The quality of one's mobile phone network is right up there in the tech consciousness right now. We've looked at which in the UK offers the best in the way of handsets, how to get the best coverage of your life, roaming charges and what's going on in the back end of things, but today it's all about how to cope when it all goes wrong for you.

You can have the best mobile phone in the world but there's always going to be a time when you can't get it to do just what it is that you're after. So, when the chips are down and your email's broke or when you've bought a new handset and you can't MMS, which network is the one that you'd most want to call? 

There's a lot that seems right about the way T-Mobile has set itself up to deal with its customers' issues. The things we liked most were the number of different ways you could get in touch with them, how well each was looked after and maintained, and the overall look and feel of the help portal on the T-Mobile website.

The company clearly understands all the social tools it's signed up for. Rather than feeling that it ought to have presence on services like Twitter it uses them to tremendous success making a personalised help service. Big shame to have ignored Facebook and sadder still that there are only 16 very good video tutorials on the YouTube channel. More of those would be most welcome.

There are plenty of boxes ticked in terms of forums and free phone help contact, but it's a bit of a worry not to see how long it will take for them to get back to you should you choose to contact by email. On the plus side, there is a repair phone tracker section which we didn't see from any of the others where you can get instant updates on any handset you send back to get fixed. Generally speaking T-Mobile has proved a very good egg.

Positives - Great use of video in online tutorials, clear and simple site, good hints and tips articles, excellent Twitter help channel
Negatives - No live chat service, only 16 YouTube videos, no obvious Facebook presence

Graphically speaking, O2 has done one of the better jobs of its help section. The Flash on the page works nicely and saves you having to navigate around and about the site only to find that you've gone to the wrong page and have to spend time navigating around elsewhere. Lots of information contained in a non-cluttered way.

It all works very nicely for phone information on all the handsets but beyond that it's a shame not to see much in the way of user tips articles. What O2 does seem to provide though is an excellent speed of support and response. The Twitter channel is run, quite rightly, by the company PR who seem to react at high speed to all the complaints and cries for help thrown at them from the public. Better still, it's the only one of the networks that uses a live chat IM service on the site for one to one quick response. Also, O2 promises to get back to you within 24 hours if you contact by email.

Positives - Excellent email response, live IM chat, good tutorials, superb Twitter channel
Negatives - No video use and no YouTube presence to speak of, disappointing lack of tutorials and tips

Vodafone doesn't seem to offer much in the way of sex appeal in its help section - if indeed you could describe any aspect of IT support as exciting. The Newbury-based company is more of a solid performer than anything else. It has handset help, a smattering of written tutorials, a forum, good telephone help service and apparently almost instant response to email enquiries as well as all the usuals, such as sections on going abroad and what to do if you lose your phone. What they do better than any of the others though is provide a YouTube help channel stacked full of 180-odd videos of information.

There's also on of the first network Twitter service that does a grand job of helping out where it can.

The one place that it's a real winner though is on Facebook. Someone has taken the time to really go to town here and create a set of personalised nav tabs including a superb discussion area which works as a forum with threads of separate customer questions that all end with a response from someone from the company. Very impressive.

Positives - Excellent Facebook page, fantastic video selection, good range of approaches, great email response
Negatives - Not the best looking help page, no live chat IM, not every button and field on the site works

3 has done a very nice job of overhauling its site of late. That said, the help page is a bit of a clutter at first sight and it's not the easiest to pick through. However, once you work out how to find the handset that's relevant to you, it serves up quite a nice hub of tips, tricks, information and the all important user manual. It's a bit of a nuisance that it's all offered as PDF downloads, but the content is good. There's also a pretty good troubleshooter wizard to help with specific problems.

The contact section is clear enough with a nice call back service, so that you don't have to wait. Where you are going to be sitting on your bum for quite some time is if you try to email them a query. You can expect to wait up to 10 days for a response.

3 does provide some YouTube videos, but there's apparently nothing on Facebook nor Twitter which is rather a shame, word is that there is a live web chat only it's not working at the moment. Some good work here but more needed.

Positives - Good support for each model, call back service
Negatives - No Twitter, no Facebook and terrible wait for email response

Either we missed something here or Orange is surprisingly lacking in the customer support department. It could be that the quality of the telephone and email services is so good that the company doesn't need to bother with anything else? If that doesn't work for you, there's no Twitter channel, a poor excuse for a Facebook page and no live chat IM. There is a YouTube page with a whopping 149 uploaded videos but none of them are any good unless you fancy watching some promotional material or showbiz and entertainment clips.

Thankfully, the site itself has some decent tutorials and good information on the handsets. Essentially, what Orange has done, it's largely done well. You just might have expected a little more from such a big network.

Positives - Well presented help information and good depth of tutorial content
Negatives - Little social network support, rather unimaginative

Virgin Mobile
It would have been a lot to ask to expect the two smaller UK operators to do well here. It's a case of resources and this kind of thing just isn't going to be a priority when you're a smaller arm of a larger business. That said, VM still features handset tutorials and a perfectly adequate telephone and email help centre. You do have to wonder how much it would really take to have someone sitting on a Twitter stream as well, though.

Positives - 72 hour response commitment to emails
Negatives - Nothing on the social front to speak of and no apparent forum

Tesco Mobile
One thing you can say about Tesco Mobile is that at least they've given the social stuff a go - or had the idea and set it up, anyway. Unfortunately, there's all of six tweets on the Twitter stream which relate to promotions rather than anything else, but we suppose you have to get the ball rolling somehow. There's a neglected YouTube channel taking up space on a server somewhere and other than that, there's just an email service and a very good FAQ section to help.

What's totally unforgivable is that Tesco Mobile hasn't bothered to offer handset support. In fact, there's just a link to each manufacturer's website when you go searching for it. The help line seems to come at a cost as well. It's an 0845 number with no advertised free call-from-your-handset alternative. 

Positives - Very good FAQ
Negatives - No user manuals available, no free phone number

To give all these networks their dues, the ultimate test of help and support is when you end up having to contact them with a hard to solve, genuine issue with your service. All of them are capable of absolute shockers in these circumstances. There are enough horror stories out there for every network to have shown bad service and support at one time or other. That's just the nature of managing a large company.

But given the call centre is really the last resort, it's the three at the top that do the very best to prevent you from having to make that call in the first place. When there's fewer calls going into the centre, there's a better quality of service that comes out of it.

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.