MVNO customers are more satisfied than those with a 'big four' operator

Employees on their mobile phones
(Image credit: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels)

A new customer satisfaction survey has suggested subscribers of smaller mobile networks are happier than those with one of the ‘big four’ operators.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) do not own their own wireless infrastructure, but instead use radio networks operated by one of EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

Some, such as Sky and Virgin Media, operate MVNOs to complement their other communications services but others, such as Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile, offer aggressively priced handset and SIM-only deals to win market share. Other MVNOs exist to serve a particular market niche, such as the one recently announced by Nokia phone maker HMD Global.

MVNO popularity

The ‘big four’ still account for nearly nine in ten mobile subscriptions across the UK, but Which?’s survey shows MVNO customers are more likely to feel their provider offers value for money, good customer service and network reliability.

O2 did the best of the big four, ranking joint-fifth with Utility Warehouse, but Giffgaff (1st), Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile (joint 2nd) were ahead of the operator despite using the same radio network. SMARTY, the MVNO owned by Three, also finished joint-second and ahead of its parent network.

EE and Vodafone finished in the bottom half of the table, with Three earning the lowest ranking of the big four. Value for money was a big issue for all the major operators.

It is worth pointing out that these rankings are based on customer perception, rather than any technical testing.

“Our research found that the biggest mobile providers are being outshone by their smaller rivals,” said Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?

“A provider should not only give you good network reliability but also value for money and customer support when you need it. If customers are out of contract but happy with the service they’re receiving, they should try negotiating a new deal but if all else fails it might be time to switch.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.