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Why you should look beyond the big four mobile networks for your next phone contract


The UK has one of the most competitive mobile phone markets in the world, but most people still look to the so-called ‘big four’ networks when they are looking for a new mobile contract – and that means they might be paying too much.

The mobile infrastructure may be owned and operated by BT (EE), O2, Vodafone, and Three, but there are numerous other options from major virtual network operators (MVNO). These firms include the likes of Asda Mobile, GiffGaff, iD (Carphone Warehouse), Tesco Mobile, and Virgin Mobile and often offer very differently bundled plans, which may work out better for your needs.

The big four networks tend to focus on getting customers to upgrade their handsets every two years, and buy a £40+ per month contract to cover the latest iPhone, locking you in for a further 24 months. However, for those on a student budget, staying with your current phone at the end of your contract can offer significant savings, and MVNOs offer very competitive SIM-only plans, often with double or more of the minutes, texts, and data allowance compared to the big four.

Alongside the lower costs, these networks also seem to be keeping their customers happier than the big four, with a recent poll showing only three networks, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile, and Asda Mobile, that had over 50% customer satisfaction. None of the big four managed that, and whilst we all hope that we will never have to contact support – it’s good to know you are with a network that cares if you ever do find yourself in need.

As MVNOs are “virtual” by nature, this means that they piggyback onto the big four networks for their infrastructure, and keep costs down by paying for services in bulk. This does mean, however, that their coverage follows the same pattern as the network they are using, and this is worth noting when choosing your carrier. All carriers do a pretty good job in covering the UK’s major cities and towns, but if you are out in the countryside then make sure the network you choose offers a few bars in that area.

To help you out, here’s a table of the UK’s main MVNO networks, along with network carrier, so you can check coverage:

MVNO Network Provider
Asda Mobile BT (EE)
FreedomPop Three
iD Three
GiffGaff O2
Tesco Mobile O2
Virgin Mobile BT (EE)

Photograph by Pexels

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