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O2 review: Premium prices, average results

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
12
Starting at

The extras are tempting, but O2’s speeds and coverage are nothing special

Pros 
Enticing extras
Free EU roaming
Decent service and reliability
Cons 
Expensive
Speeds and 5G coverage could be better
Poor-value 30-day deals
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O2 is a powerhouse of a mobile network. Now part of a joint venture with Virgin Media, it doesn’t just operate its own network, but also provides the network infrastructure used by Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Giffgaff, with over 43 million mobile connections in the UK during the last financial year. 

Despite its massive user base, O2 hasn’t been hugely successful in industry benchmarks or in previous Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards. In its 4G and 5G testing, RootMetrics has consistently placed it behind EE, Three and Vodafone for speed, while our survey pinpointed issues with customer service and support. 

It’s not a good sign that, where last year 88% of O2 customers we spoke to said that they would recommend it to a friend, after this year’s survey this figure has gone down to 69%, putting it somewhere in the mid-table as far as customer satisfaction goes.

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O2 review: What do you get?

O2’s pay-monthly phone plans go big on flexibility: if you don’t like the ready-made packages, you can roll your own, customising the upfront price, contract length and data allowances until you hit the right balance. This allows you to get the latest and greatest phones at a relatively low monthly cost, with the iPhone 14 from £41 a month and the Samsung Galaxy S22 from £39 at the time of writing. However, you need to bear in mind that you’ll be paying this off over a three-year term, and that the airtime portion of the contract may get more expensive in the last year, as this only holds for the first two years. 

On a more conventional two-year contract with 100GB of data, the iPhone 14 would cost you £62.49/mth plus £30 upfront, while the Galaxy S22 would be £58.75/mth plus £30. That’s more than you’ll pay for the same bundle from BT MobileThree or iD Mobile

That said, O2 does throw in some tasty extras on most of its plans, including free three-month or six-month subscriptions to Disney Plus, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Video and other services. What’s more, you still get O2’s usual subscriber benefits, including special offers for O2 customers, priority booking for shows at O2 venues and O2-sponsored events, not to mention VIP treatment should you go.

These tempting extras also come with most of O2’s SIM-only plans. These start at a not exactly value-packed £12/1GB deal and extend to a £35 Unlimited Plus Plan with all the extras, and generally get better if you sign up for 24 months, where you’ll get extra data for the same or less money. We wouldn’t recommend the 30-day plans, as you pay over the market rate for your data allowance and don’t even get the free subscriptions.

Package

Monthly fee (24months)

Monthly fee (12 months)

Monthly fee (30 days)

Texts

Minutes

Extras

1GB

£12

£20 (no extras)

Unlimited

Unlimited

1 month of Disney+

5GB

£15

£23 (no extras)

3 months of Apple Music, 1 month of Disney+

6GB

£12

Unlimited

Unlimited

Up to three months Apple Music and Disney+

20GB

£15

£18

£26 (no extras)

Unlimited

Unlimited

3 months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

50GB

£20 (no extras)

No extra benefits on 30-day plans. VIP treatment

75GB

£18

Unlimited

Unlimited

6 months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

100GB

£21

Unlimited

Unlimited

3 months Apple Music plus 6 months of one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

150GB Plus Plan

£22

£25

Unlimited

Unlimited

6 months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

160GB

£20

Unlimited

Unlimited

3 months Apple Music plus 6 months of one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

250GB

£28

Unlimited

Unlimited

3 months Apple Music plus 6 months of one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee)

Unlimited

£30

£33

£36 (no extras)

Unlimited

Unlimited

3 months Apple Music plus 6 months of one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee), free EU roaming

Unlimited Plus Plan

£32

£35

Unlimited

Unlimited

6 months Apple Music plus one extra (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, Cafeyn, McAfee), free roaming in 75 destinations

All the above might explain why O2 doesn’t get top scores for value in our Mobile Network Awards survey. With 79% of customers satisfied or very satisfied with the value of their package, it fares better than EE or Vodafone, but it’s a way behind Tesco MobileSky Mobile and Giffgaff, all of whom operate over the same network.  

O2 review: Customer service

O2 does better on customer service, improving on last year’s disappointing scores. Some 79% of the customers we spoke to were satisfied with the network’s customer service, and only 8.35% said they weren’t satisfied, putting O2 ahead of ThreeVodafone and Virgin Mobile, not to mention most of the no-frills virtual networks.

Ofcom’s 2022 Comparing customer service report comes to similar conclusions. O2 is above average for overall satisfaction and has fewer than average complaints to Ofcom or customers with a reason to complain. The only serious blot in its copybook is its long average call waiting times: at nearly four minutes, it’s the worst of the major networks here.

O2 review: Coverage, reliability and speed

O2’s 4G network covers around 99% of the UK population, and it’s only in some more remote coastal and rural areas that you’ll struggle to get a signal. Meanwhile, 5G coverage extends to around 750 towns and cities, with O2 claiming that it’s on target to cover 50% of the UK population during 2023. EE and Three have reached this milestone already.

If O2 is playing catch-up there, it’s doing much the same on connection speeds. RootMetrics’ latest round of speed tests still puts it firmly in the fourth and final place of the UK’s major networks, with a UK-wide median download speed of just 16.4Mbits/sec. To put that in perspective, Vodafone has a median UK download speed of 23.8Mbits/sec, while EE’s is 66.2Mbits/sec. O2 fares better in Northern Ireland, particularly on calls and text performance, and its 5G reach and speeds are improving. RootMetrics found 5G available in 15 of the 16 cities where it tests, with median download speeds of over 100Mbits/sec in most of them.

This is the first year we’ve asked about 5G performance in our Mobile Network Awards survey, and O2’s results aren’t anything special. Just under half (49%) of the 5G users we surveyed said they were very or fairly satisfied with their connection. In comparison, 64% of EE customers found their 5G satisfactory, and Three and Sky Mobile also did better, even though Sky Mobile uses O2’s network. Lack of coverage was the major issue, raised by 73% of O2’s dissatisfied 5G users. 

O2 gets another mid-table position for reliability. Here, 83% of users say it’s always or mostly fast enough for a spot of web browsing, but that falls to 63% for audio streaming and 53% for video streaming. Tesco MobileVirgin Mobile and BT Mobile have worse figures, but O2 needs to do some work if it’s going to catch up with EEThree and Vodafone.

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O2 review: Roaming

On the positive side, O2 is one of the few major networks to include free EU roaming with its contracts, so you can use your inclusive minutes, texts and data while you’re away, subject to a roaming limit of 25GB per month. Outside that, some plans include the Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On, which gives you the same in 27 more destinations, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA.  

If you don’t have one of these plans, your best bet is the O2 Travel Bolt On for £6 a day, with unlimited minutes, texts and data (but no MMS or calls and texts to premium rate numbers). This covers a wider range of destinations, though don’t expect to spend your time bingeing Netflix; data transfer speeds are limited to a maximum 500Kbits/sec.

O2 review: Other services and spending caps

O2 supports spending caps of anywhere between £0 and £200 over your normal monthly contract spend. Once the cap is set, you need to contact O2 via phone or online chat to modify or remove it.

O2 review: Verdict

O2 isn’t doing much wrong in terms of customer service or reliability, but it’s still charging a lot for services that don’t give you anything special when it comes to speeds or coverage. It’s worth checking O2 for special offers, or if you’re going to make full use of its added extras, but if you’re just after the right connection at the right price, other networks have better deals.

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