Expert Reviews reveals the UK’s best mobile network providers, as chosen by you
Making the right choice of mobile network provider is arguably as important as choosing the right phone. With so many must-have apps and services depending on a good 4G or 5G connection, being unable to get – and hold onto – a mobile signal can be a serious inconvenience. It can even stop you doing what you want or need to do while you’re out and about.
What’s more, there’s never been so much choice, or so much variation in terms of pricing, speeds, services and extras. The growth of cheap, no-frills virtual networks means that you can now have huge data packages for very little money on some SIM-free deals. Advanced 4G and 5G services are pushing speeds ever higher, and that – plus improved coverage – means you can stream video or music in more places or browse the web as you would at home.
To make that work, you need a fast, reliable connection and the services to back it up, but which mobile networks make the grade? That’s why we asked you for your help. In our 2022 Mobile Network Awards survey, we teamed up with YouGov to ask 4,445 UK adults (of which 4,374 had a mobile phone) to tell us what they thought of their current provider, and how satisfied they were with its services and speeds. We asked how well their connection held up while watching video, browsing or streaming podcasts and music, and we asked you to rate the customer service you received.
This year, we also asked you for more detail on your 5G experiences, and whether the latest network tech was giving you the performance you’re looking for. Nearly 45% of our readers are now using 5G services at least some of the time, giving us a real insight into how it’s working out in practice.
We’ve used the responses to help us work out which networks are surpassing expectations and meeting all of your needs, and which are falling short. You’ll find the results below. We’ve picked out the class leaders for customer service, value, reliability and 5G connectivity, and crowned a champion overall. Read on to find out who has won the Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards for 2022.
Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards 2022
Overall winner: Smarty
Highly commended: Sky Mobile
No-frills, no-contract services dominate this year’s awards, and it’s Smarty leading the way. Owned and operated by the people who brought you Three, it offers ridiculously good deals across a wide range of plans. It received consistently good ratings across the board, and stellar ratings for reliability and value. It says a lot that over 92% of Smarty users would recommend it to a friend.
Smarty runs on top of Three’s mobile network, which the research firm RootMetrics says has shown impressive gains in both 4G and 5G speeds in 2022. 4G coverage is excellent and 5G coverage is improving fast, too. That’s reflected in Smarty’s survey scores for performance and reliability. Users rate it as one of the best for signal when it comes to web browsing (94%), audio (72%) and video streaming (58%) with it being fast enough always or most of the time.
If you’re looking for a more traditional contract, Sky Mobile grabs our Highly Commended. While it can’t quite match the no-frills virtual networks on value, users rate it highly for reliability and customer service, and its 5G services have plenty of fans as well. Nearly 85% of users would recommend it to a friend. It’s a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) running on top of O2 and has some fantastic benefits including data rollover for up to three years and the ability to stream through Sky apps without using data – a definite plus if you’re also a Sky TV subscriber.
Sky’s achievement is all the more impressive in a year when other contract networks didn’t receive such glowing reviews. This year six of the biggest – BT Mobile (68%), EE (69%), O2 (69%), Three (67%), Vodafone (66%) and Virgin (61%) – see the proportion of users who would recommend them to a friend score below 70%.
Best customer service: Sky Mobile
Highly commended: Tesco Mobile
Sky Mobile triumphs in this category. Nearly 45% of users we surveyed are very satisfied with its customer service, while a further 43% count themselves fairly satisfied. Just 4.66% say they are unsatisfied – the lowest number for any network except Smarty.
The latest customer service research from the industry watchdog Ofcom doesn’t include a figure for overall customer satisfaction, but it does tell us that Sky has fewer customers than most other networks with a reason to complain – only Tesco Mobile and iD Mobile have fewer, with EE matching Sky – and that Ofcom gets fewer complaints about Sky per 100,000 users than any network except Tesco Mobile and EE.
Tesco Mobile’s great Ofcom results carry over into our survey. It has more very satisfied users than Sky Mobile – 49% – and with a further 35% of users fairly satisfied and just 6% unsatisfied, it gives our winner some serious competition. Voxi and Smarty also have a lot of very satisfied users on this front (46% and 45% respectively), so they’re definitely doing something right.
Best value: Lebara
Highly commended: Smarty
The no-frills networks prove unstoppable in this category, with Lebara scooping the award and Smarty coming away with the Highly Commended accolade. An amazing 83% of Lebara customers tell us they are very satisfied with the network’s value for money, while the remaining 17% still consider themselves fairly satisfied. That means no dissatisfied customers on this point, and with some of the most competitively priced no-contract deals around, it’s not hard to see why.
Smarty comes close behind. In fact, it’s a fraction of a percentage ahead for very satisfied customers, at just over 83%, but has slightly fewer satisfied customers (13%) and can’t match Lebara’s spotless record; 3% of users aren’t quite happy with the value of their service. We also saw good results from Voxi, Giffgaff and iD Mobile, which goes to show how much we’ve embraced the low-cost, no-contract approach.
Most reliable: Voxi
Highly commended: Smarty
Voxi grabs its first win with the award for reliability. Owned and operated by Vodafone and using the same network, it receives one of the best survey ratings for web browsing – over 35% of users describe their connection as always fast enough – and the best for audio and video streaming. On audio, 31% of users tell us it’s always fast enough, while a further 55% say it’s mostly fast enough. For video streaming, those figures are 21% and 55%. On both counts, no other network is in the same league.
The closest is Smarty. 94% of Smarty customers tell our survey that it’s mostly or always fast enough for web browsing, while nearly 72% say it is mostly or always fast enough for audio streaming. Well over half (58%) think Smarty is a reliable option for video as well. Smarty has some competition from Sky Mobile, Three and EE here, but it just pulls out in front to score another Highly Commended.
Best 5G: EE
Highly commended: Sky Mobile
EE has consistently topped RootMetrics’ tables for 4G and 5G performance, so it’s not surprising to see the network collecting our inaugural Best 5G award. Of the network’s 5G users, 19% say they’re very satisfied with their 5G connection, while a further 45% tell us that they are fairly satisfied. Those might not seem like huge numbers, but only three of EE’s rival networks reached overall customer satisfaction levels of over 50% (Sky Mobile 56%, Three 52%, Vodafone 51%), and none of them got even close to EE’s 64%.
Sky Mobile is the closest runner-up. It has more very satisfied users (23%) than Three (15%) – its nearest competitor – and also fewer dissatisfied 5G users. 23% of Sky’s 5G customers describe themselves as very satisfied, with a further 33% fairly satisfied. Only 12% describe themselves as dissatisfied, where Three left 18% feeling dissatisfied.
When we asked why 5G users were dissatisfied, respondents were either disappointed with the lack of a noticeable speed improvement (42%) or underwhelmed by the network’s 5G coverage (60%). Both should improve with time, but there’s still a sense that 5G isn’t quite delivering on its promises yet.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size was 4,445 adults of which 4,374 owned a mobile phone. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th and 23rd September 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
Respondents were asked whether they would recommend their network to others and rate aspects of their customer service on a scale from Very Satisfied to not at all Dissatisfied. We also looked at complaints data published by the telecommunications regulator, Ofcom in its annual Comparing customer service report. To be the overall winner, a supplier must have received fewer complaints than the average across all suppliers according to the most recent figures.
We also asked how readers rated their mobile network for value for money and whether they felt their network was fast enough to deliver on certain core types of mobile activity: general web browsing and social networking, audio streaming and video streaming. For the first time this year, we surveyed readers on their experience of 5G services, and the reasons why they were happy or dissatisfied.