Updated March 2016
Mobile phone networks
There are four Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) who own the network infrastructure – O2, Vodafone, EE and 3 – and the rest are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). They ‘piggyback’ on the MNOs reselling services offered by the existing operators. On our score table above, we have combined the score of the MVNO and the operator they piggyback on.
This means that MVNOs using:
O2 pick up some ratings from Telefonica
Vodafone pick up some of Vodafone's ratings
EE pick up some of its owners BT Groups' ratings. Plus some ratings for Deutsche Telekom (which owns 12% of BT) and Federal Republic of Germany (which owns 32% of Deutsche Telekom).
All the companies on the table offer 3G networks. We have not covered 4G as this is still a new technology used by less than 1% of the population.
The are two main ways of buying a mobile phone:
- A pay-as-you-go deal where you buy your own phone and pay for each call, text or time you spend on the internet.
- A monthly contract where you pay a set amount each month, usually by direct debit, and either get a phone ‘free’ or a SIM Only deal which you can use with any phone.
Within these two options there are literally hundreds of different deals available (Orange alone has 28 different monthly contract plans). You could liken it to the energy market, where different providers blind you with complicated alternatives and try to lock you into deals for anything up to 24 months.
The Which? website, used in conjunction with our own ethical information, is a useful guide.
For mobile handsets we’ve picked best buys that cover a range of prices. The Fairphone, which you can pre-order now before its release in December, is £280. You can get a Nokia feature phone for as little as £16. A new iPhone will cost upwards of £400.
If you choose a contract on our best buy network O2, you can get an older iPhone model for around £17 per month with 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data for surfing the net.
You can get a SIM Only contract with Green Mobile for £10 per month with 50 minutes talk time and 50 texts. You can get 500MB of data for an extra £7.50 per month.
TPO does a SIM Only deal for just £5 per month for 50 minutes of talk time, 50 texts and 50MB of data.
The Co-operative do a SIM Only deal for £15 per month this includes 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data.
O2’s cheapest SIM Only deal is £8 per month for 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data.
UK company Vodafone is infamous for stories about its tax avoidance. Vodafone, the world’s second largest mobile phone company by revenue, paid no corporation tax in the UK for a second year running in 2012. However in the same year the company distributed £4.8bn in cash dividends to shareholders (more than any other British business) and paid chief executive Vittorio Colao £11m.
The firm made a £294m operating profit in Britain in 2012, but was able to transform that into a loss by claiming UK network investment and interest payments wiped out corporation tax liabilities for the year to April.
Vodafone took the biggest tumble this year in Greenpeace’s ranking of IT companies’ climate change policies because it had not continued to publicly advocate for renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets.
See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.
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1 The Guardian, 7th June 2013 – Vodafone paid no corporation tax in Britain last year