Which is the best UK mobile network of all

We've spent 5 days looking at the UK mobile service providers and asking ourselves which is the best one to be with for all sorts of different categories? Now that the hard work is done, it's time to zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture.

Trying to weigh the results according to how important each category is, while taking account of the closeness between some of the ranked positions on the different trials and then packaging that all together into one final result has proved nigh on impossible. But we've had a stab at it all the same. The overall table is at the bottom, but for a quick recap of the story so far, here's how the category awards went.

Best for roaming

The mobile provider that's best to be with when using your mobile abroad was a particularly difficult one to judge given that some networks were better in some areas than others. While Virgin Media was the king of text and Orange was the one who you wanted to receive calls through, when push came to came shove, Vodafone appeared to be the champion here.

Best for handsets

Now that everyone bar Virgin Media has the iPhone to boast, you have to dig a little deeper to see who's leading the charge on the hardware front. We looked at the number of different models available, the range of manufacturers represented, while factoring in the quality of device on offer and ultimately handed the prize over to O2. Have a look to see how your provider worked out.

Best for help and technical support

One area that we hope you'll never have to worry about is support, but whether you're having issues with your account or your phone's become bricked, you'll very quickly discover how willing your provider is to help out.

We took a look at which of the UK networks made best use of social tools to listen to and teach their customers some ideas, as well as having a dig around their websites for other means of getting tips and suggestions. While only one of the providers used an all important live IM chat channel for help, it was T-Mobile that came out on top with a clear understanding of how to prevent you having to telephone the dreaded call centre. While four of the networks proved adequate in our tests which three do you think failed dismally?

Best network infrastructure

Coverage, capacity, consistency and speed - these are the things we want to sign up to when we take out those contracts. We took a look at why network infrastructure matters and why certain providers were more likely to give you a decent signal. A few of them already have a helping hand in terms of things like bandwidth and frequency allocation but, as we saw, that picture is set to change very soon indeed. For the moment, Vodafone is the clear winner here, but if you want to know just why they drop fewer calls than anyone else then have a read of the article.

Best Network of them all

So after getting out the abacus and sliding a few of the beads from one end to the other, we decided that Vodafone is the best network of them all, just pipping O2 in a photo finish. One step down comes another very close run thing with T-Mobile taking up third place and Three just after in fourth. Orange is a good drop below those two in fifth, followed not far behind by Virgin Mobile and finally Tesco Mobile propping up the table.

Now, that said, one thing we did not take into account was value on price plans. While you'll find most phone agreements work out as somewhere near the same, we should point out examples such as Three's latest idea of The One Plan, offering all you can eat SIM-only for £25 per month, and the fact that Tesco Mobile offers the cheapest iPhone 4 tariff on the market.

On top of that, there are some serious changes afoot. The Orange/T-Mobile merger into Everything Everywhere will finally represent a serious challenge to O2 and Vodafone who have enjoyed top spot for quite some time now. Three will also be riding on the coat tails there, with its use of Orange's 2G network and the 3G network share agreement with T-Mobile set to continue as well.

Throw into the mix that mobile termination rates are set to go down and that a whole bunch of more useful, more penetrating radio frequencies are about to be offered up for mobile networks and we could be looking at a very different situation come this time next year. In which case, we'll make sure to have a recount when the dust settles. Until then, happy calling.



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