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Mobile Phone Networks in the UK

Updated on March 20, 2011

The Big Five Mobile Networks in the UK

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, there may come a time where you will need to use a foreign mobile company.

This got me to asking the question---well, what companies are out there?

In this hub, we will look at the five major UK mobile companies.

  • O2
  • Three Mobile
  • Orange UK
  • T-Mobile UK
  • Vodafone

There are scores of mobile operators services in the UK, but the five listed above (and now that Orange and T-Mobile have merged, four) are the companies that have built the actual physical networks.

All other mobile service operators in the UK are "Virtual Operators", which means that they use one of the big five's networks to get the job done.

So lets look at the basics of who these companies are.

If you want to know about their plans, phone, and coverage, I have a link section at the end of this hub to all five of the above mentioned UK mobile companies.



O2 UK has been around since 2002.

Today, it serves about 21 million UK residents with mobile services and a half a million in broadband services.

O2 was ranked highest in customer satisfaction for both UK mobile and broadband customers according to the J.D. Power and Associates UK Mobile and Fixed Broadband Studies 2009.

O2 is the second largest network in the UK today, having been recently usurped by T-Mobile/Orange's new "Everything Everywhere" merger company.

Three Mobile

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Three Mobile

As you can see to my right, Three Mobile has a knack for ad campaigns.

Their latest experiment being the "Human Hotspot", which is signified by their non-descript models in random places like a telephone booth, up top a bus, etc.

Three Mobile is also consolidating its radio access with Everything Everywhere, the company that is responsible for owning Orange UK and T-Mobile UK (also a product of a recent merger).

Three Mobile is also on the forefront, along with Orange UK, to make the IPad more convenient, accessible, and cheaper to subscribe to data plans.

Three is the UK market leader for mobile broadband.

Three has more than 6.2 million active customers in the UK and over 28 million worldwide. 

Orange UK/T-Mobile UK

Orange established itself as a mobile network in 1994 while T-Mobile really got its footing in the early 2000s.

Orange serves over 17 million UK customers.

Apple can thank Orange for being the first mobile network to bring the Iphone to the UK.

It is the number one Internet Service Provider in Europe and number three in mobile services.

This fact might explain why when you go to their website, it looks as if you've landed on MSN or Yahoo's main sites rather than demonstrating clear tell-tale signs of being a mobile service provider. 

T-Mobile has its own claims to fame.

T-Mobile was the first network, for example, to launch picture messaging in the UK in 2002. 

On its own, T-Mobile UK has about 13 million customers with 3G networks that cover about 99% of the UK population.

T-Mobile UK has won numerous awards for being the best mobile broadband service in the UK, and their G1 and G2 phones have also received awards for best handset and best new phone respectively in past years.

On July 1st of 2010, Orange merged with T-Mobile UK, which has made it the largest communications network in the UK.

The new company created through the combined forces of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK is now called "Everything Everywhere".



Vodafone has the distinction of being the first mobile network provider in the UK.

It's history goes all the way back to 1982 when its parent company, Racal Telecomms Division, won the private sector bid for the UK Cellular licence.

By 1987, Vodafone was the largest mobile network in the world.

In 1991, Vodafone launched the first GSM network in the UK, and as a result, the first international roaming calls were made possible due to an agreement reached with Telecom Finland.

Vodafone has many other firsts, They were the first to launch data, fax, and sms services in the UK in 1995. The first to offer pre-pay in 1996.

The first Blackberry Storm 9500 was built in an exclusive arraignment with Vodafone and became the first touch screen Blackberry mobile phone.

Better known as "Verizon" in the US, Vodafone UK remains one of the largest mobile networks in the world.

341 million mobile customers use this network on a daily basis globally.


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