When it's time to choose the best mobile network how do you know which is the best network provider in the UK?
From giffgaff to Plusnet and Sky mobile there are many options and even more questions. Which mobile network has the best prices, the right data roaming package for you or the perfect coverage? Who are ID Mobile and BT mobile? There might be many mobile networks in the UK which you didn’t even know existed.
With so many questions, so many things to consider and so many networks to choose from, it can get very overwhelming and confusing... and this is just the technical side of things. Maybe you’re also wondering how Brexit will affect roaming?
No need to worry, Selectra has answered all these questions and more for you, right here. Read on to find out everything you need to know about getting the best mobile network.
When talking about the best mobile network it might be important to note that in the UK there are actually only four mobile networks.
They are EE, O2, Three and Vodafone and all the other ones are their “piggybackers”.
What is Piggybacking?
Piggybacking is when instead of having and using their own mobile network space, companies use the space of the bigger providers under a different brand name.
Some of these “piggybackers” include giffgaff who piggybacks off the O2 network, Plusnet who piggybacks off EE, TalkTalk and Sky Mobile who will soon both run off the O2 network, plusmore which we discuss below.
When choosing the best mobile network, price is one of the main factors considered by customers, and giffgaff has a lot to offer in this department. Part of the Telefonica network, they offer great SIM-only deals, which they call giffgaff goodybags. And if you're thinking about taking your phone abroad, they have some tremendous roaming plans.
If you prefer, you also have pay-as-you-go options. Plus all members get free texts and calls to other giffgaff members. Nice one. You can easily manage all of this using your 'My giffgaff' account. Just when you thought that this was all giffgaff had to offer, there’s more - giffgaff recently won Network of the Year 2019 at the uSwitch Annual Mobile Awards.
So does this make them the best mobile network or are the other ones still worth considering? Read on to find out.
Plusnet is a smaller network that piggybacks off the bigger EE network. All customers have Plusnet webmail with their own Plusnet login. Apart from this, Plusnet mobile has some great prices to offer its customers with their SIM-only plans and some other perks such as data rewards for customers who have existing Plusnet broadband plans.
In terms of roaming, Plusnet offers a plan which allows you to continue using your mobile phone as if you were at home. This roaming option covers countries in the European Union.
Starting out as a network which offered broadband, phone and TV deals, TalkTalk has expanded to offer mobile deals too and is a great option if you are after a SIM-only deal and you already have a mobile phone you want to keep using.
The downside is that you can't actually get a TalkTalk mobile plan ONLY; it must be accompanied by one of their bundles such as a broadband bundle.
Sky Mobile is an O2 mobile network piggybacker which tries to stand out from the crowd by offering rollover data.
What does this mean? It means that if one month you don't use up all your available data, that data will be transferred to your plan the following month and you will have more data to use!
Another good point about Sky Mobile is the flexibility of their plans. Even if you sign a contract for a particular plan, you can later change your mind and choose a different plan.
With Vodafone you have the option of 24-month contracts which offer different data allowances depending on your needs. These contracts also come with some extra options such as access to Spotify, Sky Sports Mobile or NOW TV which could be great if you are prepared to pay a little bit more for extra perks.
If you are not after a long-term contract, you also have SIM-only and Pay As You Go options. There are also many options for the handsets as you can choose from the latest and fanciest mobile to more basic models.
Some downsides of Vodafone are that it's not the cheapest provider and they haven't been doing very well in terms of customer service either, being ranked the worst provider of customer satisfaction for seven years in a row.
ID Mobile is a Three network piggybacker, and some of their benefits for customers include relatively low prices and lots of extras. With ID Mobile you can choose from monthly, PAYG and SIM-only plans.
Your data will also be rolled over each month if you have any left over, which is great, but not so great is that they don't offer huge amounts of data in the first place. So if you’re a data addict, ID Mobile probably isn't the best choice for you.
While there is not much information on customer service specifically for ID Mobile, apart from some poor reviews on coverage, their host network Three has a below average customer service rating.
BT Mobile is an EE piggybacker that offers fantastic coverage to its customers in the UK. Some other benefits that customers can enjoy include joining rewards and incentives. With BT Mobile, customers won't be able to benefit from data rollover, PAYG options or any free data schemes.
Something else that customers may not be able to enjoy is great customer service as customers are rating BT Mobile as below average for customer service. However, they are available 24 hours a day if you do want to contact them by phone or live chat.
EE, the result of a merger between Orange and T-Mobile, is one of the biggest mobile networks in the UK. While they’re not the cheapest network, customers can take advantage of some of the fastest speeds, the best mobile coverage and industry standard customer service.
Being the EE's largest provider in terms of number of customers, EE has a lot of customers to take care of and a lot of room for customer service mistakes however,
they have been doing quite well in this area. They have been improving their customer service and they are below the industry average for the amounts of complaints they receive.
They were also the first provider in the UK to introduce wifi calling, so they’re innovative too!
Lebara mobile is a Vodafone piggybacker which focuses on international communities who frequently make phone calls to friends and families in other countries. It offers SIM-only plans but nothing else.
Lebara has a very specific target market and if you’re not a regular international caller,you should probably consider other options.
Although there isn't a lot of information about their customer service, the customers who have rated Lebara are relatively happy with them (especially for a smaller provider).
Three is another of the top four networks in the UK which offers customers a wide range of choices in terms of unlimited data, monthly plans and PAYG plans.
Three has definitely thought about their data- and streaming-addicted customers. If you are a data-hungry person, Three could definitely be a great option for you.
If you have an appetite for movies and music, you also have some great options for streaming without eating up your data allowance.
Even if you are not a big consumer of data, Three has also considered you and provided some affordable Pay As You Go packages.
Although Three has received some complaints, customers are relatively happy with the customer service they receive, and the plans they are able to choose from.
Tesco has some unique options for customers as the company was the first supermarket to enter the mobile market. Apart from having an above-industry standard customer satisfaction score, Tesco also offers its customers Clubcard points for their shopping, and discounted family plans.
You can choose from a range of plans, SIM-only deals, and PAYG options.
Although O2 is now owned by a Spanish company, it is still one of the UK’s top mobile networks. It offers its customers a range of different plans to choose from including PAYG, SIM-only deals and more.
Customers also have a big choice of handsets with the latest and fanciest mobiles to cheaper brands and even second-hand phones.
Customers can also expect some unique benefits for ticketed events with a service called O2 Priority where customers get a range of selected offers, access to the O2 lounges during events and fast access to skip the queues.
Customers are quite happy with the customer service they receive from O2 and have rated it as the third-best provider in the UK based on customer service.
The well-known Virgin brand also has a lot to offer its customers in terms of its mobile networks. Customers can choose from a range of monthly, SIM-only and PAYG plans.
Overall, Virgin does well when considering many of the important factors in choosing your mobile network provider such as prices, roaming, coverage and customer service.
ASDA Mobile gets its coverage by piggybacking off EE Mobile. It is a simple provider which offers basic PAYG SIM-only deals to its customers for texting, data and phone calls.
So if you are interested in having the latest phone on a long-term plan, ASDA probably isn’t the best option for you. It would be better suited to those who just want to buy the data, minutes and texts that they need.
ASDA Mobile may not offer a lot of data but they make up for it with an impressive 4 out of 5 stars rating for customer service - quite impressive for a small and simple provider.
Lycamobile (an O2 mobile piggybacker) is proud to call themselves the largest international mobile network. They have a range of different mobile plans to choose from, depending on your needs, and have received generally positive feedback from their customers.
Lycamobile customer service gives customers a few different options to get in touch, such as through their app, by phone or by email. There isn't a lot of data on customer service but from the information that is available, customer service reviews are a mixed bag.
Voxi (launched by Vodafone) has its own unique target market: the under-25s. In an attempt to make themselves more attractive to this generation, their plans focus on social media. All their customer service is done online and there are some other “cool” perks.
For some people, the fact that all the customer service is done online could be an issue but since Voxi is aimed at technology-savvy young people, they probably prefer this.
Voxi could be a great option for young people or parents looking for a good deal for their older children.
Smarty, run by Three, is a simple straightforward network with just five SIM-only options. If you already have a mobile phone and are looking for a simple and affordable deal, Smarty could be perfect for you. Since Smarty is quite a new provider, there is not a lot of information about their customer service available but from what is available, it looks like customers are giving it an average rating.
FreedomPop is probably the only mobile network provider to offer plans that are completely free. Yes, that’s right - completely free. FreedomPop offers some plans which don’t need to be paid for at all, but don’t expect much from these.
If you are using a free plan, you might sometimes have to put up with a weak signal or crackly phone calls. They do also offer paid plans where you might have better results. Some of the customer service reviews aren't great but for a network that has some free plans, this probably isn't too surprising.
POP Telecom is a small, family-owned mobile network which offers phone and broadband deals. It focuses on simple services and has some very specific target markets, from elderly people to gamers.
Having a look at some customer service reviews will tell you that customers are not too happy. You can only contact them during normal business hours but the website will tell you that they are always available.
If you fit into their target markets though, it could be an option, but be wary as apart from the disappointing customer service review, POP telecom also had a small legal hiccup not too long ago where they didn´t file their accounts.
Will the Brexit vote affect my mobile phone plan?
Being charged extra within reason is one thing, but being charged unnecessarily is another. To avoid incurring any additional roaming charges, it is useful to understand how Brexit may affect your rights.
You might remember when the European Union removed roaming charges for UK travellers to other EU countries and vice versa for European travellers to the UK and maybe now you’re wondering if this will change again when the UK leaves the EU.
Well, the good news is that with Brexit, there should be a transition period. This means that there will be no changes in regulations related to mobile roaming in the EU. Some more good news is that this period may be extended another year or two.
So for now, your mobile plan will not be affected and you will not have to pay extra.
I have unexpected extra charges on my mobile phone bill - what do I do?
If your mobile network provider charges you for roaming when they are not supposed to, you have the right to contest these charges. You first step should be to contact your mobile network provider to register a complaint.
Deciding which mobile phone network is the best for you isn’t always easy. There are many factors to take into consideration and some networks may be better or worse than others in some aspects.
For example, if you’re a big data user, with a network like giffgaff, Virgin, Three Mobile, Smarty Mobile or Lycamobile, the sky's the limit, and any of them could be a good option for you.
If you’re someone who feels anxious when you don't have a perfect signal, it might be a good idea to pick your mobile network based on who gives the best mobile coverage. In this case, the top four (EE, O2, Three, Vodafone) do a fantastic job. If you choose one of their piggybacker networks, you can also feel confident that you will receive the best mobile coverage. The only issue with choosing a network that piggybacks onto one of the top four is that if there is an issue with the main network, the piggybackers will also suffer.
Depending on which plan you want, some providers outperform others. If you are after a cheap SIM-only deal, we recommend you check out ID Mobile or Plusnet. If you want a fancy mobile and a monthly contract, try O2, Vodafone or BT Mobile. If you want to make international phone calls on a regular basis, Lebara Mobile could be a great choice.
As you can see, choosing the best mobile network for you is a complicated task and many factors should be taken into consideration. We hope our review makes this decision a little easier!