The Best UK Network Operators for Kids
Children are one of the largest user groups of mobiles. The average UK child gets his or her first mobile phone at the age of seven, and the first smartphone at the age of ten, according to research done by Opinium, and an estimated 90% of eleven to sixteen-year-olds own a mobile. Rather obviously, if a kid has a mobile phone, they're also going to need an operator. And that leads to the question of which UK operator is going to be the best choice for your child's plan.
The Main Concerns
With cyberbullying ever on the rise, a wealth of inappropriate material online, and child groomers frequenting social media sites, the main concern for most parents when getting child mobile service is safety. Fortunately, we have a guide for keeping your child safe when online and using their smartphone, but you'll still obviously be concerned. Fortunately, many operators offer additional services to protect your child.
And, of course, finances always have to be a concern too. Kids racking up huge mobile bills from premium rate numbers aren't unheard of, and no one wants to go into debt to their mobile operator. Again though, many mobile operators do offer protection against unexpected costs as part of a kid's mobile plan. Not only that, but some operators also offer family plans, meaning you can get cheaper service for everyone in the family if you all agree to use the same operator.
There are plenty of mobile networks to choose from in the UK from the main players through to the MVNO's, but not all of them are a good fit for kids. We're looking for an operator that helps us keep our kids safe, and that helps keep our bills down, and not all of them fit the bill. But if you're looking for a kid's operator, then here are our top choices.
1. Tesco Mobile
Tesco Mobile is one of the most child-friendly operators around, making them a great choice, First off, parental controls are set by default on all accounts. This means that inappropriate material (web content that's been rated as unsuitable for under 18s) can't be viewed at all. This goes for you too, since anyone wanting to access this content will have to verify their age with ID at a Tesco Mobile stand. No worrying about messing with phone settings, your Tesco Mobile SIM will do the work for you.
Secondly, Tesco Mobile also has capped contracts. Simply go to your online account (or ask in-store) and you can set a maximum “overdraft” limit for your monthly contract. Tesco will then ensure that your bill is never higher than your monthly cost plus whatever you set as the overdraft limit (which can be as low as £2.50). Finally, Tesco also let you choose a free perk for each family member in a family account, ranging from extra data to discounts on your bill.
Our next choice is Vodafone, and they're big on safety. You'll find tonnes of information and tips for keeping your child safe with their phone on Vodafone's digital parenting website, including guides for setting up parental controls. Vodafone also cooperates with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to help protect kids from inappropriate content. Should your child see something they shouldn't, all you need to do is report it to customer service and the site will be blocked within six hours, reported to the police and to the Internet Watch Foundation.
In terms of finances, Vodafone offers the Red+ family plan that lets you not only share data limits with family members (handy if your kids end up using more than they should), but that also gives you a 15% discount on each member you add. Plus, you can set spending limits so no one goes over their monthly budget. Dead easy.
Next up is TalkTalk, who also take safety very, very seriously. Default child settings are in place to protect your kids from inappropriate content, but you also have the option of adding SuperSafe Boost. This gives you virus and anti-theft protection but also gives you more flexible control over content access. You can decide which apps and sites your kid can use on their phones on an individual basis, plus you can set time limits so kids can't use their phones when they're supposed to be doing something else (like homework).
From the financial side, TalkTalk doesn't let you set a spending limit or cap, though you can always do that on your child's phone itself. What they do have is a programme called Family Circle, which lets up to five TalkTalk customers call each other for free. That means that even if your kid runs out of minutes on their account, they can still call you should they need to.
Next up is EE, and uniquely they have three different safety settings for their SIM cards, ranging from no blocks to blocking all content rated higher than PG. This means that EE is a good choice if you have kids of varying ages who might all need different kinds of child settings on their accounts.
They also offer a plan called the 4GEEE Plan, which lets you add up to four other family members to your contract. This can work out cheaper than getting individual plans, but it also means that you get one monthly bill for everyone, so it's easy to keep track of who's doing what (and who's spending what). Plus, you can share data amongst family members.
Coming to O2, and this was one of the first operators to recognise that children needed to be protected better when using mobiles. Partnering up with the NSPCC, O2 has created a special online hub for parents and children, full of ideas for how to talk to your kid about smartphone safety and security. You'll find full video guides for setting up all kinds of protection services, including parental controls. They also have a free helpline that you can call anytime for advice.
There aren't any family plans per se with O2, though you can always add a second SIM card with a different number to your contract (which works out cheaper than getting a second full contract). Anyone with an O2 pay monthly contract can share data with any other O2 pay monthly contract holder too. As far as perks go, O2 offers great ones for families, including cinema tickets weekly, meal deals, and tickets to special events too.
Last, but not least, there's Three. Three does let you put parental controls on your kid's phone, and to do this you'll need to go to your online account using the phone itself. Three's controls do only block content that's rated 18 plus, so they might not be strong enough for younger children.
When it comes to money, Three does tend to be one of the cheaper major networks, offering unlimited calls and texts and high data limits for reasonable prices. You can set limits on data use, so your kid can't go over a certain amount of mobile data per month. And if you frequently go abroad then Three allows your child to use their phone outside of the UK in the same way as they would inside the UK.
Pay As You Go might not be the best option for kids. Sure, you can control spending more easily, but there's always the chance that your child will run out of credit when they need to call you, meaning it's not exactly safe. However, there are a couple of 30-day contract options that could work for kids. The benefit of a one month contract is that you decide whether or not to renew, meaning you're not stuck in a contract if your kid loses their phone or gets it taken away as punishment.
iD Mobile offers a “shockproof” plan that gives 500 minutes, 5000 texts, and 3 GB of data for £8 a month on a monthly recurring contract. This plan has a £5 cap on excess use, meaning your bill can never be more than £5 over the agreed upon monthly fee. You might also want to think about the GiffGaff “goody bag” plan, which you buy whenever you need to and contains a monthly plan of texts, minutes and data, and often works out cheaper than other options. Plusnet Mobile and Virgin Mobile also offer recurring monthly contracts with various conditions attached.