"best" mobile carrier while in UK

While activating Pen Y Fan (GW/SW-001) yesterday I struggled to get a usable signal with my Pay as You Go O2 service on my iPhone 6. Understandably and as an SSB guy self spotting does get the activation started faster.

For future trips to the uk (Snowdonia, Lake District and fort william areas) what mobile carrier should I consider that will give me the “best” data coverage?

I think ‘EE’ (Everything, Everywhere) is the dominant UK carrier. To be fair, I don’t think that there is a ‘best carrier’.

You’ll struggle to make a smartphone work on most of the higher summits, data connectivity is much better on the lower hills.

I sometimes find that switching off 4G can improve service.

73, Colin

You’re holding it wrong! :grin:

There’s no best network but lots of choice. It’s difficult to advise as coverage maps often are highly inaccurate when you start climbing up mountains. I have a handful of PAYG Sim cards to get around the problem, my own carrier is Three and I have O2 and Vodaphone Sims. No EE here, can’t comment on them.

Just a thought -

A text often works when data doesn’t, would an SMS service be better?

I don’t think data coverage is the issue, it’s the high cell density that’s the problem, perfect for the lowlands and valleys, not so good on hills!

  • Colin

Coverage on hilltops is very hit or miss, as you will normally be relying on accidental coverage from cells intended to cover some nearby centre of population. Sometimes the phone will be confused by receiving a strong signal from a cell site which is too far away to meet the timing constraints for 2-way communication.

I don’t think there is a single “best”.

If you are buying a SIM for the purpose, consider a “global” SIM. There are several providers of these, and they will usually allow you to roam onto any of the UK networks (except Three, which is a bit different). As a bonus, you’ll get lots of other countries too. The British companies offering such SIMs will typically issue a number based in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, which run their telecomms independently of the UK.

My own solution is that my main everyday phone is on Three, and I have a spare old phone with a global SIM for when that doesn’t work. In this way I can take advantage of whatever coverage there is. I only use the global SIM for SMS spotting since I don’t have a data bundle on it, so the cost of this extra SIM is negligible. I find I only have to “top up” every 2 or 3 years. You can of course buy data bundles if that is what you want.

When I look at which carrier my global SIM actually picks up on a summit, none in particular seems to dominate, though I haven’t done a systematic survey. I’m pretty sure that O2, Vodafone and EE have all come to the rescue on at least one occasion.

As ultimate backup I have a DeLorme inReach which offers messaging via the Iridium satellite system and will work anywhere that you can find open sky, but that’s another story.

Martyn M1MAJ


As per Martyn M1MAJ. I’ve had similar problems on hills with “too much” coverage. I’ve sometimes solved the problem by going downhill on one side or another of the summit by just a few metres to shield myself from long range high power, but distant, cell towers and instead just pick up one or two which cover one side of the hill.

SMS spotting is definitely better. It keeps trying to deliver and often gets through when calls and data will not.


While previously taking part in some long distance challenges, the recommendation was…

"We recommend a simple unlocked phone and a MANX sim card, these work on all 4 UK networks and the credit does not expire. If not a MANX Sim then the phone should either use Vodafone or EE. Not O2 or Three"
Not sure if the “no credit expiry time” is still current, but maybe worth a look.

Well today I used 4 different networks from one summit, (DL/KW-008) and I only have 2 SIM cards in my phone!

Those 4 were Vodaphone Germany, O2 Austria, Telekom Germany and the main carrier in Austria I can’t remember who they are at the moment.

As said above, it just depends where you hold the phone and which side of the mountain you are on.

When travelling in the UK, I have a Vodaphone UK SIM, which normally gives me good coverage. If I can’t get coverage from that I let my T-Mobile (Telekom Germany) SIM roam and it usually picks up the EE network. On that basis the Vodaphone and EE networks appear to be the best when out in the country. In the towns any of the networks “should” work.

Now that the roaming charges within Europe have been reduced, it’s no longer worth the bother of getting a separate SIM in another country. Indeed just today a bill has been introduced to the EU parliment to remove all roaming charges for EU customers of any Cell provider in Europe.

In your case Paul, I would recommend Vodaphone or EE over O2 or Three. Just based on my experience in Northern England - of course Wales could be different.

73 Ed.

Oh heck… don’t start that discussion here… :slight_smile:

Thanks for all the advice and lots of options to think about for my next trip to UK/EU.

Cell coverage aside is APRS spotting via 2m an option while in UK?


If everything else fails, you can use this miracle solution that plugs into your earphone jack.
It surely can boost you HF signals too…


No come on Christophe, we’re amateurs, when we add an antenna - it should be one like this:
How we get that N-type connector into the inside of the smart phone, that could be interesting though!! Actually I’m adding one of these to my LTE 800 data modem at home.

By the way Paul, yes there is 2m APRS in the UK - whether you could have got to the stations from all of your SOTA summits might be a question though.

73 Ed.

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Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

But that’s a proper antenna to go with amps/preamps etc. for people who want to make a cell repeater to cover their local blind spots. Of course we wont talk about licencing such things…

Equally applicable as an external antenna for LTE-800 routers, for use in fringe areas.