Our latest survey has found that the UK’s biggest mobile providers fell short of consumers’ expectations yet again, with each of them being outperformed by smaller rivals that piggyback on their networks.
The Big Four mobile providers – O2, EE, Vodafone and Three – serve over three quarters of UK customers, according to regulator Ofcom. However, we found that the smaller providers that use the Big Four’s networks managed to consistently outperform them, particularly when it came to value for money.
O2 scored the highest of the Big Four providers, but this was only enough for ninth place out of 16. It received average scores across all categories, struggling to stand out in any area.
Meanwhile, EE and Vodafone also came in the bottom half of the rankings. While EE has more customers than any other mobile provider, its customers were not particularly impressed by its offering. It received a strong rating for download speeds but only managed average scores for other categories.
Vodafone performed well for network reliability, with the best rating of any of the Big Four, but elsewhere it failed to impress. It received the highest number of poor ratings for value for money, when compared with O2, Vodafone and Three.
Once again, Three received the lowest customer score of the Big Four, coming in a lowly 14th out of 16. Network reliability, download speeds and value for money were key weak points for Three. Its customers experienced more problems than any other provider, with nearly half having an issue in the past 12 months.
In our survey, all of the big four networks were convincingly overshadowed by smaller providers that use their infrastructure. GiffGaff piggybacks on O2’s network, yet easily triumphed over its larger rival – and it wasn’t the only O2-based network that managed to do better when it came to value for money.
EE was beaten by Plusnet Mobile, while Three was outdone by both Smarty and ID mobile.
This year, for the first time Vodafone was also surpassed by a virtual provider that uses its network. New survey entrant Voxi recorded an immediately impressive performance, while Lebara also had strong scores in key areas.
The highest scoring mobile providers are eligible for Which? Recommended Provider status, which also requires providers to offer reasonably priced Sim-only and contract deals – and precludes those that overcharge for bundled contracts.
With the cost of living currently increasing rapidly, excellent value for money and commitments to contract price freezes are particularly important.
If you’re coming to the end of your mobile deal, you should always consider it as an opportunity to make a saving, particularly if you have a contract that includes a handset. Some providers fail to reduce their price as soon as the handset has been paid for, essentially continuing to charge customers for a phone they already own.
Fortunately, Ofcom now requires all providers to notify customers when their telecoms contracts come to an end. We encourage all customers to look for Sim-only deals as soon as that notification arrives to ensure they don’t continue to be charged for a handset they’ve already paid for.
Switching mobile providers is now incredibly simple, courtesy of text to switch which Ofcom introduced in 2019. The aim was that it would make switching easier. When we asked those who have used it, most agreed it’s done the trick. Our guide on tells you all you need to know. Something else to consider when switching providers is how much they will increase your price mid-contract. We looked at , so you can find out who might sting you with extra costs as your contract progresses.If you’re out of contract and happy with your provider, but think you’re paying over the odds, it’s always worth haggling to see if you can get a better price. Keep in mind that this might involve you signing up to a news contract. Read our guide on the .