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1 October 2020

How to switch mobile provider

Find out how to switch to a better mobile network provider with our expert advice
Happy woman looking at phone
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Hamse Yusuf

If you’re fed up with the service you’re getting from your mobile network provider, there has never been a better time to switch. 

Our guide can help you find a better mobile deal, keep your number, and make sure you get good reception.

Read more: how to find the best mobile deal

How to switch mobile provider if you're out of contract

In order to switch, you need a porting authorisation code (PAC), which you get from your current network provider.

Previously, in order to get the PAC, you had to call your provider, which would try its hardest to dissuade you from switching and make the process as frustrating as possible.

However, if you’re out of contract, switching has never been easier with the introduction of text-to-switch by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom.

How to change mobile network and keep the same number

To switch and keep the same mobile number, you 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).

You then give the PAC to your new provider, which has to make sure the switch is completed within one working day.

How to switch mobile network and get a new number

Although most people choose to keep their number when switching mobile network, around one in six don’t, according to Ofcom statistics.

If you’re one of those people but want to switch without speaking to your existing provider, text STAC to 75075 to receive your service termination authorisation code, and then follow the same procedure as if you’d received a PAC.

How to switch mobile provider if you're in a contract

If you’re in a long-term fixed mobile contract, your switching options are limited, but there are a few things you can do if you want to move to a new mobile provider.

If, during the term of your contract, you experience a price rise above the rate of inflation (which usually is around 1-2%), you’re entitled to switch away penalty-free, as long as you do so within 30 days of being notified.

You could also try haggling with your provider. Although it’s not obliged to reduce the cost of your contract while you’re in contract, it’s worth explaining your concerns to see if there’s anything it’s willing to do to help. Read our guide on how to haggle with your mobile phone provider for more tips and advice.

Outside of these two methods, switching in contract can be a costly procedure. In an extreme example, if you took out a 36-month contract and then chose to cancel in the second month, you’d most likely have to pay for 34 months of payments. On top of that, there may be additional fees associated with cancelling your contract.

How to choose a mobile network with the best signal

Aside from price, mobile signal is often cited as the biggest factor in why people choose to switch. Although there are a lot of factors affecting whether you get a good signal, your choice of mobile network can be the biggest.

Try to buy online

When you’re looking for a new mobile contract, consider buying it online. This is because, under consumer law, contracts entered into online are subject to a 14-day cooling-off period, which means you can leave and switch away without incurring any charges. This can be helpful if you find your new network has worse reception in your area, for example.

Mobile contracts you sign up to in store aren’t covered by a cooling-off period. If you prefer going in store to get advice, you can still do so – but when you’ve reached a decision, simply complete the purchase at home so you get the automatic 14-day free cancellation.

Despite in-store purchases not getting an automatic 14-day cooling-off period, some mobile networks with store presences do allow you to cancel penalty-free, under certain conditions. For example, EE allows you to switch away from mobile contracts taken out in store if you experience coverage issues.

Do a trial with a cheap or free Sim

You could also buy a cheap pay-as-you-go Sim from a local shop that runs on the network you’re considering moving to, add some credit, and try it out for a few days. Or you could take out a short-term, one-month contract with a provider so you’re not tied down for ages if there are issues.

Use our mobile network coverage map

Another way to check coverage is by using our coverage map, which lets you know what the signal is like in your area with the four main signal carriers (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone). It’s worth noting that all other networks use the signal of one of these four. For example, Giffgaff uses O2, and iD Mobile uses Three. The graphic below shows every major mobile network and the network carrier they use to carry their signal.

Find out what mobile coverage is like in your area with our 3G, 4G and 5G coverage map.

*/** Virgin Mobile is set to move to Vodafone in 2021.

How to get the best deal on a mobile contract

To get the best deal on a mobile contract, it’s important to shop around and consider your options carefully.

Bundle contract or Sim only?

The first thing to decide is whether to buy a phone outright and get a Sim separately, or opt for a contract that includes the phone. You could end up paying significantly more in the long run if you choose the wrong option.

Our guide on choosing the best phone deal includes a contract calculator to help. 

Buy a phone on credit

If you’re not keen on paying a large fee upfront for a handset, or being tied to a contract that could lock you in for as long as three years, find out whether there are other ways to get your preferred mobile phone or whether you need that phone at all.

There are many interest-free credit options available to buy a smartphone, with many retailers offering buy now, pay later services, for those who can afford to do so*. Alternatively, many mid-range phones now have a great camera and long battery life, while costing up to 75% less than the latest £1,000+ smartphones. 

Read our mobile phone reviews to find out which lower-priced models can compete against their premium rivals.

Don’t overpay for data

Another way to make sure you’re getting the best deal is keeping track of the data and minutes you use. It’s common to see bundled phone contracts, especially for premium models, with massive amounts of data included in an attempt to appear good value. Consider carefully whether you actually need this much, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time connected to wi-fi at home or in an office.

Our research shows that 53% of people use 3GB of data or less, yet 51% pay for a data allowance higher than that. By keeping track of what you use, you can avoid overpaying by choosing a plan that’s best suited for your needs. 

*This does not constitute financial advice. Please always consider your financial position when entering into a credit agreement. 

How to choose the best mobile network provider

Choosing the right mobile network isn’t just about the lowest price, or good reception – there’s a range of other factors to consider, including customer service, technical support and reliability.

Our reviews can help. Each year we ask thousands of customers to rate their providers on a range of factors, so you can choose the one that succeeds in the areas most important to you. 

Our reviews cover all the major mobile networks in the UK, including EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, as well as smaller virtual network providers such as Asda Mobile and iD Mobile.

Our guide to the best and worst mobile networks in 2020 will get you started.