Keeping Mobile

Some readers may be thinking this blog will be all about mobility whether on foot, car, bus, train, ship or plane. You can stop thinking along those lines immediately as it’s all about mobile telephones … or cellphones if you live in the US!

Here in the UK we currently have eleven so-called providers of mobile phone services. I use the term ‘so-called’ as in truth there are only five main networks and several brands rely upon the established networks for the range of services offered. In order to receive these services, many people spend several hundreds of pounds annually, usually because they have entered into typical 18 or 24 month contracts with the major companies. For those unsure of the major players, the five networks are Orange, T-Mobile, O2, Vodafone and Three. Of these, both Orange and T-Mobile merged to form the Everything Everywhere (EE) network, which some might say does not live up to its promise.

Coverage provided by most networks is very good in the populated areas of the country but often found lacking in rural areas and places with low density population. The one exception is Three who still appear to trail the other service providers in nationwide coverage. So what exactly entices customers to the main players in the field?

The simple answer is probably their chains of stores in almost every town and city in the country. The bright lights, open spaces and variety of phones on display is often very hard to resist. Once inside, many customers are ‘captured’ by a handset they like and before they realise, have signed up to a £40 to £45 per month contract for the next two years. Of course, these contracts include the cost of the handset as well as call and data allowances, and the monthly price can sometimes be reduced slightly by making a down payment on the price of the phone itself. So for a fairly hefty £45 a month, the gullible customer has emerged with the latest state of the art phone and a monthly package deal including 400 minutes of calls, 500 texts and 1GB of data!

Move on a couple of months and the customer checks his or her monthly usage. The amount of calls was 207 minutes, only 176 texts were sent and 340MB of data consumed. These are the actual averages obtained by Ofcom, the industry regulator. Instead of paying £45 per month, the same customer could have bought a package from a smaller provider for just £7.50 a month including a choice of 3G smartphones. It’s acknowledged that the very latest phone wouldn’t be included in this cost but it highlights the level at which the major players are fleecing their customers.

Undoubtedly the biggest complaint from customers is on the after sales service provided by the large companies. Whilst they are quick to sign up new customers, this enthusiasm is not carried across the rest of the business. Difficulty in contacting call centres, long queues and sometimes increasing bills, all add to customer frustration yet despite this people continue to be enticed by the household names.

A contract over two years can cost a consumer over £1000. Compare that cost with the £7.50 contract highlighted above which would total £180 over the same period. For those not wanting any long term contract or who use their phones less, then a Pay As You Go (PAYG) tariff might be the better option. With a PAYG facility the user is in complete control over usage and is not tied into any long term contract. There is the opportunity to purchase bundles but usually any credit has to be used within a month or it will expire. Some companies also offer SIM-only contract deals whereby you provide your own handset.

So far I have refrained from mentioning the names of the smaller providers, all of whom use the networks of one of the large conglomerates. It may surprise readers to know that the £7.50 monthly package is actually provided by Tesco Mobile and runs on the O2 network. Whilst customer satisfaction levels with O2 continue to decline, Tesco is currently rated as the second best provider for both contract and PAYG deals. The leader in the field is a relatively newcomer, also on the O2 network, called Giffgaff. This provider differs from other companies as it doesn’t have stores or call centres, but is an online provider run by, and for, its members. Price wise it is highly competitive and after initially only offering a PAYG facility, has now branched out into contract deals too.

Recent customer satisfaction services have put EE, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone bottom. Of the major players, O2 were the highest rated, but overall the best service is provided by the smaller companies. Next time you’re contemplating renewing a lengthy mobile contract, think before you leap and unless the very latest gizmo handset is top of your priorities, consider some of the best value SIM-only deals from the likes of Tesco or Giffgaff. Asda also offer a PAYG service on the EE network. Remember that if you choose to switch providers, you can keep your current mobile number and the transfer from one network to another should now take no more than 24 hours.

Big is most certainly not always best!