O2’s come a long way from the days when it was part of BT and has cemented its position as one of the four major networks in the UK. O2 is owned by Spanish multinational Telefonica and has more than 25 million customers.
O2 is one of the big players in the mobile game and runs 2G, 3G and 4G networks across the UK. It also operates O2 wi-fi, has recently merged with Virgin Media and owns half of Tesco Mobile. Its rollout of 5G is still patchy, but it offers a decent choice of tariffs and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) options, as well as some great perks with O2 Priority.
Tariffs and plans
O2 offers superb flexibility when it comes to choosing a new pay monthly contract with its billing system. The pay monthly bill is split into two parts: the device (the cost of your handset) and the airtime (the cost of your data, texts and minutes).
The standard contract length for all handset contracts starts at 36 months, but you can choose to customise this when you sign up. The amount you will pay overall stays the same but you can choose how much to pay upfront and how much to pay monthly – and how many months you want the repayment period to last. The shortest period you can choose is three months. Plus, regardless of how long you make your repayment contract, after 30 days you are free to change your monthly airtime plan, should you decide you want more or less data.
You can choose to pay off your device at any time, and either upgrade to a new one or keep your handset and go onto a rolling monthly airtime plan, which you can cancel with one month’s notice.
Pay-as-you-go and SIM-only
Customers wanting a new handset with a pay-as-you-go plan are limited to a choice of older or more basic handsets – there are no latest iPhones or Samsungs to be found here.
PAYG sim deals come in the form of O2’s Big Bundles of data (with unlimited texts and calls) that last for a month. Any unused data is rolled over to the following month. Bundles renew automatically on the same day each month, but only if you’ve got enough credit to cover the payment. If you don’t, you’ll be charged at O2’s standard rates.
Pay monthly SIMs are available on 30-day, 12-month and 24-month contracts and are aimed at users happy with their handset and just needing to pay for their data, calls and texts. O2 offers a wide range of data allowances from 1GB to Unlimited, all with unlimited texts and calls. Data allowances and the corresponding prices vary depending on the length of contract.
Since the UK’s exit from the European Union, some providers have introduced a daily charge (usually around £2 per day) to use minutes and data when travelling in Europe. O2 have not introduced these charges, so European roaming will cost no extra, whether you’re a pay monthly customer or on PAYG.
If you’re travelling further afield and are a pay monthly or sim-only customer, you can buy the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt-on O2 Travel for £4.99 a day. This gives you unlimited data along with 120 minutes calling and 120 texts to send each day.
If you are a PAYG customer and travelling to Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Monaco or Switzerland, you can choose to pay an extra £1.99 per day to get 100MB of data daily with O2 Travel Pay As You Go. Calls are charged at 4p a minute and texts cost 1p.
Phone and device range
O2 offers a wide range of pay monthly and PAYG handsets ranging from low-spec bargains up to the latest bank-breaking models. You can choose from the big names such as Apple, Huawei, Samsung as well as brands like the popular Oppo, and smaller niche brands such as Xiaomi, OnePlus and Doro. There’s usually the option to pre-order new flagship handsets.
O2 also sells cheaper ‘Like New’ handsets on pay monthly deals, allowing those customers who are unwilling to pay the eye wateringly expensive price tags for a brand new handset to buy a second-hand phone that is checked over and securely wiped. The Like New handset deals all come with the same option of a customisable plan and the latest freebies as the brand new handsets.
You can also sell your existing phone to O2 via O2 Recycle – this is open to everyone, regardless of which network you’re on.
In addition to phones, O2 also offers a range of smart tech, including Apple Watch and the latest Samsung Galaxy watches. A selection of VR headsets, wireless earpods, fitness trackers and bluetooth speakers are also available.
Industry regulator Ofcom’s latest report found that O2 rated third for customer satisfaction in the UK, with a score of 91%. It had the third lowest percentage of customers with a reason to complain at 7% and 62% of customers that did complain were satisfied with how their complaint was dealt with, compared to the sector average of 56%.
In comparison, 13% of Three, 16% of Vodafone and 9% of EE customers had a reason to complain. Customers of these providers who were satisfied with how their complaint was handled were in the 55% to 56% range. So O2 has been doing better than its main rivals on this front.
Value for money
O2 isn’t the cheapest network out there. You’ll probably find a better deal from a mobile virtual network operator or ‘MVNO’. These networks piggyback off the likes of O2 and EE, offering the same network coverage but usually cheaper deals.
O2 has been known to implement the dreaded mid-contract price hikes, which means your monthly cost will increase before the end of your contract. According to Ofcom, if the price increases beyond the Retail Price Index during the contract, you can leave without penalty within 30 days of the price change coming into effect.
O2 is one of four mobile companies in the UK that runs its own network. The others are Vodafone, EE and Three. All the other mobile operators ‘piggyback’ off one of these networks, rather than owning their own infrastructure. This includes Tesco Mobile, which O2 partly owns, and which runs on O2’s network. In future Virgin Mobile will switch to the O2 network, following its merger with O2.
O2 covers 99% of the UK population when it comes to 2G, 3G and 4G coverage, which is comparable to the other networks. It’s 5G coverage is also growing, with areas within over 150 towns and cities across the UK now able to connect to O2’s 5G service, including London, Derby, Coventry, Hull Manchester and Aberdeen.
You can check O2’s network coverage on its website. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone technology, with speeds up to ten times faster than 4G. If you have a 5G-ready phone, but you’re not in a 5G area, you’ll still be able to use 4G.
O2 regularly offers extras to new customers such as free subscriptions to Disney+ and Amazon Prime. In addition, all new customers get access to O2 Priority, O2’s customer rewards scheme, which offers some decent perks. You can buy advance and discounted tickets for gigs, West End shows and art exhibitions, as well as having the option to enter various prize draws for holidays and meals out.
The O2 Priority app also offers discounts from various high street and online brands – these change regularly, but normally include a free coffee from a mainstream coffee chain.
O2 also has 16,000 public wi-fi hotspots around the country, which O2 mobile users can log onto for free, thereby saving their data allowance.
O2’s a solid choice for mobile users, and offers excellent flexibility when it comes to prices and contract length. The coverage is generally good, with its 5G network growing all the time, and there’s plenty of choice of handsets and tariffs. Be on guard for the mid-contract price hikes though. O2 Travel is a quick and easy bolt-on for jetsetters.
If you go to a lot of gigs or events, then opting for O2 for your phone is a no-brainer. O2 Priority gives you access to pre-sale tickets, exclusive exhibitions and highstreet discounts.