Best UK mobile provider for my situation?
May 22, 2013 3:57 AM   Subscribe

I am in the UK. I live in Plymouth. My one year Vodafone contract is finally up and I hate them with a passion. I'd like to switch, but as a still relatively new ex-pat I don't know who to switch to. Can you recommend a provider to me based on my requirements inside?

I have an iPhone 5. I mostly use it for data - work email, personal email, navigation, texting, reading Metafilter on the trains, personal hotspot when I need to connect my laptop while I'm on the go. I live in Plymouth and mostly travel around the southwest/south, though I occasionally go to London. I keep my UK SIM in for travel within Europe, but swap to a US SIM when I'm in that country. Work takes me to other (non-European) countries in which I usually just have them pay the international roaming for my UK SIM. I don't much care about 4G since I sincerely doubt there's even 4G in most of the places I spend my time in. 3G is usually hard enough.

Things I hate about Vodafone:
(1) I've traveled internationally on a monthly basis for the last year. For the first eight months, every single time I was out of the country, they'd cut off my data, saying I'd reached a cap. Twice they cut off my voice too (but required a phone call to re-enable it, because that makes sense?) This kept happening despite me asking every single time to remove any caps. The only reason it hasn't happened in the last few months is that I've mostly only been traveling to the US and I have a dedicated SIM there now. This is infuriating, interferes with my ability to do my job, and shows some pretty crap customer service. Not cool. Don't want this any more.

(2) No visual voice mail. Didn't realize how attached I'd grown to it until I didn't have it. I would like visual voice mail back please. I think O2 might be the only ones in the UK who do this? Is that still accurate?

(3) Unreliable delivery and notification of voice mails. There are some I never get at all.

(4) Same for text messages.

(5) I get a "robot voice" from callers occasionally where the beginning and ends of words are clipped or weirdly digitized. I haven't been able to narrow down any particular combination of providers (sometimes it happens with landlines) but it is typically always from the same people, such as my husband. It doesn't happen when I'm calling them on the same handset with the US SIM so I'm blaming it on the provider. I would like not to have robot voices, particularly when I'm being called by someone for work.

I don't really care about any particular plans or rates or contracts; I'm happy enough to talk to people in the stores about that. What I really want is a provider that doesn't suck, and I'm hoping you can point me toward the right one. Who has the reputation as the least-terrible mobile provider in the UK?
posted by olinerd to Technology (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They're all capable of acting like a tax on modern living rather than allowing a provider/customer relationship, frankly. Most people seem to decide purely on local coverage and signal strength now the models are pretty much interchangeable between operators. You could try making friends with a permanent staff member at a bigger Vodafone store if there is one - there are usually one or two on the management route who aren't just commission sharks. A lot of the smaller ones seems to be franchises of sorts, and all billing is central so they don't seem to able to help much. They might be able to explain what's going on with the limit caps though.
posted by cromagnon at 4:19 AM on May 22, 2013

I'm with O2, and they're pretty good. International data and calling is simple, and easy to avoid extra charges. Visual voicemail is definitely excellent.

If you use a lot of data, consider Three. I used to be with them, and their service was amazing. I only switched to get an Iphone years ago, and kind of wish I'd waited! Not sure if they do visual voicemail though.
posted by greenish at 4:21 AM on May 22, 2013

I'm so far very pleased with GiffGaff, which operates on the O2 network and is a no contract style of thing but with ridiculously cheap rates for data.

The only problem is that you're not really supposed to tether your device, although I have done now and then in a an emergency, they might notice if I do it too often.

Oh also, their support is community provided, which I've not found to be a problem, but it could be if you have complicated support requirements.

The big advantage is that you can ditch them at any point if they don't meet your requirements.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:30 AM on May 22, 2013

I also have GiffGaff and I'm happy with it, but I don't think it's necessarily that great for this situation as their roaming data and call charges are high.

Also, Jtgy'k, you are allowed to tether on GiffGaff as long as you're using the limited data packages, it only isn't allowed on the unlimited ones.
posted by atrazine at 5:18 AM on May 22, 2013

3G drops off on O2 constantly, but I never had trouble internationally EXCEPT for a few countries where voicemail or dialing is via a callback service (eg in Botswana and Cameroon) that I could never quite work out. I never used data abroad, too expensive.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:38 AM on May 22, 2013

Three offers flat-rate Europe-wide data roaming but there's no tethering allowed.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:43 AM on May 22, 2013

A lot of evidence is going to be anecdotal here. My google-fu when I changed a year ago indicated that 3 had terrible reception outside of London (certainly in Cambridge) and that O2 was pretty good. I know several people on GiffGaff that swear by it.
posted by katrielalex at 6:13 AM on May 22, 2013

Response by poster: Anecdotal is what i'm looking for. I mean, Vodafone says there's excellent widespread 3G coverage indoors and out where I live, but I'm lucky if I can get decent Edge sitting in my living room. Plus most people who feel inclined to bitch/brag about their mobile online tend to be the highly tech savvy London population -- and I know coverage there is much better than the Southwest! So yeah, anecdotes are good.

I like GiffGaff's plans and options, but the lack of Visual Voicemail kind of kills it for me. Right now I think O2 is the top contender.
posted by olinerd at 6:49 AM on May 22, 2013

I enjoy wonderul coverage with Orange. The customer service is less bad than others I have experienced. This roaming data problem seems to be a function of statutory regulation.
posted by BenPens at 9:32 AM on May 22, 2013

The 4G EE tariffs apparently come with visual voicemail (non-4g ones don't). Not sure what their roaming setup is like though.
posted by pharm at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2013

NB. I think if you want VV, then your choices are a 4G EE tariff, or O2. Nobody else bothers with it.
posted by pharm at 10:01 AM on May 22, 2013

As far as Three goes, I've actually had excellent coverage with them over the course of five years & various locations (Leeds, Coventry, London, Brighton). The experiences of others might vary, but perhaps talk to friends/coworkers about their coverage in your area.
posted by littlegreen at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2013

Response by poster: perhaps talk to friends/coworkers about their coverage in your area'

I work from home for a US company and I'm an introvert. No friends or coworkers in the country. :)

Thanks for the help, everyone. I'm going to give Orange/EE and O2 calls tomorrow to see what they can do.
posted by olinerd at 12:18 PM on May 22, 2013

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