This guide looks at 15 mobile phone networks. The Big Four (O2, EE, Three, Vodafone) have their own mobile network infrastructure. The other 11 operators are called ‘Virtual Mobile Network Operators’ (VMNO) as they provide services by ‘piggy-backing’ on existing infrastructure.
Apart from the very top and bottom of the score table, there is not much to separate most of the networks. Ecotalk is the standout ethical brand, whilst three brands – Three, Tesco and ASDA – languish at the bottom of the table. The remaining 11 networks are separated by only a few points.
The major issue in the industry is tax avoidance, of which much more below.
We have focused on Vodafone, once synonymous with tax avoidance, and Lycamobile. They appear near the top of the score table, but this position belies their still dubious tax practices.
In one sense, not a whole lot has changed since we last looked at mobile phone networks two years ago. The Big Four (EE, O2, Vodafone, Three) continue to dominate the market overall and EE still has the biggest individual market share (23%).
But look further down into the minor placings and there have been some changes and rearranging:
- The People’s Operator went bust in February 2019.
- TalkTalk mobile remains in name only: they are no longer accepting new mobile customers and instead are offering existing mobile or broadband customers access to special deals with their network partner, O2.
- The Phone Co-op is now owned by the Midcounties Co-operative, which means its Ethiscore drops from 12 to 5.5.
- There are two new virtual operators on the scene: Sky and Ecotalk. The latter is run by renewable energy supplier, Ecotricity, hence the ‘eco’ in the name.
In our rating system, companies that have a licensing relationship (such as piggy-backing) with another company will lose marks in categories where the partner company has received major criticisms.
For example, Telefónica (which owns O2) lost whole marks under Habitats and Resources, Human Rights, Workers’ Rights, Political Activities, and Anti-Social Finance. Therefore, the networks using O2 to provide mobile services (Lycamobile, TalkTalk, Tesco) lost an additional half mark in each of these categories.
In the same way, companies using the EE network lost additional half marks under Pollution & Toxics, Human Rights, Arms & Military Supply, Political Activities and Anti-Social Finance.
Who piggybacks on whom?
The table below shows the networks used by each VMNO and what effect this relationship had on the network’s Ethiscore.
|Virtual Mobile Network Operator||Service provider||Negative Effect on Ethiscore|
|ASDA||EE||Nil - ASDA-Walmart's own Ethiscore is 0|
|BT Mobile||EE||Nil - BT owns EE|
|The Phone Co-op||EE||-2.5|
|Plusnet||EE||Nil - Plusnet is owned by BT which owns EE|
|Tesco Mobile||O2||Nil - company is a Joint Venture between Tesco and Telefonica|