EE is the UK’s biggest 4G mobile network and has been in the 4G game longer than anyone else. Created when T-Mobile and Orange joined forces, it’s now owned by BT, yet hasn’t been absorbed into BT’s BT Mobile brand.
Instead, EE carries on pretty much the way it’s always carried on, with its ongoing series of always-entertaining Kevin Bacon ad campaigns and an emphasis on media streaming and high performance. But while EE still makes a lot of money pushing the year’s hottest phones at the UK’s fastest speeds, how does the network work out in practice?
EE review: What do you get?
While prices will always vary, EE isn’t necessarily the cheapest place to get the latest phones. It’s cheapest monthly plan for the Samsung Galaxy S9 with 10GB of data comes in at £58 per month plus £50 upfront, where Three will flog you the same phone with 12GB for £49 per month plus £79 upfront. Over two years that’s a difference of nearly £250. It’s a similar story with the iPhone X at £73 plus £100 for 10GB from EE, £66 plus £79 for 12GB from Three or £69 plus £49 for 40GB from Vodafone – you could save nearly £200 by going for Three.
When it comes to SIM-only deals, EE goes big on generous amounts of data. At £11 and £14 its 250MB and 1GB plans seem overpriced but move up to £17 a month and you’re looking at 10GB and unlimited texts and minutes, with 20GB or 25GB if you’re prepared to spend £22 or £26 a month. The only problem is that other networks still offer more data at a similar price – and sometimes less. Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff and EE’s stablemate, BT Mobile, all offer 20GB for under £20 while three will give you 30GB for the same money. EE sweetens the deal with extras like six months of Apple Music and 24 months of BT Sport through the app, but if you’re just looking for the most data for the least monthly outlay, EE isn’t your best bet.
SIM-only tariffs compared
EE used to offer shared SIM plans where you could run up to five SIMs from one account. These have, however, been discontinued. If you’re interested in having the whole family on one contract, BT Mobile is a better option.
EE review: Coverage and connection speeds
EE isn’t the cheapest network, but it’s still the fastest. For one thing, it caps its standard 4G service at a speed of 60Mbps – double BT Mobile’s standard 30Mbps. For another, the Max plans sold with higher-end EE phones push that maximum speed further to a ‘4G+’ 90Mbps, while the £2 per month Go Faster add-on can do the same for other EE plans.
Admittedly, coverage for 4G+ – or LTE-Advanced as it’s normally called – isn’t anywhere near as widespread as regular 4G, so you’ll only benefit from the extra speeds in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh and a few other major UK cities. What’s more, applications that actually need that much speed are thin on the ground; after all, you can stream 4K video on a 25Mbps home broadband connection.
That said, EE does have the UK’s strongest network right now, topping RootMetric’s UK-wide performance tables for the second half of 2017 on speed, reliability, data connectivity, texts and calls. Coverage is excellent, with Fast or Faster ratings in the vast majority of areas, with just a few slow spots in Wales, Scotland and the South West and East coasts of England standing out. Access to 4G services is more widespread than with any other service, and that’s something worth considering if you live and work outside the major metropolitan areas.
EE review: Roaming
Like all the major UK operators, EE offers inclusive roaming within the EU plus other states within the EEA and EE’s Europe Zone. If you’re on one of EE’s Max plans you can also make calls and use your data allowance in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA. In both cases a fair usage policy applies, where using more than 15GB will see you hit with further charges of 78p per 100MB, while you’ll need to pay for add-ons to continue using data beyond your normal allowance.
If you use the cheaper EE Essential or SIM only plans, you can also splash out on a Go Further add-on at an extra £10 per month to cover the countries mentioned above. However, you have to take this add-on for a minimum 6 months, making it a bit of a pricey sledgehammer/walnut effort if you’re just off to Florida on holiday.
In other places, or if you don’t want the add-on, roaming gets expensive. Calls tend to be between £1.20 and £1.80 to make or receive with texts at 40p to 60p. Want data? That’s another add-on at £6 per day for 500MB. If you’re a frequent traveller outside EE’s preferred territories, Three and Giff-Gaff offer far cheaper roaming options.
EE review: Other services and spending caps
EE has a handy Wi-Fi calling feature, where you can make calls and send texts over a Wi-Fi connection in places where you might not usually get a signal. This doesn’t actually save you money in the way that using a Voice over IP app like WhatsApp, Facetime or Facebook Messenger would, as both calls and texts come from your monthly allowance, but it means you just make and take calls the usual way, which comes in particularly useful if, say, you live in a remote area or work in a basement office. However, it’s only supported on specific phones, so check your handset’s supported before you sign up.
EE also throws in some nice extras, including 6 months of free Apple Music and 24 months of BT sport, plus a 50GB data boost if you’re also an EE Home broadband customer.
If you’re looking to control your spending, EE makes it relatively easy. Data usage is capped at your allowance and to use more you have to actively purchase a data add-on for between £5 and £20. Parents worried about their offspring burning through more data can simply ask to block additional data purchases.
EE review: Verdict
EE provides a good service with excellent coverage at impressive speeds – and particularly if you opt for the data-heavy Max plans. You pay a premium for that performance, however, and if you’re happy with a slower 30Mbps 4G connection then BT Mobile puts you on the same network for less. EE is a great option for those who live and work through their smartphone, but not the best if you’re looking for value.