Tesco and Asda have been selling handsets through their stores since 2000, but it is their mobile arms – Asda Mobile and Tesco Mobile – that focus on offering cheap SIM-only deals.
Both Tesco Mobile and Asda Mobile offer a respectable range of products and services, but there are some significant differences between the two, particularly as they use rival networks to offer their services. We weigh up the pros and cons of each.
Tesco Mobile has a full range of pay monthly, pay-as-you-go and SIM only deals. Asda Mobile, on the other hand, sticks to pay-as-you-go and SIM only offers, although you can of course buy a handset separately through the main supermarket website or in-store. Tesco Mobile has three pay-as-you-go systems - Rocket Packs, Triple Credit and Lite. Rocket Packs are all-in-one bundles that give you the amount of 4G data, minutes and texts you need.
With the company's Triple Credit tariff you get triple the amount of credit when you top up. With Tesco Mobile's Lite tariff, meanwhile, there's a simple flat-rate charge for calls to UK landlines and mobiles.
Asda Mobile, meanwhile, offers all its SIMs on a pay-as-you-go basis, though the company points out that you can set up a recurring monthly payment for a given bundle if you want. The free SIM comes pre-loaded with minutes, texts and a small amount of data, so you can essentially try before you buy.
Like Tesco Mobile, Asda Mobile doesn't have any unlimited data offerings at the time of writing. But if you need more data than your bundle allows, you can top up with data bundles. You can get these immediately over the phone, by text, by using a top-up card or in-store at an ASDA supermarket.
Since June 2017, roaming charges have been abolished in the EU, and while we're still members that freebie will continue to apply. However, you'll still be charged if you travel outside the EU. Both Asda Mobile and Tesco Mobile, therefore, offer free roaming to 48 countries – although both have a fair use policy that kicks in if they think you're overdoing things. As long as you're spending most of your time in the UK, though, you should be fine. Both charge on a pay-as-you-go basis outside the 48 listed destinations.
As mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), neither company actually operates its own network. Instead, Tesco Mobile uses O2, while Asda Mobile runs on EE, and there are some clear differences between the two.
EE was the first network to offer 4G in the UK, and still consistently comes out ahead of Vodafone, O2 and Three in tests of speed and reliability. Ofcom data shows EE customers getting an average 4G download speed of 32Mbps, with 99% getting at least 2Mbps. With O2, by contrast, phone users were getting a paltry 13Mbps on average, with only 90% of customers getting at least 2Mbps. O2 was also a little slower than EE when it came to web browsing.
Data gathered by consumer watchdog Which? last summer, meanwhile, shows EE giving an average download speed of 29Mbps, again making it the fastest of the four main networks; O2 was the slowest, at 15.1Mbps.
All four of the main mobile phone networks committed to covering 90% of the UK population by the end of last year, and all four of them managed it. EE, in fact, claims to have 99% population coverage, while O2 has over 97%. In terms of geographic coverage, EE comes out top again, at 86%, and the company says it's aiming for 95% by the end of 2020. It's also planning to boost reception on trains with some major upgrades this year.
EE has the most available signal of the big four, according to Which?, with customers able to access it 78.5% of the time. However, customers of both networks have very similar levels of satisfaction with their mobile reception: 86% for O2 and 85% for EE.
As always, you can use a checking tool to find out coverage in your particular area, and ask around amongst your neighbours as to what works for them.
In a recent report by Ofcom, Tesco Mobile was found to have the fewest complaints of any pay-monthly mobile phone provider surveyed – just one per 100,000 customers – which says a lot about the quality of its service generally.
A year earlier, indeed, another Ofcom report showed Tesco Mobile customers having the highest level of satisfaction with their service, at a very impressive 96%. And when Tesco Mobile customers call the company, it takes just 30 seconds on average to answer, making it the snappiest to respond of any operator surveyed. It also came top in terms of satisfaction with how complaints are handled, at 74%.
Unfortunately, Asda Mobile doesn't feature in the report, but the Tesco Mobile numbers would be very hard to beat. Having said that, Asda Mobile gets excellent reviews and feedback from customers online.
Asda Mobile's customer service opening hours are 8am to 8pm on weekdays, 8am to 6pm on Saturdays and 8am to 5pm on Sundays. Tesco Mobile staff are at their desks for a litle longer: 8am to 9pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm on Saturday and 10am to 6pm on Sunday.
Tesco Mobile offers a few bonus freebies to its customers, in particular the opportunity to earn Tesco Clubcard points for every £1 you spend on a top-up or your monthly bill. When you have more than one contract on your account, you also get Family Perks – extra data, extra minutes, extra Clubcard points or money off - with each of you choosing your own perk.
And if you're on SIM-only, you can sign up to Tesco Mobile Xtras and get a few quid off your monthly bills when you view ads, offers and content. You can also sign up for a cap to your service, meaning you won't ever have any nasty surprises when the bill comes in. Asda, by contrast, doesn't offer any extra perks or freebies: what you see is what you get. Nice and simple.
Overall, it's really a question of horses for courses. Asda Mobile gives a good, basic service. Its prices – at the lower end of the range, at least – are certainly very competitive. On top of this, the company piggy-backs on the EE network to provide its services, and EE is consistently rated the best network operator in the UK. If you don't use much data, minutes or texts, Asda Mobile will give you a good deal.
However, with handsets available as well as SIM-only deals, Tesco Mobile offers a wider range of options, and perks like the Tesco Clubcard points are also a nice little draw. The company also has excellent customer service, with calls answered promptly and dealt with efficiently. On the whole, then, it's Tesco Mobile we'd recommend.