The Ofcom signal checker shows results across the EE, O2, Three and Vodafone network infrastructures. To use the checker you’ll need to take the following steps:

  1. Head to the Ofcom mobile and broadband checker.
  2. Enter the postcode you wish to search for or press the upwards facing arrow to share your current location.
  3. Click on the button that says check postcode.

You’ll receive results for voice and data coverage by mobile operator, topographical information allowing you to identify areas where there are natural obstructions to coverage (like valleys and hills), as well as indoor and outdoor coverage levels. The results are colour coded, with red representing a lower probability of coverage and green a higher probability.

Different signal strength for different generations of networkDid you know that any given location will receive different signal strengths depending on whether your device is connected to the 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G network?. When you use a postcode coverage checker or coverage map make sure you look for the generation of network you are after.

The Network Providers

All mobile phone signal in the UK is provided by only four mobile network operators. These four providers own the entire mobile network infrastructure of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - on which all other mobile carriers ‘piggyback’ for coverage. These other mobile carriers are piggybackers or MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators). If there is an issue or outage among one of the four network infrastructures it will affect the mobile carriers that piggyback on their signal.

Vodafone Coverage

Vodafone has the second highest geographic coverage of all of the networks with 79% coverage. Vodafone scored 87% for customer satisfaction with signal strength in Ofcom’s 2018 report, coming in at the industry average but behind the EE network.

You can use the Vodafone network status checker on their website to check coverage in your area by following the simple steps below:

  1. Head to the Vodafone network status checker page.
  2. Enter your postcode (or the postcode you are searching for) into the search bar or click on the compass signal to share your current location and click the search icon.
  3. You’ll then see your results showing the quality of coverage received across the 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks. There is also a distinction between outdoor and indoor coverage the level of strength will show up as either good indoors & outdoors, good outdoors only, limited coverage or no coverage.

Want more details about how Vodafone performs for coverage? Here are Vodafone’s OpenSignal results in 2018 for the key coverage marker averages:

Download Speed Overall 16.72 Mbps
4G Download Speed 20.07 Mbps
3G Download Speed 5.24 Mbps
4G Latency 40.6 Ms
3G Latency 66.81 Ms
Availability: 4G 79.45%

O2 Coverage

O2 doesn’t score well for geographic coverage compared to the other networks - with the lowest level of geographic coverage at 74% in 2018. O2 do well for customer satisfaction with signal strength however, scoring on-par with Vodafone at an 87% satisfaction rate (the industry average). However, the provider had the slowest 4G download speed of any of the big four mobile networks.

If you’re looking to test the level of mobile coverage for O2 in a given area, you can use their website. Follow the simple steps below to check for coverage:

  1. First you’ll need to head to the O2 coverage checker page.
  2. Enter your postcode or town into the top left-hand side of the screen.
  3. Press the enter key on your keyboard or press the search icon.
  4. Now you’ll receive your results! They will be broken down into three categories for 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G calling: Good indoors and outdoors, good outdoors, no service.
Download Speed Overall 13.17 Mbps
4G Download Speed 15.16 Mbps
3G Download Speed 4.76 Mbps
4G Latency 42.84 Ms
3G Latency 80.64 Ms
Availability: 4G 83.67 %

EE Coverage

Coverage comparisons at large point to EE as the clear winner for network coverage - in fact, the provider has the highest speeds and coverage levels across the big four networks, and the lowest latency levels. Unsurprisingly, EE also top the charts for geographic coverage at 84% in 2018.

In terms of customer satisfaction with signal strength, EE scored 88% in 2018 among those surveyed by Ofcom, which is just higher than the industry average.

You can use the EE coverage checker to assess the level of coverage in a given area:

  1. Head to the EE coverage checker.
  2. From there you’ll need to enter the postcode you want to search for into the search bar or click on the compass icon if you want to check your current location.
  3. You’ll then see your results rank from low to high signal across the 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks.
Download Speed Overall 25.64 Mbps
4G Download Speed 29.02 Mbps
3G Download Speed 7.78 Mbps
4G Latency 40.35 Ms
3G Latency 65.8 Ms
Availability: 4G 86.62 %

Three Coverage

Three do well for geographic coverage across the UK with 78% coverage in 2018, coming in just behind the Vodafone network.

Three scored the lowest for customer satisfaction with signal strength at 82%, 5% lower than the industry average. Three does well for download speeds overall, beaten only by EE.

For those wanting to check the level of mobile phone coverage they’ll receive from Three, its coverage and network status checker is the place to go. Network status can also be gauged here too - so if there are any service disruptions in your area you’ll find more information available. It’s easy to use, just take the steps below:

  1. Enter the desired postcode into the search bar and then press the search icon.
  2. You’ll then see your results divided into 3G and 4G coverage and they will receive a score of either indoor & outdoor, outdoor coverage or no coverage.

Check out the breakdown of Three network coverage below:

Download Speed Overall 16.73 Mbps
4G Download Speed 22.55 Mbps
3G Download Speed 6.9 Mbps
4G Latency 47.23 Ms
3G Latency 71.91 Ms
Availability: 4G 86.62%

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