O2, EE, Vodafone and Three beaten by MVNOs on price and service

One star rating with woman using a tablet

Virtual operators like Smarty, Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile performed better than the big four operators on customer service and value for money in a Which? survey.

Consumer watchdog/ratings and reviews site Which? surveyed 3,305 mobile phone network customers in its annual mobile network survey, which takes the temperature of how consumers feel about their mobile operator in terms of quality and value for money, and ranks them accordingly.

Three performed the worst of the MNOs, coming in joint thirteenth place of the 16 networks included in the survey. It received the lowest rating for network reliability and its technical support and incentives apparently left customers unimpressed as well. 45% of Three users experienced problems in the past year, compared to an average of 29% across all networks.

EE didn’t do much better at number 11, receiving three stars for customer service, technical support and value for money. 02 performed the best of the main operators, but it still only managed to get to number 8.

Meanwhile MVNOs topped the charts with Smarty, Giffgaff and Plusnet leading the pack, with flexibility and rolling contracts references as key plus points by the surveyed customers.

On the whole it seems the main MNOs can be more expensive than the smaller MVNOs. The study claims on average a sim-only deal with O2, EE, Three or Vodafone will cost £5.20 a month more than with a virtual network, and renewing a contract with a new handset could cost ‘up to a third more’.

which survey

“The vast majority of mobile users are with one of the Big Four providers, but our research suggests consumers could save money during the cost of living crisis and get better service by switching to one of the networks challenging their dominance,” said Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services. “Anyone looking for a reliable carrier that offers a flexible contract and good value for money should consider one of the virtual networks, who continue to outperform the Big Four year after year.”

Unless you’ve had a really bad experience, the ease of staying with whatever network you are on with automatic, very-low admin phone upgrades every couple of years may have overwhelmed any frugal desire to shop around regularly for new contracts. Especially in an era when most calls and messaging packages are uniformly unlimited, and in recent years mobile data usage has probably been lower due to homeworking and generally being cooped up indoors.

As we have hopefully seen the last of any more national lockdowns, and the cost of living crisis begins to bite for many, that could all change as consumers take a closer look at what they are getting for their money in all sorts of places where they previously might shrug and let it ride.


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One comment

  1. Avatar Mike Ferris 03/05/2022 @ 10:06 am

    The trouble with this type of survey is that the answers are completely subjective; those who pay less expect less and are therefore easier to please. It comes as no surprise that budget MVNOs score higher. It’s a reflection of value for money, but not necessarily a reflection of better service. Those who buy a premium service expect more and are therefore easier to disappoint.

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