What’s the best mobile network for me?

ByDuncan Heaney

Looking to switch to a new mobile network? We outline some of the extras you can get from each of the UK’s major mobile providers.

Choosing a mobile network can be a daunting experience at the best of times.

Each offers its own set of unique perks and extras to attract customers - from the generous data plans of Three, to the priority tickets from O2. While it's easy to compare prices, working out what extras and benefits each offers can be a dizzying experience.

With that in mind, we've picked out some of the key perks you get with each of the four major mobile operators in the UK, so you can decide which appeals to you.

Vodafone

Vodafone is one of the biggest mobile networks in the UK. It offers a diverse range of pay monthly and pay-as-you-go contracts, an impressively wide selection of handsets and a number of benefits and promotions for customers.

Why choose Vodafone?

  • Good UK coverage - Vodafone is among the networks with widest coverage across the UK. That makes it a particularly good choice if you travel a lot. You can check whether Vodafone's available in your area with its coverage checker.
  • Wide selection of handsets - If you're looking for a new handset, Vodafone has options from many major phone manufacturers, including Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Huawei Sony and HTC.
  • Stay on top of the latest and greatest phones - Vodafone offers a plan called "Red Hot", which gives you a new phone every year, for a reduced upfront cost. Of course, you'll be locked into another 12 month contract, but if you care about having the latest and greatest phones, it's worth considering.
  • Vodafone VIP - Customers that register for Vodafone VIP get early access to selected fashion, music and motorsport events, as well cut-price tickets and as the chance to apply for unique items. -For example, signed photographs of Formula One drivers.
  • Vodafone Freebees - Pay-as-you-go customers can get free calls, texts, data and more when they top up credit.
Samsung Galaxy S3

 

O2

With its wide-ranging network, respected customer service and range of call and data plans, O2 is a good all-rounder network.

Why choose O2?

  • Good coverage - O2 says its network covers 99% of the UK population, although as with all providers the signal will be better in some areas than others; 3G may not be available in some places. To see if O2's available in your area, use its coverage checker.
  • Respected customer service - In recent years, O2 has earned plaudits for the quality of its UK-based customer service. In the 2012 broadbandchoices.co.uk awards, O2 customers commented positively on the quality of the company's customer service across all its products.
  • Free public Wi-Fi - O2 gives its customers free access to BT Wi-Fi hotspots around the UK. These can be found in public places like airports, restaurants, cafes, hotels and businesses across the country.
  • Priority tickets for events - O2offers early access to tickets to events taking place in its concert venues across the country. If you're into music or comedy, it's an appealing perk.

EE

EE - or Everything Everywhere as it was previously called - was responsible for running the Orange and T-Mobile networks in the UK. It's now retiring these brands and operates under the name EE. The network is notable for being the sole provider of 4G mobile broadband in the UK, although prices for these packages are fairly steep and usage limits tight.

Why choose EE?

  • 4G mobile broadband - EE is currently the sole UK provider of 4G - the next generation of mobile broadband, capable of delivering speeds comparable to a home broadband connection. Other networks are likely to start offering 4G by mid-2013, but until then, EE is the only option.
  • EE Film - sure of interest to film fans is the EE film store, which lets subscribers stream or download movies every month. You do have to pay for the movies, but the data you use (if you stream over 3G or 4G) will not count towards your monthly usage limit - fortunate, because EE's usage allowances can be a little tight.
  • Two-for-one cinema tickets - Despite EE retiring the 'Orange' brand, it's kept some of its most popular promotions, like Orange Wednesdays. It's not called that anymore, but the company still gives users two-for-one cinema tickets on Wednesdays.
  • Phone backup - Working in a similar way to Apple's iCloud service. EE's Clone Phone app backs up your contacts, calendars, pictures over the internet, so if you lose or break your phone, you can easily restore the all your information. EE will also replace the handset, though you have to pay a subscription for this option.
  • Reductions for home broadband customers - EE also offers home broadband and phone packages. Mobile customers get reductions on broadband contracts, as well as the convenience of having all their telecoms services on a single bill.

 

Choosing the right network can be hard

Three

Mobile broadband sits at the heart of Three's offering. Most of the company's advertising and promotion is based around its fast 3G network. It offers the most generous data plans of all networks, including some with unlimited usage.

It's not always the cheapest network out there, and some customers have reported issues with its customer service. But if you're someone who wants to use mobile broadband freely and extensively, it's likely to be one of your best options.

Why choose Three?

  • Generous mobile broadband data plans - Three offers the most generous mobile broadband data plans of all providers. These include unlimited plans, allowing you to download over its 3G network without monthly restrictions.
  • Fast 3G network - Three offers one of the fastest 3G networks in the UK, It's worth noting that, although Three advertises its network as 'ultrafast', that doesn't mean 4G, although that technology is coming by the end of 2013. Instead, it's an improved version of 3G - not as fast as 4G, but still faster than you'd expect from a standard 3G network. You can see if this technology is available in your area with the company's coverage checker.
  • Cheap upfront iPhone costs - Three offers some of the most competitive deals on Apple's popular iPhone and it's often possible to get a version of the handset for a cheaper upfront cost than other networks. Of course, you'll end up paying for the cost of the phone with your contract, but if you want a low cost of entry to iPhone ownership, Three's a clear option.

Choosing the right network for you

The unique benefits each network offers are worth considering, but never forget that the most important factors are coverage and price.

Think about where you live and areas you regularly travel to and try to pick a network that offers decent coverage across them all. All providers have a coverage checker on their websites, so look at those before making a decision.

When you've found a network you like the look of, compare prices with a comparison service.

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