Choosing the right phone can be hard enough, but finding the right mobile phone network or provider can be just as difficult.
When choosing a provider, it’s best to think about the activities you like to engage in when using your smartphone. Are you an avid streamer? Then look for packages that give you great deals on streaming platforms and TV networks. Or, maybe you’re a globe trotter. Then look into what providers have to offer in terms of roaming charges. Constantly scrolling through Instagram? Then data usage and rates should be at the top of your list.
As well as doing your research into your smartphones’ features and things like insurance for mobile phones, it’s important to understand what your provider is all about when it comes to coverage, data usage and speed, network reliability and additional charges for services like roaming and tethering.
If you’re wondering which mobile phone provider is the best for your needs, we’ve put together a list of some of the top providers in the UK to help you with your purchasing choice.
The mobile phone landscape debunked
There are so many different mobile providers out there that it often feels difficult to ‘navigate’ the landscape, let alone discover which one is right for you. When it comes to defining who are the big players versus the small ones there are a couple of key points that make this easier.
Firstly, there are four companies that are considered the major mobile providers in the UK:
These household names, otherwise referred to as ‘the big four’ are the only mobile businesses that own a part of the UK mobile spectrum. The spectrum comprises the physical signal your phone receives.
While most of these providers will claim that they offer the best coverage, in reality, this can vary depending on where you are in the UK, so it’s a good idea to check what signals are like for your specific region.
Secondly, any other provider in existence needs to partner with one of ‘the big four’ in order to get access to a signal to feed into their sims. This process is known as ‘piggybacking’ and the networks that do this are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).
Below is a list of the big four and which other providers piggyback off of them. For instance, if you’re wondering ‘which mobile phone network does iD use?’ then you can see that it’s powered by Three.
- Utility Warehouse
- Virgin Mobile
- SKY Mobile
- Tesco Mobile
- iD Mobile
While all of this seems to create an ecosystem where some mobile phone providers (mainly the big four) are able to offer better coverage and signals, this isn’t always the case. Some of the highest performing networks this year have in fact been MVNOs as they are essentially operating off the same networks and infrastructure as ‘the big four’.
Not to mention, many customers will choose these over larger mobile providers for a number of reasons including the deals, packages and the kind of mobile phone contracts they offer. Signal strength, coverage and speed of connectivity are just a few of the factors to consider when choosing a provider as there are often trade-offs in cost and package options with these.
The best providers for customer satisfaction and service
It may not be one of the first things you think about when choosing a provider, but it becomes apparent once you’re waiting in a queue of calls desperately trying to get through to a customer agent. How your customer queries are dealt with can make a massive difference to your experience with a provider, so it’s a good idea to do your research into how well each provider handles complaints and solves issues for its customers.
Every year, Ofcom sheds some light on customer service provided by the mobile phone industry. Major phone and broadband companies are weighed up and ranked based on customer satisfaction, number of complaints and fairness to customers.
This year, the telecoms regulator found that overall 93 per cent of mobile phone users were happy with the services they encountered, similar to the last year when this rate was also high. It also reported an increase in mobile reception from 87 to 84 per cent on last year. These general positive trends point to an industry that is catching up with technological advancements and customer demands. Within this, a few providers have managed to distinguish themselves above the rest when it comes to delighting customers.
Sky was included in the league tables for the first time this year and made quite a first impression. It had the fewest complaints, making it the provider least complained about among its peers.
GiffGaff topped the league tables with 96% of those surveyed claiming they were satisfied with its service, and 60% with complaints handling.
Virgin Mobile customers were more likely to be satisfied with their service reception and signal strength than average.
Although Tesco mobile reported less than stellar service satisfaction, it was one of the networks most likely to be recommended to a friend.
Best low-cost phone providers
When it comes to low cost without any fuss or frills, GiffGaff is the name in the game. The provider piggybacks off of O2’s strong network and its main offerings consist of 30-day sim-only packages for top phones like the iPhone XS and XR. They refer to these as ‘Goodybags’ starting from £5 which consist of 150 minutes, 500MB and 500 texts. How are they able to offer such great deals? Deciding not to invest in call centres probably has to do a lot with it – they use chat agents instead to field any account queries. Non-account issues have to be raised with the GiffGaff community made up of other users who will answer questions posed. When it’s all said and done, GiffGaff experienced higher than average customer satisfaction this year of 97 per cent when compared to other providers.
Owned by Carphone Warehouse, iD Mobile offers some of the cheapest sim-only deals in the UK at just £3.99 a month for some of the latest smartphone models like the iPhone 7, 8 and XR. These are all done by 30-day rolling contracts so this could be a great option for the commitment-phobes out there. Being part of Carphone Warehouse means iD can offer some of the best contract deals across iPhone, Samsung, Google, Nokia or Sony models. When it comes to data speed and coverage it’s a little behind as it operates off of Three’s network, which sits behind larger competitors like EE and Vodafone. That being said, it still performs reliably and is a great option for those on a budget.
While not a major player, the BT-owned provider still offers some of the most affordable sim deals on this list. From £6 a month you can get a contract of 500MB, 250 minutes and 500 texts. Plusnet may be more familiar to some consumers as a broadband provider and while it only came into the mobile sector in 2016, it has successfully put its stake in the ground. The provider offers good flexibility with contracts that last 30 days and that are changeable as well as data boosts of up to 2x. It also offers the ability to set a price cap on a monthly basis, which is good for those keeping an eye on their money.
With a customer base of over 5 million the supermarket chain’s mobile phone network is now a real contender in the mobile arena. There are some fantastic deals available for customers with sim-only packages starting from £7.50 a month, as well as contract phones and pay as you go plans. There’s also the chance to collect Clubcard Points that can be redeemed instore or used against vouchers for special offers and perks. When it comes to customer service, however, they’re perhaps not so hot. The most recent survey performed by Ofcom found Tesco Mobile to have some of the worst customer service scores sitting just behind Virgin Mobile.
Best of mid-range providers
SKY went live with its mobile offering in 2017 making it one of the newest entrants into the mobile phone space. Its newbie status aside, SKY is competing strongly and also garnered the fewest complaints among customers this year according to Ofcom’s league table. Sim-only deals include some of the top android phones like the Galaxy S10 and S9, S9+. It also has some compelling things on offer such as free calls and texts for SKY Mobile Only customers. It will also come as little surprise that SKY TV customers can grab the best deals here such as unlimited streaming for those with a TV package. One thing to note, however, is that data is charged separately from calls and texts, starting from £6 for 1GB. As to which mobile phone network SKY uses, it’s powered by O2.
Recently acquired by EE, BT is still finding its place in the mobile arena. Still, it offers contract and sim-only, stellar family plans and a £5 per month discount for broadband. As a member of the EE family, network, download and coverage speeds are also pretty great. Yet, it’s also one of the providers on this list with the most customer service issues, with Ofcom stating recently that it had higher than average customer complaints.
The world’s first mobile virtual network operator, offering services for over 20 years through EE. Now part of the Virgin Media family, it’s attempting a throw down with the big players by offering the most up to date in contract smartphones and sim-only deals with its ‘Jam Packs’ which start roughly around £10. Customers may also be chuffed to find out they get free usage of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter in the UK. What current customers aren’t so happy about, however, are how complaints are being handled with only 44 per cent stating they were satisfied with the outcome of their query.
Utility Warehouse Mobile
As the only provider on this list offering sim-only packages starting at £10 for 1GB of data, Utility Warehouse markets itself as ‘the biggest mobile provider you’ve never heard of’. Without any shops or direct marketing, you could say it’s the ghost of the mobile market but one that still offers some compelling deals. Some of these include mobile handsets on a two-year contract or as low as £1 per month, discounts for customers bundling with broadband and energy and data as an add-on incentive.
Best providers for coverage
The lovechild of a T-mobile and Orange merger owned by BT has grown to become the king of mobile providers in the UK. The mobile behemoth is generally considered the number one network for high-speed connectivity, reliability as well as call and text performance throughout the UK. EE offers a full range of contracts, sim-only and pay as you go deals with prices starting as low as £5 for PAYG and £14 for sim-only. They offer some of the best contracts on the latest iPhone XR with some starting from £20 a month. It also offers some great perks such as the first three months free on BT Sport and free access to Apple Music for 6 months. As EE’s network consists of old T-mobile and Orange frequencies, it also provides some of the best coverage across the UK with very few black spots. Ofcom and other similar entities have given EE top grades again this year with an impressive 10 complaints for every 100,000 customers and the second highest overall customer satisfaction score.
Alongside EE, O2 also offers one of the largest ranges of deals, some of the best coverage available and the latest smartphones on contract in the market. Over 99% of the population is covered with its network and offers flexible tariffs geared towards making upgrading cheaper. Of course, O2 isn’t necessarily the most price-sensible but it does offer a huge box of perks through their Priority app, with sweet deals like special freebies and concert tickets on offer.
Vodafone has been offering its services in the UK for over 30 years and much like the other ‘big four’ members, offers excellent coverage. Though the mobile phone giant offers more ‘high-end’ plans, it packs a punch in terms of bundling great freebies together. It’s Red Entertainment options, for instance, offer 30-50GB packages where you can choose to include Spotify Premium, NowTV, Amazon Prime and SKY Sports. It’s one of the best free-roaming providers out there for certain countries like Australia, Canada and the US while including calls to destinations around Europe. It’s had its fair share of bad customer reports over the years but has been recovering substantially from these.
As the smallest of the big four, Three differentiates itself with data-heavy plans that are affordable. Sim-only plans begin at £9 and also come with Go Roam, which allows you to use up to 15G of data in over 70 countries like the US or Australia. Three’s real USP is perhaps its ‘Go Binge’ feature allowing infinite data usage across a range of apps including Netflix, SnapChat, Apple Music and Sound Cloud. This is only available, however, for users on plans over 12GB of data costing £18 per month, so it’s not a cheap option. It’s garnered awards this year for the best roaming and most popular mobile network and scores the highest among ‘the big four’ with over 80% of its customer base rating it highly for value for money.
Protecting your mobile phone
Regardless as to which provider you decide to go with or if you, in fact, end up testing out a few, shopping for the right insurance for your mobile phone should be your top priority. This is especially true if you’ve gone for a higher value phone such as the latest iPhone XS or XR or a Samsung S10 or Note 9.
At Gadget Cover, we help you choose insurance for mobile phones that can protect you from financial loss resulting from common issues such as loss, theft or accidental damage to your device. Additionally, our policies can provide instant coverage start, protection for accessories and one month of cover for free. Get a quick quote from Gadget Cover and start protecting your mobile today.