While speeds and 5G coverage are improving, O2 is an expensive option with performance that lags behind the best
- Flexible build-your-own contracts
- Useful perks and extras
- Free EU roaming
- Extra benefits for Virgin Media users
- Falls behind on speeds
- Mediocre customer service scores
- High contract prices
Now part of a joint venture with Virgin Mobile, O2 is the second-biggest mobile network in the UK and, with more subscribers than Three or Vodafone, it’s second only to EE. It also provides the network infrastructure used by Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Giffgaff.
Sadly, bigger doesn’t always mean better, and O2 hasn’t had much success in our Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards. In fact, it’s scoring lower for customer satisfaction year on year. In the 2021 awards survey, 88% of the O2 customers we spoke to told us they were likely to recommend it to a friend. In 2022, that figure had dropped to 69%. This year, it’s down to just 63%, with a quarter (25%) of users saying they weren’t very likely, or not at all likely, to recommend it. That doesn’t just put O2 behind this year’s winners, but behind Three and Vodafone at the rear of the pack.
O2 review: What do you get?
When it comes to selling smartphones on pay-monthly contracts, O2’s big selling point is its flexibility. While it has ready-made offers, you can roll your own contracts, tweaking the upfront price, contract length and data allowance until you find the right package for you at a price you can afford. This enables you to get high-end smartphones at a relatively affordable price – for example, you can have an iPhone 15 with 150GB of data for £54/mth plus £30 upfront.
However, you have to bear in mind that this would be over a 36-month term, with the plans for the iPhone and the airtime contract unlinked after 24 months. If you take the contract length down to two years, the price rises to £65/mth, which makes it less competitive with deals from Three or iD Mobile, though it’s still in the same price range as Sky Mobile, Vodafone and EE. It’s a similar story with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which rises from £68/mth with 125GB of data on a 36-month contract, to £89/mth on a 24-month term.
To be fair, O2 does throw some interesting extras into the mix, including three-month or six-month subscriptions to Apple Music and/or Disney+, or free subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn digital magazines and newspapers or McAfee Mobile Security Plus. What’s more, you get priority booking on events at O2 venues, not to mention VIP perks when you’re there.
These extras also apply to O2’s SIM-only plans, which start at £13/mth for 1GB of data, and rise to £35/mth for the Unlimited Plus Plan. You can save some money by opting for a 24-month contract, rather than 12 months, while going for a 30-day rolling contract will see the prices rise on a smaller range of contracts.
Some of these SIM-only plans are quite competitive, with deals like 30GB for £15/mth or 150GB for £20, both over 24 months. However, the cheaper deals don’t get you much in the way of data, while the Unlimited plans are more expensive than those of Three, iD Mobile, Lebara or Smarty. You need to look carefully to find a bargain with O2.
|Monthly fee (24 months)||Monthly fee (12 months)||Monthly fee (30 days) No extras||Data||Extras|
|3GB Data||£14||N/A||N/A||3GB||Up to three months Apple Music and Disney+|
|6GB Data||£15||N/A||N/A||6GB||Up to three months Apple Music and Disney+|
|12GB Plus Plan||£17||N/A||N/A||12GB||Up to six months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)|
|25GB Data||£18||£20||N/A||25GB||Up to three months Apple Music plus one extra|
|30GB Plus Plan||£15||N/A||N/A||30GB||Up to six months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)|
|125GB Data||£21||N/A||N/A||125GB||Up to three months Apple Music plus one extra|
|150GB Plus Plan||£20||£25||N/A||150GB||Up to six months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)|
|250GB Data||£25||N/A||N/A||250GB||Up to three months Apple Music plus one extra|
|Unlimited Data||£30||£33||£36||Unlimited||Up to three months Apple Music plus one extra|
|Unlimited Plus Plan||£28||£35||N/A||Unlimited|
These high prices might explain why O2 doesn’t get such great scores for value, at least according to our Mobile Network Awards survey. Fewer than 60% of the O2 users we surveyed were satisfied with the value of their O2 service, with over 14% actively dissatisfied. While that’s actually better than EE’s figures and comparable with Vodafone’s, it’s far behind the results for the cheaper, no-frills crowd.
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O2 review: Customer service
As a premium service, you might expect O2 to excel when it comes to customer service. Sadly, our Mobile Network Awards survey says otherwise: Fewer than half (48%) of the O2 customers we spoke to said they were satisfied with O2’s customer service – the worst result for any network where we had enough data to draw conclusions. That’s a big drop from last year when 79% of customers said they were satisfied.
Ofcom’s latest research isn’t quite so damning: Overall levels of satisfaction are below the industry average, while complaints per 100,000 subscribers are just above. Yet O2 has fewer customers with a reason to complain than other major networks, with 9% against an industry average of 12. There’s certainly room for improvement, but customer service could be worse.
O2 review: Coverage, reliability and speed
The latest research from RootMetrics places O2 fourth of the four major UK networks, with a UK-wide median download speed of 15.5Mbits/sec. That’s less than a quarter of the median download speed for EE (65Mbits/sec) and still a long way behind the third-placed Vodafone (29.4Mbits/sec).
Speeds should improve with O2’s continuing 5G rollout, which currently covers over 750 locations and should put 5G connectivity in reach of 50% of the UK population by the end of 2023. RootMetrics reports that coverage has already improved in 12 of the 16 UK cities where it runs intensive 5G tests, and that speeds have improved in ten. O2’s UK-wide median 5G download speeds still lag behind Three, EE and Vodafone – 75.1Mbits/sec is still a long way from Three’s 202.2Mbits/sec – but there’s potential to get faster.
As you might expect, O2’s speed and reliability results in our Mobile Network Awards survey are nothing to write home about: 68% of users said their connection was always or often fast enough for web browsing purposes, but that figure drops to 48% for audio streaming and 38% for video. EE, Three and Vodafone all scored higher. And while 68% of O2 users told us they were satisfied with their signal strength – matching Three’s score almost exactly – Vodafone and EE both did better, with 76% and 74%.
O2 review: Roaming
There are some areas where O2 could show its major network rivals a thing or two. For one, both its pay-monthly phone and SIM-only plans include free roaming in the EU at no extra cost, with a 25GB data cap. Its Plus plans extend that to a total of 75 destinations, including Australia and the U.S.A. In some areas outside your plan’s coverage, you can still get a Travel Inclusive Bolt-On, giving you 120 minutes, 120 texts and data for £4.99 per day.
Beyond that, roaming charges can get expensive, reaching £2 per minute, 50p per text and a staggering £7.20 per MB in some locations. O2 also offers a range of data roaming bundles, but with costs like £18 for 500MB and £26 for 1GB, you might still want to be frugal with your data usage.
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O2 review: Other features, services and spending caps
One of the best reasons to sign up with O2 is that you get special treatment at the brand’s UK venues, including priority booking for events and VIP treatment while you’re at the show. Virgin Media broadband customers can also sign up to Volt, giving you double data on each mobile plan in your household, plus a boost to your broadband speed.
O2 supports spending caps of anywhere between £0 and £200 over your normal monthly contract spend. But once the cap is set, you need to contact O2 via phone or online chat to modify or remove it.
O2 review: Verdict
As one of the UK’s biggest networks, O2 should be a strong option, particularly when its plans seem to offer so much. Unfortunately, prices remain high while speeds aren’t where they should be, and O2 doesn’t seem to be delivering the kind of customer service that would make up for the performance shortfall. It’s also telling that it doesn’t score as highly for customer service or satisfaction as the virtual networks that use its core network, including Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff. Keep it in mind if there are any special offers, but right now you’ll find better deals elsewhere.