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O2 review: Premium prices, average results

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
12
Starting at

Neither the performance nor the service and satisfaction scores seem to justify high prices

Pros 
Useful perks and extras
Improving 5G coverage and speeds
Attractive high data SIM-only plans
Cons 
Expensive
Lagging behind on 4G speeds
Disappointing results for customer service
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It’s no longer the UK’s biggest mobile network – that title now rests with EE – but O2’s recent merger with Virgin Media means it’s still very much a powerhouse, with an infrastructure that powers not just its own network, but the virtual networks of Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff and Sky Mobile.

For now, O2 and Virgin Mobile run as independent brands, with O2 focusing more on the premium end of the market than the value end. This means O2 is rarely the cheapest option, but it makes up for it with bundle offers, extra features and unique perks.

And while O2 struggles to compete with EE on performance, it’s still a popular network with its customers. Some 88% of those we surveyed for our Mobile Network Awards would recommend it to a friend, putting it in the top half of the results table on this count.

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O2 review: What do you get?

That recommendation might be surprising, given that O2’s results on value for money aren’t quite so stellar. Only 33% of the users we surveyed were very satisfied with the network when it came to bang per buck, with another 38% satisfied and 21% neither satisfied or dissatisfied. Given that EE received very similar scores, it’s arguably harder to convince your users that you’re giving them great value when you’re substantially more expensive than the competition.

For instance, O2’s cheapest SIM-only package with 1GB of monthly data comes in at £12 a month on an annual contract, or £15 a month on a rolling 30-day plan. Three or iD Mobile will give you 2GB for just £6, while £10 to £12 will get you 8GB or more on iD Mobile, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Three. O2 does have some better options when you pay for more data on a two-year plan, with a whopping 160GB for £20 a month, 250GB for £22 and unlimited data for £25. Yet there are still cheaper unlimited options to be found if you look elsewhere.

O2’s SIM-only plans and prices at the time of writing are as follows:

Monthly fee (24 months)Monthly fee (12 months)Monthly fee (30 days)DataTextsMinutes
1GB-£12£15*1GBUnlimitedUnlimited
3GB--£183GBUnlimitedUnlimited
5GB£10£15-5GBUnlimitedUnlimited
9GB--£219GBUnlimitedUnlimited
12GB---12GBUnlimitedUnlimited
15GB--£2315GBUnlimitedUnlimited
20GB£15£18-20GBUnlimitedUnlimited
25GB--£2525GBUnlimitedUnlimited
50GB--£3050GBUnlimitedUnlimited
60GB---60GBUnlimitedUnlimited
80GB---80GBUnlimitedUnlimited
100GB-£20-100GBUnlimitedUnlimited
150GB-£24-120GBUnlimitedUnlimited
160GB£20--150GBUnlimitedUnlimited
250GB£22£28-250GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Unlimited£25£33£36UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

* 1GB 30-day plan has 1,000 call minutes

It's a similar story if you’re buying a new phone. O2’s plans offer a degree of flexibility, in that you can create your own plan based on the upfront cost you’re willing to pay, the length of the contract and the monthly data allowance you require. This makes a lot of sense if you want to buy a flagship phone and hold onto it for longer and, once you’ve paid off the cost of your device, the price of the plan goes down automatically.

You can upgrade your phone whenever you like, although you’ll have to pay off the balance on your device plan, and also change your airtime tariff up or down once per month. O2 also sells some refurbished phones, if you’d like to knock a little extra off your monthly costs.

For all these options, however, O2 remains one of the more expensive networks for new phones. You can have a new iPhone 12 for £43 a month, but only with a 36-month 30GB contract and a £30 upfront cost.

With 30GB of data over a 24-month contract you’re looking at just over £51 a month, which makes O2 quite a bit more expensive than Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile or Three. A Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G with the same allowance comes in at £45 per month with £30 upfront, which again isn’t cheap. There are bargains to be found on O2, especially around bank holidays and towards Christmas, but other networks often have the edge on price.

Where O2 comes good is on the perks and extras. These include special offers for O2 customers, priority booking for shows at O2 venues and O2-sponsored events, not to mention VIP treatment when you go. Meanwhile, premium plans come with bonuses like six months’ free Apple Music and a choice of 6- or 12-month subscriptions to Amazon Prime Video, Audible, Amazon Music Unlimited or Disney+. These might not convince you to sign up for an O2 contract, but they’re definitely a nice extra if you do.
O2 review: Customer service

Alas, O2 isn’t what you might call a contender for our Best Customer Service award. While 70% of the customers we surveyed were either satisfied or very satisfied with the level of customer support, fewer than half of these were very satisfied – just 28% of the total.

That puts O2 far behind EE (41%) and Giffgaff (53%), let alone the leaders Tesco Mobile (58%) and Sky (64%). It’s disappointing to see a network that’s usually rated highly for customer service do so badly, although – as with EE – it might reflect that users expect more when they’re paying premium prices.

Ofcom’s latest research isn’t quite so damning, with overall satisfaction with the service at 91% and only eight complaints per 100,000 subscribers. O2 also had the best result on satisfaction with complaint handling – 62% against an industry average 57%.

READ NEXT: BT Mobile review

O2 review: Coverage, reliability and speed

O2 has done a lot of work during the past few years to improve its 4G coverage, and it now covers over 99% of the UK population. That’s backed up by the latest data from RootMetrics, with O2 only struggling in remote coastal areas and some areas of the Scottish Highlands.

Where O2 faces more of a challenge is in its connection speeds. Its UK-wide median download speed – 15.6Mbits/sec – is still the slowest of the four major networks, with EE over 43Mbits/sec ahead. That said, performance has improved since RootMetrics’ last round of testing. Three of the UK’s 16 largest cities now have median download speeds of over 30Mbits/sec, as opposed to one last time around. Meanwhile, where ten of those cities once registered median download speeds of below 20Mbits/sec, that’s now down to six.

O2 also shows potential as we move into the 5G era. The network registered three of the five fastest “Everyday 5G” median download speeds in RootMetrics’ latest tests, with speeds of 163.3Mbits/sec to 179.3Mbits/sec in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leicester, while availability is improving across and outside the UK’s 16 biggest cities.

That said, O2 still lags behind EE, Three and Vodafone in eight of the 16 metro areas where RootMetrics runs its tests, and its 5G performance is far from consistent. If you must have the fastest connection, EE or Vodafone are still safer bets.

All the same, speeds seem to be more than good enough for everyday use, according to our survey. 92% of O2 users said they had adequate speeds for web browsing and social media, while 83% said the same about music streaming. If you’re streaming video, however, the picture isn’t quite as rosy. Where 88% of BT Mobile users said they had adequate connection speeds for watching video, that figure falls to just 75% with O2. Curiously, though, this is a worse result than that for Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Giffgaff, all of which use O2 as a host network. Again, high expectations may be playing a role here.

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O2 review: Roaming

O2 gives you free roaming inside its Europe Zone, so you can use your inclusive minutes, texts and data just as you would in the UK. However, O2 now charges £3.50 for every GB used over the first 25GB, so you need to be careful about your data usage while abroad.

Outside Europe, you have two options. The best is the Travel Inclusive bolt-on, which lets you roam in 75 destinations at no extra cost, and gives you up to 120 minutes, 120 texts and data roaming in 27 other popular destinations, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Myanmar and the United States. It’s bundled with O2 contracts that give you more than 90GB of data or can be purchased separately at £3.99 per day.

Otherwise, you’re looking at paying O2’s standard international charges, and at £2 per minute for calls, 50p per text and up to £7.20 per MB, these don’t come cheap. At least O2 caps its roaming charges at £51.50 a month while you’re outside the UK.

O2 review: Other services and spending caps

If you’re worried about excessive UK spending, O2 supports caps that you can set anywhere between £0 and £200. You’ll need to contact O2 by phone or online chat to add, remove or change your spending cap.

READ NEXT: The best wireless router you can buy

O2 review: Verdict

O2 is a solid, reliable network, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that it’s charging a high price for its services, and that the performance and customer support don’t always measure up. The scores on both counts in our Mobile Network Awards survey were lower than we expected, given O2’s reputation. The combination of a growing 5G network and the merger with Virgin Media could turn things around, but right now O2 is hard to recommend when other networks seem to give you more for less.

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