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Best and worst UK mobile phone providers

mobile LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: A guest white pink Apple Iphone case and chain outside Erdem during London Fashion Week February 2024 on February 17, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)
The big four mobile providers all performed poorly for value for money, which could be linked to their use of mid-contract price hikes. (Christian Vierig via Getty Images)

Mobile provider Three has been names the worst UK mobile phone provider, according to a new survey by consumer group Which?, scoring 60% and receiving only two stars in all categories it was assessed on.

The survey asked 3,739 customers in January about their satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, value for money and network speeds. Smaller networks outshone the big four providers, offering better value for money.

Smaller providers piggyback on the infrastructure of a parent network, while shunning the unpredictable inflation-linked price hikes favoured by larger companies.

"Consumers unhappy with their current provider should consider switching, which is easy to do, and can save them money and improve their customer experience," said Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services.

Worst performers

Three (60%)

Three is the smallest of the four major networks and is currently attempting to merge with Vodafone to clinch a bigger share of the market.

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Nearly half (46%) of Three customers reported having a problem in the past 12 months. This compares poorly to top-performing networks such as iD Mobile and Tesco, where only 11% and 12% of customers had issues.

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“We are disappointed with the results of this survey and take the results very seriously," a Three spokesperson said. "Improving customer experience is a huge focus area for the business and we are working on a number of internal measures to significantly reduce complaints and poor performance. Delivering a great experience for our customers is our absolute priority and drives everything we do at Three.”

Vodafone (68%)

Meanwhile, Vodafone (VOD.L) scored 68%. It received just two stars for the incentives and rewards it offers but was rated four stars for network reliability.

A possible upcoming merger between Vodafone and Three is likely to reduce competitive pressure in the market and could lead to higher prices and lower quality for consumers — at least in the short term.

02 (68%)

O2, which also scored 68%, is the only network to still use the outdated and arguably inaccurate inflation metric Retail Price Index (RPI), plus 3.9%, to work out its yearly price increases. RPI is an unofficial statistic that measures consumer inflation. It is tracked by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) alongside the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

This year, RPI is 0.9% higher than CPI (last year it was 2.9% higher) and has meant O2 customers experiencing 8.8% hikes on airtime this year. O2 has noted that some customers, who took out their contracts prior to March 2021, pay increases which are based on RPI only, without the 3.9% added on.

O2’s incentives and rewards as well as its technical support rating dipped to two stars, but all other scores remained at three stars.

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EE (69%)

EE scored 69%. The UK network with the most customers returned a solid but unspectacular result. A mixture of two-star and three-star ratings showed that customers were not hugely impressed — its main highlight being a four-star rating for network reliability.

Best performers

At the top end of the table, a running theme was providers offering excellent value for money. All but one of Which?’s "Recommended" or "Great Value" providers got five stars for this metric.

Tesco Mobile (83%)

Tesco Mobile (TSCO.L) received the highest customer score of 83% but was not a Which? Recommended Provider because customers that are not signed up to one of its Clubcard-connected plans face inflation-based mid-contract price increases.

Smarty (82%)

Smarty scored 82%. Almost two-thirds of Smarty customers rated it as excellent value for money. Smarty is owned by Three — rated as the worst provider in the survey — and uses its mobile network.

Other networks:

  • GiffGaff scored 80%

  • Voxi, 77%

  • iD Mobile, 77%

  • Lebara, 76%

Read more: Best savings accounts that offer above inflation rates

The Big Four mobile providers all performed poorly for value for money, which could be partly linked to their use of unpredictable mid-contract price hikes. EE has already recently put a stop to these hikes for new and re-contracting customers rather than waiting for regulator Ofcom to force them to.

Which?’s latest research shows that if people are unhappy with their current provider, there are some good options out there for saving money and getting better customer service.

Watch: How does inflation affect interest rates?

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