O2 mobile review: do high prices still mean a decent network in 2018?
O2 are one of the pricier mobile networks to join. So we review their benefits, 4G speeds and UK coverage to check you're actually getting a good deal. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: February 20th 2018.
SIM Sherpa rates O2 as ok to join, if a little expensive
(2.5 / 5, other options may appeal more)
"We can't fault O2 for getting the basics of excellent nationwide coverage right. But their 4G speeds still leave a bit to be desired. And while Priority is nice perk, O2 have been overtaken by other providers in terms of the added benefits you get with your deal."
Our guide below shows they have a number of handy extras on top too but that the overall package does come at a bit of a premium, which other providers will often be able to beat for all-round value.
The 3 best bits
1) The second best coverage in the UK
2) Leading customer loyalty rewards scheme
3) Brilliant free WiFi hotspot access
The 3 worst bits
1) Slowest measured 4G speeds
2) Tough phone contract credit requirements
3) No recent innovative extra benefits
In our review of O2
✔ Overall rating
✔ 4G/3G coverage
✔ Data speeds
✔ Call quality
✔ Free WiFi hotspots
✔ WiFi calling
✔ Inclusive roaming
✔ Spending caps
✔ Multibuy discounts
✔ Free subscriptions
✖ Data-saving schemes
✖ Data rollover
✔ Special offers
✔ SIM only plans
✔ Phone contracts
✔ Pay As You Go
✔ Mobile broadband
✔ Ofcom data
Is O2's network any good?
Coverage: O2 have made huge improvements to 4G signal
✔ Make sure O2 have good reception near youSee coverage map
O2 are one of the UK's four main network providers (the others are EE, Three and Vodafone). This means they run and own their mobile network - without relying on anyone else like smaller providers do.
They've been investing heavily in their 4G network recently and it's now beginning to pay off for O2's customers, as they've just reached their 97% outdoor 4G coverage target.
This closes the gap on EE who offer 99% population coverage for 4G and makes O2 the 2nd best network for coverage overall (read our full EE vs O2 comparison here). It's one of O2's main selling points.
If you join O2, this means fast internet and clear calls in more places than before. But we'd still always recommend that you check precise coverage in the places you use your phone, before you sign up.
Useful link: Check your local O2 coverage with their 4G/3G network map.
Not as good as:
Vodafone and Three
Speeds: O2's 4G measures up as the slowest in the UK
While O2's investments have greatly improved the number of places you can access their faster (than 3G) 4G signal, they're still lagging behind the other networks for the overall speed of the mobile internet connection.
That's our conclusion from independent network testers' reports about O2 and their rivals.
That's only about 50% of the fastest network (EE)'s typical results and could cause things like HD video streaming to buffer and downloads to take longer.
Speed isn't O2's strong point. We can only give them an average rating for now.
Useful link: What O2 say about their own 4G
Joint last (with other networks who use O2)
Not as good as:
EE, Three, Vodafone
Call quality: O2 are now ranked last by specialist testers
✔ O2 performed well for audio quality and set uptimesRead about 4G calling
Even though, we use our phones mainly for data more and more, we still think it's important to look at how a mobile network performs for actually making voice calls. So we rate each network in this category too.
Unfortunately, this is something that O2 have slipped behind other networks for this year. That's according to the most recent report into call quality from the independent testing company P3.
They look into audio quality and call setup times across the country. Their results put O2 last behind Three, Vodafone and EE, who scooped the best rankings. They still give O2 a 'satisfactory' rating.
O2's new 4G calling service should help them improve even further in next year's tests. But for the time being it's hard to give O2 more than a good rating for call quality.
Useful link: Read O2's guide to network improvements
4th out of 4
Not as good as:
EE, Vodafone, Three
Tesco, giffgaff, Sky
WiFi calling: O2 have just made their scheme worse!
✔ O2 will need to support your particular phoneSee supported phones
More and more mobile networks are now offering what's called WiFi calling, which lets you make calls on your phone over a WiFi signal instead of conventional mobile signal.
The obvious benefit of this is allowing you to keep using your phone, even in places that regular reception doesn't reach: like underground or in buildings with thick walls.
We used to rate O2 higher because they had an excellent app called Tu-Go, which let you make calls over WiFi abroad but it has now been scrapped.
It was also useful if O2's main WiFi calling didn't support your phone (here's a list of currently-supported models). It's not huge and contains restrictions like Android phones must have been bought from O2 directly.
If your phone is supported by O2's WiFi calling, it's as good as any network's.
Useful link: All about how O2's WiFi calling works
Not as good as:
Three, Vodafone, EE
iD Mobile, BT Mobile and all others
Free WiFi hotspots: O2 are among our best-rated providers
✔ Free, fast and unlimited WiFi data on O2How you get it
In our reviews, we're always on the lookout for networks that help you save your monthly allowance of mobile data by offering you free access to public WiFi hotspots to use instead.
This is an area we can give O2 a good rating for because all their customers (pay monthly or pay as you go) get free access to their network of approximately 7000 WiFi hotspots nationwide (find ones near you here).
Their free WiFi tends to be located in useful locations on the high street like restaurants, cafes, shopping malls.
If you bought your phone from O2 directly, it will have software on it that will connect your phone automatically to most hotspots If not, you can still connect manually yourself.
All in all, O2 WiFi is a nice free benefit that saves data and gives you a fast internet connection.
Useful link: All about free O2 WiFi from their official guide.
Not as good as:
BT Mobile, Virgin Mobile
Tethering: it's allowed on all O2's deals
✔ Tethering could quickly push you over data limitsSee extra data costs
Tethering is using your phone and its mobile data connection to create a mini WiFi hotspot around you that you can connect other internet-enabled devices to when you're away from home.
Not every network allows you to do it because it can use up data more quickly than just regular browsing on your phone (check O2 costs for going over your limits here).
Tethering is allowed on O2 whether you're on a pay monthly or pay as you go phone or SIM only plan.
For that reason, we can give O2 our joint best choice rating for tethering.
Useful link: Read general O2 terms and conditions
★★★★★ (Joint best choice)
As good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2, BT, Plusnet, Tesco
iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile
O2's perks and extras reviewed
Inclusive roaming: free in EU plus worldwide add-ons
✔ 48 free roaming destinations in the EUSee where's covered
New regulations mean every UK mobile network must now offer free EU roaming on their pay monthly deals. This means you can use your regular UK minutes, texts and data in these 48 countries at no extra cost on O2.
Because EU roaming is now included as standard with every provider, our ratings now look at what other roaming is included with each network to find out what's different:
O2 have one of the better schemes known as O2 Travel (we still rate Three's Feel At Home the best).
This is essentially a travel pass scheme where you pay a fixed daily charge (see costs per country here) for a block of minutes and texts back to the UK and a small data allowance.
If you're a heavy user these passes will work out cheaper than paying per minute, text or MB (at these rates). If you're only a light user, we like the fact that you can turn O2 Travel off so don't pay the daily fee.
Useful links: How roaming works on O2
Not as good as:
Three, EE, Vodafone
Slightly better than:
Spending caps: you can't limit overspending on O2 yourself
✔ Tesco Mobile do have spending caps and use O2Read more
In this category, we look at what measures each provider has to stop you racking larger-than-expected bills for going over your monthly allowances or using other premium services.
The most common way is to let you put a cap on how much extra you're willing to pay above your regularly monthly cost. Once you hit this amount, anything that'd would cost you extra to use is temporarily blocked.
O2 don't offer this facility with any of their deals so we can only give them a poor rating.
If you think you want a spending cap, we can recommend Tesco Mobile's capped contracts for the peace of mind of not being able to overspend on a phone or SIM only plan while still using the O2 network for signal.
Useful link: How Tesco Mobile's capped contracts work
Not as good as:
Tesco, iD Mobile, Plusnet Mobile, BT Mobile
Customer rewards: O2's Priority is our best-rated scheme
✔ Thousands of daily savings to be hadSee example deals
In this part of our review, we look for how networks look after their existing customers by rewarding them for staying loyal. O2 are pretty much the masters as this, with their famous Priority Rewards scheme.
Take any of their pay monthly or pay as you go plans and you’ll automatically join the 22 million people in the UK already benefitting from the biggest and most popular loyalty scheme in the country.
It gives you useful discounts and exclusive offers to use on the high street and online, which you could end up using every day.
Get cheap meals, discounted travel and shopping that people not on O2 can't access. Plus skip to the front of the queue for music and sporting event tickets, where O2 is the sponsor.
If you play it right, you can end up writing off the cost of your mobile by taking advantage of the thousands of deals on Priority. So it's definitely worth taking a look at what's available to see how you could benefit.
Useful link: How O2 Priority works from O2's official guide
★★★★★ (best choice)
Not as good as:
Shared plans/multibuys: O2 does an alright but not great job
✔ You can share data between plans on O2How data sharing works
This section of our reviews looks for networks that reward you with better deals for taking out multiple contracts with them at once. O2 do have a couple of things to offer when it comes to this:
The first are O2's Sharer plans. These allow you to share the monthly data allowance of one main phone contract with up to 9 other people on phone, SIM only or tablet deals (here's O2's guide to how they work).
The main benefit of these would be if you signed yourself up to one deal with loads of data, you could theoretically take out cheaper ones with less data and to share with. For us, this is probably more faff to manage than it's worth and there are no large clear-to-understand cost savings.
The second scheme is O2's Family plans, which give you up to a 50% discount on the airtime element of an O2 Refresh phone deal on extra contracts you take out.
But because of the way Refresh deals are structured, this will typically actually amount to between 17% and 47% off the whole monthly cost. So there are concrete savings, even if they're a little hard to calculate.
Useful link: See O2's Family plan discounts
Not as good as:
BT Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Vodafone, EE, Three
Entertainment subscriptions: O2 have nothing to offer
✔ 6 months free subscription on EEFree Apple Music on EE
Another way mobile phone networks are sweetening their deals is to throw in an included subscription to an entertainment streaming service. O2 don't offer anything like their main rivals do.
Or on Vodafone, their most premium plans come with your choice of either a subsription to NOW TV, Sky Sports Mobile or Spotify Premium (read all differences between O2 vs Vodafone here).
No inclusive subscriptions means we can only give O2 a poor rating in this category.
Not as good as:
Vodafone, EE, BT Mobile
Data rollover: use what you get or it's gone on O2
✔ Some providers let you keep data you haven't usedData rollover guide
Everyone's data usage changes month to month. Sometimes you'll have loads left over, sometime you might even go over your monthly limit and paying for an extra to see you through to next month.
Some mobile networks have started to recognise this and have come up with an interesting concept that generally gets called data rollover.
These special plans either carry forward any data you've not used so you can use it in the next month. Or they put unused data away in a kind of bank account that you can withdraw from whenever you need.
Unfortunately, there isn't any data rollover on O2 so we can only give them a poor rating.
Useful link: See which networks offer data rollover plans
Not as good as:
Sky Mobile, iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile
Data saving schemes: no free data for streaming/messaging
✔ Stream certain services without using data on ThreeSee what's included
One new way that some networks are adding extra value to their deals is by giving you free data to use for streaming or social media, which doesn't come out of your allowance. O2 don't offer anything like this.
The best examples we've seen so far are Three's Go Binge that lets you watch services like Netflix on your phone without using up data on selected plans (we've reviewed Go Binge here).
Another good scheme comes from EE, who are giving away a 6-month subscription to Apple Music and free data to stream it with to their pay monthly customers.
And lastly, is Virgin Mobile's scheme that lets you message on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook Messenger without eating into your monthly data allowance on their phone and SIM only plans.
Not as good as:
Three, EE, VOXI, Virgin Mobile
Comparing O2's deals
O2 SIM only tariff fact file
Number of plans available:
Price range: £ - £ a month
SIM card sizes: Standard, Micro, Nano
Data speed: 4G on all plans
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Current offers running on O2
✔ A new batch of attractive SIM only deals
O2 have 8x promotional SIM only plans this spring, including some very attractive prices on their larger data tariffs:
50GB for £30 a month (12-month contract).
25GB for £25 a month (12-month contract).
One thing to note with these discounts is that the monthly cost will go up to the full price after your 12-month contract is up. So it's worth keeping an eye on so you never overpay.
On smartphones, there are a few discounts here and there but no really exciting overal offer applying to all models (take a look here).
Useful link: View all O2's spring offers
Phone contracts on O2 at a glance:
✔ O2 Refresh lets you upgrade early under conditionsHow O2 Refresh works
iPhone: Yes, full range of latest models
Samsung Galaxy: Yes, latest flagship plus mid-range
Other makes/models: Alcatel, Doro, Huawei, Moto, HTC, LG, OnePlus, Sony
Upfront costs: Depends on model
Locked to O2?: No
Contract lengths: 24 month only
Contract types: Handset financing (consumer credit agreement)
Expected ease of passing credit check: Harder than average
All O2's pay monthly phones are offered exclusively on their O2 Refresh tariffs. These were the first in the UK to allow customers to upgrade to a new model at any point in their 24-month contract.
This is done by splitting your deal into two parts: a payment for your monthly 'airtime' (the minutes, texts and data you'll use) and a second consumer credit agreement, which pays for the phone itself over 24 months.
This is essentially like taking out a loan with O2 to pay for your handset. Pay off the loan early and you're free to leave O2 entirely or upgrade to a new phone with no extra termination charges.
While this might all sound great, the fact that their contracts are offered on the basis of a financial loan means O2 have to be unusually strict about who they let take a phone contract with them.
This might mean it's harder to get accepted with O2 for a phone than with any other network (Virgin Mobile, giffgaff and Tesco Mobile's contracts are also based on loans).
Overall, O2 Refresh's benefits do come at a bit of a premium with O2 coming in as 3rd most expensive network for phones in our most recent price analysis for iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8.
£££££ (above average)
3rd most expensive
Not as cheap as:
Vodafone, BT Mobile
Pay As You Go: O2 join the cheapest providers
✔ Joint UK-cheapest payg rates See O2 Classic PAYG
On pay as you go, O2 have got two basic options, which you switch freely between at any time:
2) Big Bundles: buy a bundle of minutes, texts and data out of your credit that lasts for 30 days.
Both options are reasonably price and the SIM card is free to order. There are cheaper options available though.
O2's new lower rates means they join Three's 321 plan offering the UK's cheapest basic rates on a major network.
If you want to buy monthly bundles, we can recommend giffgaff's goodybags as a low-cost alternative that runs on O2's network (plus get £5 free credit here).
O2 customer service reviews
Customer service: O2 score well in Ofcom complaints data
✔ O2 receive fewer complaints than averageSee all O2's awards
It's practically inevitable with a mobile network that people are going to experience problems from time to time. The important thing is how well providers deal with their customers' issues.
That's why we use Ofcom's data on how many complaints they receive about each network to determine our customer service scores. If Ofcom receive a complaint, it means the provider hasn't resolved it themselves.
O2 have a great reputation for looking after their customers and this is reflected in the Ofcom data, which shows they receive fewer complaints per 100,000 customers than the industry average.
Their online 'Guru' service is a nice resource for sorting out technical problems without having to phone them up.
Useful link: See O2's online help section