Real-World Network Testing for the iPhone 6
Yes, I’m getting the iPhone 6. As I write this, the UPS truck is hurtling towards me, my latest gadget safely stowed. But I’m also taking the opportunity to re-evaluate my network of choice. You see, after spending the last ten years with O2, I’m fast coming to the conclusion that it’s time to move on.
But I’m also paranoid about being locked into a contact with a network that’s no good for me. All four have impressive coverage maps, but these are based on mathematical models rather than accurate measurements. As a result, the only way I can be sure is to try them out for myself in scenarios that I commonly experience.
As a result, I picked up four prepay nano SIMs, one for each of the major networks. I also bought a bundle for each (usually £10) that included enough voice minutes and inclusive data to carry out a reasonable amount of testing.
Using my unlocked iPhone 5 as a common test device, I then tried each SIM on my morning and evening commute. It’s roughly a 100 mile round trip through some major towns and patchy countryside coverage, and I was eager to find out just how far each network managed to penetrate these dead spots. When the iPhone 6 arrives, I’ll be performing these tests again.
During each train journey, I’d use the phone as I would normally - catch up on social networks, read articles on the web, and silently curse when I’d get knocked down to 2G. I’d also note how good the phone was at recovering to 3G, which has been a problem with my current network of late.
At each of my base locations, I’d also run a series of 3G speed tests. 4G is also available in some locations but, since the iPhone 5 only works on two of the four networks in that mode, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison - the complete picture will have to wait for the iPhone 6.
The Results So Far
My commute test rapidly managed to eliminate one contender - Three. As the youngest of the three networks, it’s no surprise that it would struggle in some of the more remote areas. O2 and Vodafone were pretty much a tie, but EE managed to surprise me with more blanket coverage than I’ve experienced elsewhere. This shouldn’t be a surprise either, as the business was formed through the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, with the two networks combining as a result.
Additionally, EE seemed to perform the best in 3G speed tests in all the locations I tested. My hunch is that it’s because their heavier data traffic has been offloaded to 4G, lightening the load on the older network.
That said, I’m going to need to do further testing, including side-by-side testing, once the new iPhone arrives
I use about 1GB of data every month, so I’d be looking for a data cap with double that to provide ample headroom if I need it. Voice call minutes and messaging allowance are much less of a concern.
All networks offer sim only deals, with a discount applied if I sign up for 12 months rather than a 30-day rolling agreement.
30 Day Deals
- O2, unlimited calls and texts, 2GB Data, 4G Ready, £22
- Vodafone, unlimited calls and texts, 1GB Data, 3G Only, £19.20
- EE, unlimited calls and texts, 2GB Data, 4G Ready, £18.99
- Three, unlimited calls and texts, 4GB Data, 4G Ready, £21
12 Month Deals
- O2, unlimited calls and texts, 2GB Data, 4G Ready, £20
- Vodafone, unlimited calls and texts, 1GB Data, 4G Ready, £16.50
- EE, unlimited calls and texts, 2GB Data, 4G Ready, £15.99
- Three, unlimited calls and texts, 4GB Data, 4G Ready, £18
Both EE and Vodafone offer 4G coverage at my home, whereas the other two networks do not. Additionally, EE has the most extensive 4G network in the UK at present.
This currently pegs EE as the cheapest provider for what I’m after.
At this early stage, I’m leaning towards EE as my next provider, based on a mix of coverage and cost. That said, my research hasn’t yet factored in the customer service quality of each network, any added value perks they offer, or the capability of their companion apps. At this stage, although a winner is emerging, my investigations will continue.