Following on from my whinge against Vodafone, I’ve done some limited, semi-controlled testing.
I’ve had the following:
* My own contract Vodafone 3G SIM.
* A PAYG Three SIM.
* A PAYG GiffGaff SIM
* A borrowed contract EE SIM.
and my own Samsung Galaxy S2, a more basic Nokia 302, and a borrowed Galaxy S3 to test with.
This, I think, covers all the underlying networks: Vodafone, Three, O2, and what was T-Mobile/Orange respectively. As I only had 3G-capable handsets (I had thought the S3 might be 4G-ready: it isn’t.), EE was effectively being backed off to Orange or T-Mobile 3G.
I tested 4 locations: My house (1), a pub in Walsall Wood High St (2), my Mom’s house in WS4 (3), and work, south of Birmingham (4).
At location 1, Vodafone works. Data is a little slow, but calls usually work, but can break up. Here, all other networks perform orders of magnitude better for data, and slightly better for calls.
At location 2, Vodafone is, to all intents and purposes, unusable. All other networks perform well.
At location 3, all perform quite well, but EE and Three are noticeably better.
At location 4, Three doesn’t work *at all*. Not much to choose between GiffGaff (O2) on data, but voice calls noticeably better for GG, while EE’s data was nothing short of remarkable, rivalling wi-fi.
In summary, based on my testing:
Vodafone on average performed poorly, but it *can* perform well: on a trip into the darkest Black Country the other day, it consistently worked well.
Three works well, *when* it works.
O2 can work well, and seems ahead of Vodafone in my chosen areas.
EE stood out ahead everywhere (heh!), with very quick data at all locations.
So, that sorts out the underlying networks. Now what about the full spectrum including a couple of MVNOs, if we try to go SIM-only? It’s quite hard to try to compare: the tariffs and prices don’t match up (deliberately, at a guess)- but I’ll try to pick on what *I* would choose.
Well, I’m dumping Vodafone, but I want at least 512MB of data: almost any amount of calls and texts will cover me, so £13/month for 12 months or £15 for 1 month should do it.
Orange want £16 or £18 for the same thing, but bundle many more minutes.
Virgin (an MVNO on EE’s network) are only £10, but critically don’t allow *any* tethering.
EE will stick you £21- but bundle unlimited calls and texts. If you’re a heavy user, it’s a good deal.
O2 want £16/month- or £21 for a 1 month contract.
T-mobile seems good, at only £8 or £10 (with relatively few calls/texts), but again, no tethering.
GiffGaff has no contract, but instead has “goody bags”. The SIM is effectively PAYG, and you add the bags for inclusive minutes/texts/data- and £10 gives 1GB, 500 mins, and unlimited texts.
There’s others- Lebara, for instance, and the supermarkets: Tesco (spit) are an MVNO for O2, Sainsburys and Lebara are the same for Vodafone.
So then. Conclusions?
If money was no object, and I used my phone more, it would have to be EE: the performance is great, and no silly restrictions. As it is, I think I’ll give GiffGaff a punt, as it’s cheap, it works where I need it, and there’s no contract, but a goodybag auto-renew will stop all that tedious PAYG top-up idiocy. If it proves to not work out, I can switch again easily. It *would* have been Virgin, as they give good prices, a discount, and effectively the EE network for a 3G device, but no tethering is dumb.
The thing I found really surprising is that comparing all this is hard- and there doesn’t seem to be an online tool *really* compare in depth. I can’t help but think this is deliberate.