Our Top Tips for Choosing a New Operator

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on January 20, 2016, Buying Guides

The UK has tons of mobile operators, and choosing the right one for your service can be kind of tough. But we’re here to help. If you’re looking at a new mobile contract or pay as you go SIM card, then we’ve got some awesome tips to help you make the right decision. So, let’s get started!

Do a Coverage Check

Our first tip is maybe the most important of all: check operator coverage. Some areas of the country simply get better coverage with certain companies than others do. Buy a contract and find that you don’t have reception and you could be in trouble! Fortunately, checking coverage is pretty easy. All you need to do is drop by the OFCOM website and look at their handy coverage map to find out which companies will give you coverage where you are.

There are a couple of addendums to this tip. First, don’t forget to check coverage in all areas where you’re likely to be, including work and frequent travel spots, not just for your home. Second, do check both 3G and 4G coverage if you’re interested in faster mobile data speeds. Whilst most companies get solid 3G coverage across the country, not all places are served with 4G. And yes, this goes for you if you live in a big city just as much as for the country residents, since large buildings can block cell phone tower signals!

Choose a Phone Plan NOT an Operator

This might sound like kind of a strange tip, but rather than choosing an operator it’s generally better to choose a phone plan if you’re looking for a contract. Why? Because a phone plan that’s right for you will end up saving you money no matter which operator you go with. You’re looking for something that accurately reflects your monthly usage (you might want to spend a month monitoring your calling minutes, text messages and data usage before opting for a new contract).

A plan that’s too large means your spending cash on services that you’re not using, whilst one that’s too small might mean hefty extra payments. Once you know what kind of phone plan you’re looking for you should be able to narrow your choices down when it comes to operators, since not all operators offer the same kinds of plan.

Don’t Forget About the Little Guys

It’s all too easy to choose a big name like EE or O2, but there are plenty of smaller operators around, some of whom might give you a better deal. Giff Gaff, The People’s Operator, and even some third party operators (who use major operator’s networks but offer their own pricing plans) might give you a cheaper plan that more accurately reflects what you need. Don’t discount an operator simply because it’s not a high street brand!

Consider the Phone Too!

If you’re looking to get a phone through your operator as well, maybe as part of a phone contract, then you should also take a look at which models different operators offer. Sometimes operators in the UK get exclusive deals with models, meaning that they’re the only operator allowed to offer them. Sometimes those deals are for certain “exclusive” versions of top end phones, like a particular colour of iPhone, for example. You’ll want to take this into account when shopping around if you have a certain kind of hand set that you’re looking for.

Think About Data Carefully

Yes, price is probably going to be a factor in your decision too, and we’ve already talked about finding a phone plan that’s right for you. But one thing that you’re going to need to think carefully about is that mobile data. Costs for calling minutes and text messages are fairly similar between operators, with nearly all operators offering unlimited calls and texts for low prices. Even if you want a pay as you go SIM, those minutes and texts are going to be pretty much the same price whoever you choose. The same can’t be said for data though.

If you want mobile data, especially for a pay as you go SIM but also on contract, then you’re going to need to compare the cost per mb of data. Fortunately, operator websites clearly mention this figure, so comparing shouldn’t be too difficult (though with contracts that price may vary depending on the size of the plan so you’ll need to check that out). This is especially important if you’re a big data user, since prices can vary a lot.

Consider Contract Length

If you’re looking into signing a contract then think honestly about the length of contract you want. Generally there are 12, 18 and 24 month options (though not all operators offer all three of these), and once in a contract you’ll want to stick with it or be forced to pay some expensive fees to escape. If you’re looking into moving, or want the flexibility to move between operators when you choose, then a shorter contract will be better. A longer contract will probably be cheaper each month though.

There are some exceptions here. O2, for example, have a series of plans called Refresh Tariffs, which don’t hold you to a lengthy contract. Instead the plan automatically rolls over each month until you stop the service, meaning you don’t need to pay cancellation fees if you end the contract. Do be aware though that if you get a phone with one of these Refresh contracts you WILL have to pay back the outstanding balance on the handset if you end the contract.

Think About Who You Are!

Lastly, think about what kind of customer you are. Why? Because certain operators tend to be better for certain kinds of customers, since heavy competition means that networks need to specialise at least a little. Tesco Mobile, for example, has great family plans and kids plans. O2 tends to be great for business users. EE has great 4G coverage, whilst Three offers good data prices for big internet users. These are the factors that can make a big difference in your decision.

Choosing a new operator is a big decision, since you’re probably going to be committing to a couple of years of service. But follow our advice and you should be fine, and you’ll get the service and phone plan that is right for you!