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The UK’s four major mobile operators are being outperformed by the small providers which piggyback on their networks, according to a new customer satisfaction survey from Which?.

O2, EE, Three and Vodafone serve nearly nine in 10 mobile customers. However, they’re falling behind the market's minnows on value for money, customer service and network reliability.

Of the four largest mobile operators, O2 performed the best, ranked joint fifth with Utility Warehouse out of 15 providers. O2 earned top marks for being easy to contact but customers think its tariffs are overpriced. Under a quarter (23%) judged it “excellent” value for money.

The mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) which use O2’s network performed better. Giffgaff was judged the best mobile provider on the market, earning strong ratings for value for money, customer service and reliability. 91% of its user say they’d recommend giffgaff to a friend.

Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile also deliver excellent service over O2’s network, coming in joint second place with Smarty, which uses Three’s network.

EE and Vodafone ranked in the bottom half of mobile providers, with most customers thinking they aren’t delivering value for money. This is especially true among the 7% of their customers who received incorrect or unexpectedly high bills from the networks, the highest across all providers.

However, Three performed the worst among the four major operators, with customers judging it poor value for money and highlighting issues with network reliability. Three users were the most likely to experience network outages lasting more than a day (8%), and one in 10 have seen an unexpected or unreasonable price hike. 

Three is the only major operator which hasn’t signed a voluntary commitment to protect loyal customers and alone doesn’t apply automatic discounts to the bills of customers who are out of contract. Citizens Advice has said this refusal means Three customers are being overcharged a collective £1.5-£2.7 million each month.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said: “Our research found that the biggest mobile providers are being outshone by their smaller rivals. A provider should not only give you good network reliability but also value for money and customer support when you need it.

“If customers are out of contract but happy with the service they’re receiving, they should try negotiating a new deal but if all else fails it might be time to switch.”

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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