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How to switch mobile provider and why you might want to

A close up image of a red SIM card

You don't owe unquestioning loyalty to your network and there could be a better deal for you out there

Whether it’s while you’re idly browsing the web, or just wandering through town and you spy a poster, we’ve all spotted a mobile deal that massively undercuts the tariff you’re on. It can feel like a sign from above to consider changing your mobile plan to one of the many better deals available.

Perhaps you simply find yourself wondering if you’re on the best mobile network for you, and if you’re not then maybe you should think about switching providers. Here’s everything you should know about that process.

Why switch mobile phone provider?

There could be a whole heap of reasons why you might be considering swapping mobile providers and, depending on your priorities, any one of them might be enough for you to make the switch.

Price is often a factor – no one likes having to pay over the odds for a service they can get cheaper elsewhere – however, prices can get a little complicated in mobile plans. Plans might include paying for a new phone (preferably one of the best smartphones out there) or they might be SIM-only.

Speaking to this point, Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at, told us, “If you’re happy with your current handset, you might want to consider a SIM-only deal. These are often lower cost options as you’re paying just for airtime – minutes, texts and data – and you could end up saving hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds over the coming years, as monthly savings accumulate over time.”

A lot of plans come with unlimited minutes and texts but different price points will likely give you different amounts of data, or they might allow you to rollover unused data from month to month. On top of that, some plans will include extras, like throwing in streaming platform memberships or vouchers, all of which should be taken into account when you’re judging the cost.

Another major motivating factor is actual network coverage – the larger companies typically build, use and maintain their own networks, so different providers often use different networks, though some will share the same networks. If you travel around the country a lot, or even if you move home, you might discover that the provider you found to be reliable in, say, London might be less dependable up in the wild hills of Scotland.

If you travel abroad regularly, whether that’s for work or on holiday, you should be aware that roaming charges can be pretty variable between plans, as well as between providers, and they can end up costing you a lot if you’re not careful.

Finally, there are other intangibles – like your provider’s management app or your more general experience with their customer service – which, while less easily quantifiable, could certainly motivate you to try a competitor.

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Things to check before you switch provider

Once you’ve decided that you would like to change providers, the temptation is to get cracking on finding a new deal but there are a few questions you should definitely answer before you get too far into your research.

Check your existing contract

This is a big one. Unless you’re on a pay-as-you-go system, most phone contracts these days last for at least 12 months. However, in many cases, and especially if a phone is bundled into the contract, it will be for 18 or 24 months, sometimes even 36 months, and it’s not the easiest to switch mobile providers mid-contract.

You’re well advised to check your current contract to see how long is left before it runs out – once that initial term is over, it should move to a rolling monthly contract, at which point you can cancel it at little or no cost.

If you’re still tied in for a number of months, you’ll likely have to pay a cancellation fee. That could be quite costly, so look into your contract’s terms and conditions. Then, as Ernest Doku from Uswitch puts it: “It will be worth weighing your length of time remaining, usage and needs” before you pay that cancellation fee.

Check the coverage in your area

Next, if you’re hoping to get solid coverage in your home area you’ll want to look up a coverage map for the providers you’re considering. This is a key step to make sure you don’t swap to a network with poor speeds or no coverage where you’ll need it most.

A hand holds a mobile phone checking its signal on a mountain top

Most of the major networks provide tools to check this for yourself – including the likes of EE and Three – and, in many cases, you can toggle between 3G, 4G and 5G to see how each speed is represented.

Do you want a new number, or to keep your old number?

Another thing to consider is whether you’re particularly fussed about keeping your existing phone number. If you’re happy to ditch your old number, you’ll have fewer hoops to jump through. But if you’re looking to switch and keep your number, it will make the process slightly more fiddly; it’s still extremely doable and fairly easy when you know how..

In the days of physical address books, swapping phone numbers was a massive pain for everyone, but now that so many services are linked to a single account, from WhatsApp to your Apple ID, it’s less disruptive.

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How to switch mobile network: A step-by-step guide

It’s important to know that changing networks needn’t be some huge or scary task. We talked to an Ofcom spokesperson who told us, “It’s never been easier to switch mobile phone networks.” They went on: “You may have to pay charges to leave your existing contract early but if you are out of contract then you could save money by finding a new deal that’s better for you.”

So, changing mobile networks isn’t too hard. If you don’t want to keep your old number, it’s just a matter of contacting your existing provider to end your contract, then choosing a deal with a new provider and starting a new contract. You can also start this process by text, for free:  in the UK, you can just text “STAC” to 75075.

If you want to keep your number, things get slightly more involved. First, you still have to contact your existing provider to tell them you’re leaving, but then you need to tell them that you want to keep your number when you move. Most likely they will attempt to persuade you to stay, but this will prompt the current provider to generate a PAC code for you. This stands for Porting Authorisation Code and your new provider will need this code to move your number over.

You can actually get your PAC code without calling anyone up – just text “PAC” to 65075 and you should be sent it within two hours. A PAC code lasts for 30 days, so if you don’t use it in that window, you’ll need to generate a new one. Read our full,  in-depth guide on how to change your SIM but keep your old number for more information.

How long does switching mobile networks take?

Switching your mobile network should be a fast process nowadays, but the time it’ll take may vary according to your circumstances.

For example, if you’re on a rolling monthly contract there’s a chance you’ll have to wait up to 30 days before you can switch, while those with months to go on their contract may have to wait even longer.

However, if these conditions don’t apply to you then it should all happen in a day, once you have your PAC code and can give it to your new provider. And if you aren’t keeping your old number, you can have a contract with a new provider set up very quickly indeed.

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Is there a cost to switching mobile providers?

It doesn’t cost anything to switch providers, and you shouldn’t be charged for the process. That said, as we’ve detailed above, there are potentially other costs that you may incur while switching – the biggest being if you need to pay off your existing contract because it hasn’t yet finished – but since starting a new contract doesn’t incur additional charges, once you’re ready and able to switch, you should be able to do so for free.

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