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13 Sep 2021

5 reasons why you should switch from a 'big four' network for your next contract

Find out how to save money and get better service by choosing a virtual network
woman on the phone looking at an energy bill

There are over 80 million active mobile subscriptions in the UK, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom, and the overwhelming majority of customers are with one of the 'big four' networks - EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

It's easy to be reassured by a big brand, but virtual networks have to work harder for your money, and do so by offering extremely competitive alternatives.

Read on for five reasons why you should switch from a 'big four' network for your next contract.

Browse the best mobile phone contract and Sim-only deals at Which? Switch Mobile

1. You'll get a better deal with a virtual network

The big four are often at the more expensive end of the market, particularly at low data packages.

Ofcom estimates that the majority of people use less than 4GB a month, and typically, larger providers charge higher costs to subsidise the cost of their higher data packages.

When we looked at the average price for each provider for data allowances between 2GB and 5GB, the big four, on average, charged just over double what virtual networks were charging - £15.25, compared to £7.41.

Even at higher data amounts between 10GB-20GB, the big four still charge more on average - £16.75 compared to £12.36.

And some great special offers

In order to attract customers, virtual providers are often running deals on their packages which can mean extra savings.

For example, if you go through Which? Switch Mobile, you can get SMARTY's 12GB plan at half price for the first three months and Lebara's 1GB plan at 99p for the first month. Both deals are on a flexible rolling monthly contract.

2. Virtual networks may offer better customer service

In our most recent customer satisfaction survey, each of the big four offered average to below-average customer service, with none of them scoring higher than three stars.

Virtual networks fared better. Although there were some outliers, such as ASDA Mobile and Virgin Mobile, on the whole, customer service was rated more highly - including Tesco Mobile and Utility Warehouse achieving four stars.

The same was even more apparent when we checked the average value for money star rating, with virtual networks scoring an average of 3 and a half stars - a full star higher, on average, than the big four.

3. Your network coverage shouldn't suffer

For many people, good reception is the true hallmark of performance when it comes to choosing a mobile provider.Since virtual networks use the infrastructure on offer from one of the big four anyway, you can expect similar performance to that parent network.

For example, iD Mobile and SMARTY both use Three's network, whereas ASDA Mobile and Virgin Mobile both use Vodafone to carry their signal.

Therefore, if you were to switch to a virtual network that uses the same network you're currently on, your signal experience should not change.

While traffic management policies can apply with some providers and heavy users may see speeds capped to help data traffic flow more easily, the overwhelming majority of customers should not notice a difference.

Check the table below to find out which signal your provider uses, and check our mobile network coverage map to find out what the signal looks like in your area.

BT MobileGiffGaffVoxiID Mobile
Plusnet MobileSky MobileASDA MobileSMARTY
Utility WarehouseTesco MobileVirgin Mobile

4, You'll pay less to have a flexible contract

A key selling point for virtual networks is cheap 30-day deals, something you will be hard-pressed to find with a big four network.

For example, O2 offers 3GB of data for £18 on a 30-day contract but Giffgaff, which uses the same network and is actually partly owned by O2, charges £8 for what is essentially the same package.

Similarly, Vodafone offers 5GB for an eye-watering £28 a month, whereas Lebara Mobile, which uses Vodafone's signal, has a 6GB package and charges just £10 for a similar experience, on a much more flexible contract.

So if you are looking for a flexible contract, virtual networks offer considerably better value than the big four.

Browse flexible 30-day Sim-only deals on Which? Switch Mobile.

5. More virtual networks are getting involved with 5G

You may be tempted to go for a big four network because you think they are the only ones who offer 5G deals, but that's no longer the case. Most virtual networks also offer 5G deals now and often, at no extra cost.

For example, iD Mobile is currently offering a 24GB 5G data plan for just £10 a month on a flexible one-month contract. This deal shows that you can get blazing fast 5G speeds for far less than the big four are currently offering.

Check out all the latest 5G Sim-only deals on Which? Switch Mobile