With just about every phone available on just about every network these days, the choice of mobile provider has become headline news again. It's no longer a case of which phone am I going to buy as which service am I going to use it on.
While it's all very easy to sit here and tell you that you should be on Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile or 3 because they happen to have the best coverage, what you really need to know is which of the networks is going to be the best one for you. Read on and we'll tell you how to work it out.
Step 1: Buy 5 PAYG SIMs
SIM cards are largely free or come at a pittance these days, so you may as well get the ball rolling by picking up PAYG versions for each of the five major networks. Then you can try out each one throughout a typical 24 hours. A week day is probably your best bet as, chances are, that's going to represent the most standard part of your routine. As you go about your day, make a note of how many bars of reception you have at key moments and whether or not there's 3G coverage - eg: in the office, at your desk, at home, at your local shops, on your route to work, at the gym or wherever you spend significant parts of your day on a regular basis. You should very quickly get a decent idea which best covers your home range.
Step 2: Look at the Ofcom maps
Your daily routine is one thing but, doubtless, you spend plenty of time out and about elsewhere. We're not going to suggest travelling the length and breadth of the land with your notebook and five SIMs, so instead head over to Ofcom and pick up some coverage maps. If you're not a data user, then obviously don't worry too much about the 3G coverage but do make sure you take a look at where your friends, relatives and favourite holiday locations are.
The Ordnance Survey has got some very user friendly versions where you can zoom in on any part of the country and toggle between four of the networks to see which is better in that area. There's only four because 3 has a deal to use Orange's GSM network infrastructure when customers roam away from the 3G network.
Step 3: Punch in your postcode
All the networks have coverage checkers of their own. They don't allow you to compare direct on the same map as with the ones above but they do offer a specific guarantee of how good their service is going to be on your very door step. The better ones also tell you whether you'll be getting indoor coverage in any given area as well as outdoor coverage as well. Do make sure to check these as they make good grounds for complaint if you sign up and find the information given has been inaccurate.
Step 4: Check the mash-up maps
Finally on the map front, you might want to take a look at some user-generated reception data. Vodafone has just started a Twitter mash-up map where individuals tweet the quality of their reception and the mobile handset they're getting it on from precise locations. It's a little threadbare on detail at the moment but it seems to be picking up momentum quite well.
Step 5: Ask your friends
It may be less scientific but there's a lot to be said for anecdotal evidence when it comes to mobile phone reception. The difference is that users will have spent plenty of timing living with their particular networks and can give you a decent general impression of whether they feel like they get a good service compared to those around them who may have had more or less luck at making calls in a range of given areas. Bear in mind that they might not have a particularly good antenna on their phone, so make sure you gather more than just the one opinion.
Step 6: Ask strangers
Takes a little more in the way of guts but if you ask people who share your commute, regular journeys or office space with you, then you'll get a very good idea of which network is a good choice within your functional map. You might also make a few friends in the process. Certainly beats "What's your star sign?" as an opening gambit as well.
Step 7: Look out for Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is a wonderful thing, particular when accompanied by the words "public" and "free". If you want great reception, and to save a bit of cash as well, make sure you buy a phone that supports Wi-Fi as well as standard mobile radio signals. That way, when you're in your office or at home, you can use the internet connection to download apps or even make calls over VoIP as well. When it comes to choosing your network, pay close attention to whether any of them has a tie in with Wi-Fi services. For example, O2 has a deal with BT to use their many thousands of public hotspots and The Cloud is another good provider of Wi-Fi to keep your eyes open for.
Step 8: Femtocells
The tragedy is that some households are in mobile reception blackspots or charcoal spots at the very least and any mobile phone on any network is going to have issues in that location. Your last resort on these fronts are extra devices to help boost your signals. These come in the shape of femtocells which are boxes you connect to your router that work as private mini mobile masts for you and your family.
Some of the mobile networks are starting to supply these at a cost but it's the kind of thing they might just chuck in for free if you happen to be signing up for a phone contract. Vodafone's recently been pushing its version of femtocells branded as Sure Signal and, doubtless, one or two of the other networks will follow suit.
Step 9: Buy a Nokia
If mobile reception is the absolute be all and end all for you, then one of the best decisions you can make is to buy a Nokia when it comes down to it. Plenty of phone models have good reception but one of things Nokia has always prided itself on is that every handset of theirs is built with communication clarity as the prime directive. Of course, that doesn't always make for the world's sexiest feature packed handsets but who cares about all that stuff if you can't connect to your network in the first place.
If you have any other hot tips on how to ensure maximum signal strength at all times, then let us know in the comments below.
Vodafone UK is the smart choice for customers who want to make the most of smartphones, according to the latest pieces of research from YouGov.
YouGov’s Technology & Telecoms Consulting team’s latest survey, Smartphone, Mobile Internet, eXperience (SMIX), positionsVodafone UK as the top operator for mobile internet, coming top in 8 out of 10 areas and beating its rivals in the most important measure of quality – reliability during the day.