Mobile Phone Networks

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 11 mobile phone networks.

We also give our Best Buy recommendations and give a price comparison.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when choosing a mobile phone network:

  • Is the brand run by a co-operative or its users? We stress the benefit of co-operative ownership in our ranking system. Companies that are accountable to their consumers and members are often more transparent.

Best Buys

The Best Buy for mobile phone networks is a consumer co-operative owned by its members:

There are no additional recommended buys.

What not to buy

What to look for when choosing a mobile network:

  • Do they pay their fair share of tax? Avoid those companies who score a worst Ethical Consumer rating for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Companies to avoid

We would recommend avoiding the Tesco mobile phone network, which is a jointly owned Telefónica UK (owner of GiffGaff and OT) and Tesco itself. The brand's ethiscore is seriously pulled down by the supermarket and issues found in its supply chain, which include serious pollution and slave labour.

  • Tesco mobile network

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

The Phone Co-op mobile network

Company Profile: Phone Co-op Ltd
14.5

TPO Mobile network

Company Profile: The People's Operator plc
14

Ecotalk mobile phone network

Company Profile: Ecotalk Limited
12

O2 mobile phone network

Company Profile: Telefónica UK Ltd
8

TalkTalk mobile network

Company Profile: TalkTalk Group
8

giffgaff mobile network

Company Profile: GiffGaff Ltd
8

Vodafone mobile phone networks

Company Profile: Vodafone Group plc
7.5

BT mobile phone network

Company Profile: BT Group Plc
7

EE mobile network

Company Profile: EE Limited
7

Virgin mobile network

Company Profile: Virgin Mobile Holdings (UK) plc
7

Three mobile network

Company Profile: Hutchison 3G UK Limited
5

Tesco mobile phone network

Company Profile: Telefónica UK Ltd
1.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

This guide covers the top nine mobile phone networks, which account for 98% of the UK market, as well as two alternatives: The Phone Co-op and The People’s Operator. 

The biggest four providers, with about 70% of market share, are:

EE (now owned by BT), with about 25% of customers; O2 with 20%; Vodafone with 15%; Three with 10%.

These four also provide the network infrastructure, which other providers ‘piggyback’ on. In the table below we have taken an average of the combined scores of the brands and the network they operate on. This average score doesn’t change the relative position of any of them in the main table. Tesco Mobile is half owned by O2 and uses the O2 network.

The Phone Co-op uses EE: average score 11

The People's Operator uses Three: average score 9

Talk Talk uses Vodafone: average score 8

Virgin uses EE: average score 7.25

Since our last report on mobile networks in 2013, several companies have been gobbled up or given up. Green Mobile has been taken over by Excell Group and did not respond to our emails so are no longer included as an alternative provider. WWF Wildlife mobile is no more, Sainsbury’s no longer offers mobile contracts, and Orange and T-Mobile were retired by EE, which was then bought by BT in January 2016.

Price comparison

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.

Pay-as-you-go

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.

Contract

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.

Company profile

Three is part of the CK Hutchison group of companies, which also includes interests in oil, gas, water, electricity, ports, and retail, including the UK high-street chains Superdrug, Savers and The Perfume Shop.

CK Hutchison Holdings Limited is headquartered in Hong Kong but registered in the Cayman Islands, a known tax haven. The group lost marks for the climate impacts of several of its businesses: tar sands oil extraction by the Husky Energy company in Canada; a private airport in the Bahamas; and use of palm oil with no sustainability policy by Superdrug.

It also lost marks for factory farming as it had a supermarket chain in Hong Kong which sold meat that was not labelled as free-range, and marks for animal testing as The Perfume Shop did not have a publicly available policy on animal testing.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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