Service & Reliability Survey 2010: Mobile network operators

We asked our readers which mobile network operators they use, and how they rate call quality, coverage, speed, technical support, and more.
Written by Charles McLellan, Senior Editor


Which mobile network operators do you use?
We received information on network operators from 35 respondents. On average, the organisations they worked for used between one and two (1.6) network operators each, giving a total of 55 responses. Vodafone and O2 are the most widely cited operators:


Other network operators cited: BT, Manx Telecom, SFR, TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile), Virgin

The other leading UK network operators — Orange, T-Mobile and 3 — all received less than 10 responses in our survey. We have included them in the charts below, but do bear in mind the small sample sizes.

How do you rate the voice call quality from your mobile network operator?
Voice calls on mobile networks can suffer from impairments like background noise, echoes and voice distortion. Improving voice call quality is a priority for network operators at the moment, and both Orange and 3 are planning trials of High-Definition (HD) voice technology this year.

As far as our survey respondents are concerned, there's room for improvement in mobile voice call quality, with only a smattering of 'excellent' responses being logged. Nine out of thirteen O2 customers (69 percent) judge call quality to be 'good', while the majority of responses for the other operators are either 'good' or 'average':


How do you rate the mobile broadband coverage from your network operator?
Mobile data usage is on the increase, and mobile operators are constantly extending their network coverage to keep pace with demand — witness recent announcements from O2 and 3. But are they doing enough? Again, there certainly seems to be room for improvement, with both Vodafone's and O2's charts clustering around the 'average' category. Meanwhile, the three small-sample networks (3, Orange and T-Mobile) in our survey fail to muster an 'excellent' rating between them:


Check mobile broadband coverage in your area for Vodafone, O2, 3, Orange and T-Mobile using these links. For areas with poor coverage, Vodafone offers a 'femtocell' solution called Sure Signal. A femtocell is a mini-mobile base station with limited range that routes calls and data over the customer's fixed broadband connection.

How do you rate the mobile broadband speed from your network operator?
The current headline speed for mobile broadband in the UK is 14.4Mbps, which is an upgrade from 7.2Mbps currently being rolled out by Vodafone. T-Mobile offers up to 4.5Mbps, while O2, 3 and Orange top out at 3.6Mbps. These are theoretical maximum download speeds: in practice, factors like the distance to the nearest base station and contention rates (the number of concurrent users) will result in variable, and generally considerably lower, data rates.

'Average' is the modal judgement on speed for two most widely used network operators in our survey, Vodafone and O2. The latter has a noticeably wider spread of results, running the full gamut from 'abysmal' to 'excellent'.



How do you rate the choice of business handset from your network operator?
According to their UK web sites (as of the end of February 2010), the biggest choice of business handset is offered by Vodafone, with 36 devices, closely followed by O2 (34). Next comes 3 (28), T-Mobile (26) and, bringing up the rear, Orange (20).

These figures are not reflected in our survey responses, which mostly have 'good' as the modal category. However, there are pockets of 'poor' and 'abysmal' for Vodafone and O2, which actually offer the biggest choice of business handsets. Given the pace at which new phones are reaching the market, there will always be some customers champing at the bit for the very latest hot handset.


How do you rate the service restrictions imposed by your network operator?
Mobile contracts often come with restrictions on the services you can use — no accessing file sharing sites, or making VoIP calls, for example. Alternatively, if you want unrestricted service, you'll have to pay extra for it.

More survey respondents find their network operator's service restrictions 'acceptable' than any other category, although there are enough 'limiting' and 'restrictive' responses to suggest that some contracts are not well matched to user expectations:



How do you rate the technical support from your network operator?
Providing a good choice of handsets and services is a mobile network operator's lifeblood. But this means that operators are also faced with fielding a wide range of support queries, via some combination of phone, email and website. So how are they doing?

In our survey, Vodafone gets mostly solid 'good' and 'average' ratings, with a smattering of 'poor' and 'abysmal', while O2 gains a couple of 'excellent' nominations. Among the low-sample-size remainder, T-Mobile comes off best.


How likely are you to repurchase business contracts from your network operator?
All vendors of technology products and services set great store by customer retention, but this is particularly important to mobile network operators, for whom the basic mobile contract is potentially the gateway to a variety of lucrative add-on services.

The positions of Vodafone and O2 look pretty healthy in this regard in our survey, and also for Orange among the low-sample-size remainder; there are indications of customer dissatisfaction for 3 and T-Mobile though.




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