Mobile providers should be working hard for your money – that means offering good value, and a good service. But a Which? survey of over 3,000 mobile phone customers found that not only have nearly 40% been with the same provider for more than five years, the brands with the most loyal customers often receive low scores for value for money.
This is particularly true for customers with the Big Four providers (EE, Three, Vodafone, O2), where people often get caught in a contract cycle of receiving an expensive new phone contract every two years.
With a host of smaller providers offering plenty of data at low prices, along with useful perks like included roaming and data rollover, you could be missing out if your loyalty is going unrewarded.
Our survey produced customer scores and star ratings for 16 different providers. Read our round up of the best and worst mobile networks to see which came out on top.
Customers reluctant to leave the Big Four
The Big Four maintain a significant stranglehold on the UK mobile market, with millions of long-term customers.
Their customers are the most loyal, as 42% of Three customers and at least half of EE, O2 and Vodafone customers have been with them for more than five years. Despite this, their satisfaction and recommendation scores are generally lower than smaller networks.
Additionally, none of the Big Four made it higher than 10th (O2) out of 16 when rated for value for money.
Unfortunately for Three, its satisfaction rating was third-lowest, recommendation score was second-lowest and value for money rating was the lowest of any provider. Despite this, Three customers continue to be remarkably loyal.
EE and Vodafone performed only slightly better. EE was rated as the fourth lowest for satisfaction, recommendation and value for money, while Vodafone placed just one spot ahead in each category.
Overall, the Big Four’s legions of loyal customers are largely not receiving a great deal relative to the rest of the market.
For further advice on cutting your bills, such as haggling and understanding roaming chargers, check out our 10 ways to save money on your mobile phone bill.
Newer, dynamic options from virtual providers
Newer, smaller providers have to work hard to compete with the Big Four, which often results in not just cheaper deals, but also a better service.
Customers who are the most satisfied and likely to recommend their provider use these networks, but strangely are the least loyal. Only 5% of customers at smaller networks such as Lebara, Plusnet and Voxi have been with them for five or more years, and Smarty isn’t yet five years old, but all offer a service that pleases customers. The more established Giffgaff has managed to retain just over a quarter of its customers for five years or more.
Sometimes, it’s about weighing up what the right option is for your mobile usage. For example, Talkmobile has the 2nd-lowest satisfaction score and by far the lowest recommendation score. However, it achieved a strong value for money score that was higher than all the Big Four, but behind the top-performing smaller networks.
Even the ‘worst’ providers have potential upsides, so it’s important to search around for deals as you might find something suitable for your needs.
Benefits to look out for on virtual networks
To make their deals more appealing, mobile providers offer a variety of perks and benefits alongside calls, texts and data. These are some of the useful ones to consider:
- Smarty: a relatively new mobile provider, Smarty is owned by Three and runs on its network. Low-cost Sim deals set you back as little as £5 per month (on a three-month half price deal) and best of all, you get EU roaming included. Browse Smart deals to see what’s on offer.
- Sky Mobile: offers a range of Sim-only and contract deals, plus a data rollover ‘piggybank’ where any unused data at the end of the month is saved and can be used at a later date. Check out Sky deals to see if anything is suitable for you.
- Tesco Mobile: a perennial contender for Which? Recommended Provider status, Tesco has built a solid foundation of long-term customers. It uses O2’s network and commits to never raising prices mid-contract. View Tesco deals to see their latest offerings.
- giffgaff: the elder statesman of low-cost data, Sim deals start at £6 and Giffgaff offers 1 GB of reserve data on some packages if you use up all your monthly allowance. Look at Giffgaff deals to find out if you could save money.
You’ll also find it’s far more common to see one month contracts with smaller providers, which offer you the flexibility of easily switching contracts as your situations change. See below for more on switching mobile providers.
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How to switch mobile provider
Text to switch has made switching mobile providers easier than ever. You need a porting authorization code (PAC), which you get with a simple text message from your current network provider. Previously, to get a PAC you had to call your provider, who would often try to deter you from switching and make the process frustrating.
To switch and keep the same mobile number, text PAC to 65075. Your current mobile provider should send you a text within one minute, and the PAC lasts for 30 days. The text will also have important information such as any charges for early termination (although this won’t apply if you’re out of contract). Give the PAC to your new provider, which has to complete the switch within one working day.
To switch and change your number, text STAC to 75075 to receive your service termination authorization code, then follow the same procedure as if you’d received a PAC.
For more information on switching, such as how to switch if you’re in a contract, and how to choose a provider with the best signal, read our full guide on how to switch mobile provider. You can then use Which? Switch Mobile to find the latest best deals.
If you are unable to switch because you’re in contract, you may find there are other ways to save by maximizing any additional benefits on offer. For more on these, read our guide to seven mobile provider perks that can save you money.