In the UK there are five major mobile phone networks: 3, Orange, O2, Vodafone, T-Mobile. There are also several other mobile networks which pay a fee to operate under the capacity of one of the big five, known as MVNO or Mobile Virtual Networks. Virgin Mobile and Talkmobile are both MVNOs. Here is a run-down of each of the networks currently operating in the UK:
3 was the first UK network to offer 3G coverage, and in doing so initiated the delivery of media-rich content to mobile phones. As a result they have a reputation for providing a great internet/data service. They might not have many handsets on offer, but those that they do have tend to be the latest internet-enabled models.
The Orange network is a major worldwide brand and an early player in the UK mobile network market. Orange have more base stations in the UK than any other mobile network provider and are proud to provide the most comprehensive 3G coverage, not to mention great service overseas for customers travelling abroad. Orange offer the widest variety of handsets to its UK customers, with many exclusive to Orange.
Formerly known as BT Cellnet, the O2 network is extremely popular and with over 18 million users it is the leading provider of mobile phone services in the UK. O2 has a huge range of handsets available, from the latest smartphones, down to entry level models and everything in between. O2 were also the first network to offer the iPhone and did so on an exclusive deal that lasted for two years.
The Vodafone mobile phone network is one of the oldest mobile phone networks and provides 70% 3G coverage of the UK. Vodafone relies on the trust factor to retain many of it's customers who are loyal to the brand. While Vodafone doesn't have as many handset available as O2 and Orange, it does have a number of handsets that are exclusive to the Vodafone network.
Formerly known as 1-2-1, T-Mobile is an extremely popular network with smartphone users as it boasts one of the world’s largest WiFi networks (over one thousand WiFi hotspots in the UK alone!) and 84% 3G coverage in the UK. With 17 million customers T-Mobile is the second most popular UK network. In addition to their great coverage, T-Mobile attracts customers with a wide variety of flexible boosters that allow you to customise your monthly plan with a minimum of fuss.
Run by high street mobile vendors Carphone Warehouse, Talkmobile is a MVNO that utilises excess capacity on the O2 network. Talkmobile benefits from an impressive 99.7% coverage in the British Isles and users enjoy free voicemail and regular rewards as a thank you for being loyal to the network.
Virgin Mobile is another MVNO, this time using the T-Mobile network, so Virgin's 3G coverage is excellent. Virgin Mobile also have quite a reputations for providing excellent customer support and they have won the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards' Best Customer Service gong 9 years in a row.