You have a new phone and, being a sensible type, you went for an Apple iPhone. Congratulations. The cheapest way to buy and run an iPhone is always to purchase the handset outright, and then select from one of the main UK networks: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. You can access these networks direct or buy through a third-party such as GiffGaff.
Perhaps you can't front up the cash for an expensive iPhone, and instead wish to purchase via a 12-, 18- or 24-month contract. Either way, before you tie yourself to a specific network you will want to know which provides the best conntectivity. And that is where Macworld UK is your friend.
Earlier this year we undertook a unique country-long test of the four major networks. We tested 3G- and 4G mobile broadband using a selection of tasks designed to emulate iPhone usage and push performance to the limit. And we did so as we traversed the East Coast Mainline from Londong to Edinburgh and back over the course of two days.
There's more detail on how we tested at the bottom of this story, but suffice to say we put all four networks through their paces in the most difficult circumstances, simulating iPhone use. See also: Why you should upgrade to 4G for your iPhone.
Our test reveals what we consider to be the best network for iPhone, but you should also consider your own location. The experience of using cellular networks differs wildly from location to location. Here in the central London Macworld offices O2 coverage is spotty, but at my much more rural home it's strong. And the Three SIM I use for testing smartphones veers in and out of connectivity as I travel up to London each day.
All of the networks provide coverage maps, but as you would expect they never knowingly undersell their coverage. This article is a good guide for overall performance, but always try out your chosen network in the areas in which you will use it most, if you can. Here we outline the best 3G and 4G networks for iPhone so you can find the best network for iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and all older iPhones.
Here then, are the results of our best network for iPhone test, 2014. (See also: iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus comparison.)
Fastest network for iPhone
We found out that Three is the UK's fastest network for iPhone, on both 4G and 3G. In winning our test Three managed an average download speed of 6.19Mb, and an average upload speed of 1.54Mb. Three's fastest speed test result was 19.53Mb - not bad at all when we were traveling at high speed through mostly rural areas.
EE was the runner up, being the second fastest 3G and 4G network in the UK. O2 isn't far behind EE. Last but not least of the UK's best 3G- and 4G networks for iPhone is Vodafone. Its results were a little poor.
Best network coverage for iPhone
We measured coverage and reliability based on how many of the download, upload and video-streaming tests that each network completed as we traveled the country for two days. Three came out on top again, completing 90 percent of all tests. Again EE was our runner up managing 73 percent of tests. Then there was a big drop to O2 and Vodafone - each managed only 23 percent of our reliability test.
Best 3G for iPhone
Of the four 3G networks on test Three demonstrated the best performance. EE was good but not quite as good, and the 3G O2 dongle gave a strong performance let down by reliability. Vodafone managed to complete just 10 percent of all the task and had meagre average speeds.
Best 4G for iPhone
Three was the best 4G network, too. EE was not able to match Three on speed or coverage, but still performed well. O2 4G did beat EE in average speeds, unfortunately with only a 23 percent test completion rate it appears O2's network lacks the reach of EE. Vodafone 4G made up for the weak results of the 3G service with decent average- and peak speeds. Unfortunately it struggled to hold on to a signal.
Best network for iPhone 2014
So we can confidently say that Three is the UK's best mobile network of 2014. Both on 3G and 4G Three completed more tests than did any other network. Three was the fastest network with excellent average and peak scores in our speed tests up and down the country.
A very good runner up to Three in the UK's best mobile network of 2014 category was EE.
Best network for iPhone: how we tested
Each vendor provided us with both a 3G and a 4G dongle. During our two day return journey from London to Edinburgh we carried out 39 tests. Each test took place at exactly the same time, in exactly the same location. Tests included speed tests, video-streaming tests, downloads and uploads. For each test a maximum time was allowed.
This testing is not, by definition, absolute. It is designed to give a helpful snapshot of the networks perform in real-world conditions. (See also: iOS 8 tips & tricks: Our guide to iOS 8's features.)