Is Tesco Mobile any good?
Supermarket giant Tesco entered the competitive world of mobile networks back in 2003, hoping to help customers bag some great off-the-shelf phone deals.
Yet after ads where customers are mocked until comedians Ed Byrne, Gina Yashere and Ronnie Corbett silence the hecklers, is the mobile network provider really just a joke? We take Tesco Mobile to the checkout to decide – and no, we don’t need any help with our packing.
Tesco Mobile (phone-shop.tesco.com) is, like Virgin Mobile and Giffgaff, a 'mobile virtual network operator'. This means that they don’t operate their own network, but rather turn to an established provider to carry their calls, data and texts. Like Giffgaff, Tesco have partnered with O2 for this, using the widely established network to bring 2G coverage to around 99% of the UK and 3G to around 80%. They have also become the most recent mobile provider to offer 4G connectivity to customers.
Pros and cons
You trust them when you’re doing the weekly shopping (they are the UK’s biggest supermarket, after all). You might have even thought about opening up a Tesco Bank account too. Yet can the supermarket specialists provide the same level of care when it comes to mobile phones? Here’s our at-a-glance guide to what we like and what we don’t about Tesco Mobile.
- Which? love Tesco Mobile
- Opt-in capped tariffs prevent nasty surprise bills
- Bonus Clubcard points when you use your phone
- Restrictive data limits
- Low data limits on cheapest tariffs
- No data allowance at all for the cheapest and shortest tariff
What we like
A watchdog approved mobile provider
Tesco Mobile landed the prestigious Which? Award for Best Telecom Services Provider 2013, beating competition from their carrier O2 (that must have been an awkward taxi ride back to the office) and broadband suppliers Plusnet and Zen Internet to take the prize. The award was given to Tesco Mobile in recognition of them being consistently focused on the needs of their customers. The watchdog added that Tesco Mobile deliver excellent products and services that scored highly in their research and testing, so that’s a good seal of approval if you ever needed one.
Tesco Mobile were also named by Which? as their recommended provider in the 'Contract and SIM-only' and 'Pay As You Go' categories in May 2013 too.
In another watchdog-pleasing move, after Ofcom criticised EE for introducing mid-contract price hikes, Tesco Mobile introduced their 'Tariff Promise’. In it, the provider committed to never introducing such unexpected increases in customers bills. This is particularly reassuring if the reason you’re looking for a new mobile provider is because you were stung by the T-Mobile/Orange/EE mid-contract increases.
No nasty surprise bills
On a related note, Tesco Mobile offer an opt-in capped service, which allows consumers to set a limit on the amount of data, calls and texts that can be made on their phone. This is ideal if you want to be sure you’re not exceeding a fixed amount on your bill each month – it’s especially useful too if you’re signing up for a contract on behalf of a younger member of the family and want to keep their mobile use under control.
It’s a smart service too: if you exceed your text allowance, for example, your data and call services will continue unaffected. It’s also very easy to change or remove the capped limit if circumstances change.
What do points make?
You might already be a Tesco Clubcard holder and have become used to picking up points whenever you fill up your car or do some shopping. Thankfully, this strangely addictive points collection scheme has carried over into Tesco Mobile too. All you need to do is link your existing Tesco Clubcard (or sign up for a new one if you’re not already a member) and you’ll find yourself earning points every time you use your phone.
Pay monthly customers get triple Clubcard points for every £1.00 spent on their bill until January 2014. If you opt for Pay As You Go, it’s a little more complicated: you pick up triple Clubcard points when you top up at any Tesco store, through the Tesco top-up line, or via the Tesco website. You won’t earn points if you top up at cash machines or stores other than Tesco, however.
What we don't like
No unlimited data for you
In the all-singing, all-dancing age of the smartphone, you’d expect Tesco Mobile to provide some equally data-friendly deals. Sadly, you can’t get a single unlimited data tariff on Tesco Mobile. Equally frustrating, if you only want to commit to a 12 month contract, you’re also locked out of accessing the 2GB or 3GB a month data allowances – they're only available to customers who've sign up for a 24 month contract. Being left with options of just 500Mb or 1GB feels a little unfair if you're looking at a 12 month contract.
The lack of unlimited data tariffs is even more odd when you consider Tesco Mobile offer some of the best and potentially most data-hungry smartphones around, including the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy SIII and and Nokia Lumia 900.
Vague traffic management and fair usage policies
We’ll admit that the lack of any unlimited package from Tesco Mobile does send the message that they’re perhaps not the most data-friendly of all providers. Dig a little deeper however and you’ll find some confusing information about daily data limits and traffic management (which always triggers images of a disgruntled looking policeman waving us through a busy junction).
It seems the network does employ traffic management – speeding up or slowing down users online activity depending on wider network demands – as well as enforcing a data limit of 250Mb per day. So even if you’ve signed up for their most generous 3GB a month tariff, you’d still be expected to keep your activity below 250Mb a day. So yes, you can use up that 3GB a month – just not all at once.
No data at all for you
The shortest and lowest priced tariff from Tesco Mobile, whilst very attractive from a price (£7.50 per month) and contract length (one month) perspective, is missing one key element that could help you decide if the provider is right for you: data.
What could be a great taster to allow potential customers to take a low-risk one month trial of the Tesco Mobile service fails to deliver what almost all customers expect from their contracts: some data to play around with. This is a real missed opportunity - a small data allowance would have made this a very attractive trial offer indeed.
Customers who have been with Tesco Mobile for a while may remember when the provider offered free access to BT Wi-Fi hotspots as part of their phone packages. This feature is sadly no longer offered to new or existing customers, further complicating data issues for consumers.
So does being the biggest supermarket chain in the UK mean Tesco are perfectly placed to run a mobile network? Well, they offer some genuinely good customer-friendly ideas – for example, the contract capping facility in particular will stop a thousand arguments over mobile phone bills before they even happen. Similarly, if you’re going to be spending money on a phone contract, you might as well build up some loyalty points as you go (thank you, Tesco Clubcard).
Yet it’s their approach to data and traffic management that lets Tesco down. It’s a strangely old-fashioned way of viewing mobile phones, where the focus is still firmly on calls and texts over data. Naturally, for some customers this could be absolutely perfect – if you don’t browse online with your phone, then why pay for data you’re not using? For everyone else, it’s a glaring weakness in their overall offer – one that’s out of step with contemporary smartphone technology.
There, we’re got through the entire guide without making any references to Dale Winton or Supermarket Sweep. We never said “every little helps” either. Well, until now…
If you’re a former customer of Tesco Mobile or have a contract with them now, be sure to let us know what you think of the service by leaving us a comment at the bottom of the page.
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