O2’s come a long way from the days when it was part of BT and has cemented its position as one of the four major networks in the UK. Now owned by Spanish multinational Telefonica, O2 has more than 25 million customers.
O2’s one of the big players in the mobile game and runs 2G, 3G and 4G networks across the UK, as well as operating O2 wi-fi and owning half of Tesco Mobile. It offers a decent choice of tariffs and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) options, as well as some great perks with O2 Priority.
O2 currently offers handsets from a broad spectrum of manufacturers, but pushes customers towards Apple and Samsung. Pay monthly contracts allow you to pay off the value of the handset in instalments through your normal monthly bill – but only if you commit to a 24-month contract – there’s no 12-month option. There’s also the option to pay for your device in full upfront and just pay for an airtime contract each month.
Although O2’s keen to tie customers in to 24-month contracts, O2 Refresh offers an early upgrade option for customers who buy certain flagship phones on one of its 20GB or more tariffs. O2 Refresh splits your pay monthly bill into two parts: device (the cost of your handset), and airtime (the cost of your data, texts and minutes). You can trade in your existing phone after 12 months on selected tariffs, without having to pay off your device. You can only get O2 Refresh directly from O2, either online or in-store.
O2’s PAYG customers can pay for a handset outright and pair it with one of three options: a Big Bundle, a pay monthly SIM on a 12-month contract, or ‘classic’ PAYG.
Big Bundles offer calls, texts and data and each bundle lasts for a month. Some bundles allow unused data to be rolled over to the following month. Bundles renew automatically on the same day each month, but only if you've got enough credit to cover the payment. If you don't, you'll be charged at O2’s standard rates.
Pay monthly SIMs on 12-month contracts are aimed at users happy with their handset and just needing to pay for their minutes, texts and data. But watch out – if you don’t switch to a new deal at the end of the 12 months, O2 whacks up the price. 30-day SIM-only deals are also available.
Classic PAYG means you top up your phone with credit, then pay for calls, texts and data at O2’s standard rates, which might be a good option for light users. For any SIM-only option, you’ll need an unlocked handset. If your handset is locked to a different network, O2 can unlock it for a fee.
EU rules mean that if you're travelling within Europe, your minutes, data and texts will work just as they do at home, whether you’re a pay monthly customer or on PAYG.
If you're travelling further afield and are a pay monthly customer, O2 Travel lets you use minutes, texts and data while you’re away for a fixed daily rate. This is generally a good option on short trips but you’ll save money with an international SIM on longer jaunts.
However, standard roaming rates apply for PAYG customers so you’re probably better off investigating international SIM card options or trying to get by on local wi-fi.
O2 offers a wide range of pay monthly and PAYG handsets ranging from low-spec bargains up to the latest bank-breaking models. You can choose from the big names such as Apple, Huawei, Samsung, and Sony as well as smaller niche brands such as LG, OnePlus and Doro. There’s usually the option to pre-order new flagship handsets.
O2 also sells cheaper ‘like new’ handsets on pay monthly deals, allowing those customers who are unwilling to pay the eyewateringly expensive price tags for a brand new handset to buy a second-hand phone that is checked over and securely wiped. There are three categories of 'like new' handsets: perfect, almost perfect, and perfectly fine. All options come with a 12-month guarantee.
You can also sell your existing phone to O2 via O2 Recycle – this is open to everyone, regardless of which network you’re on.
Industry regulator Ofcom’s latest report found that O2 had the third-best customer service of any mobile provider in the UK. It scored 93% for customer satisfaction and was just pipped to the post by Virgin Mobile scoring 94% and Tesco Mobile 96%.
Only 3% of O2 customers had reason to complain in the past 12 months; only Tesco Mobile had fewer complaints at 2%. All in all, that’s not too bad.
O2 isn’t the cheapest network out there. You’ll probably find a better deal from a mobile virtual network operator or 'MVNO'. These networks piggyback off the likes of O2 and Vodafone, offering the same network coverage but usually cheaper deals. If you want to stick with O2, there are a few nasties to watch out for.
Firstly, pay monthly customers buying a new handset are tied in for two years and you’ll be charged if you leave before the end of the contract. Secondly, if you sign up for a 12-month SIM-only deal, O2 cheekily hikes the price after the year’s up.
O2 has been known to implement the dreaded mid-contract price hikes, which may mean your monthly cost increases before the end of your contract. According to Ofcom, if the price increases significantly during the contract, you can leave without penalty within 30 days of the price change coming into effect.
O2 is one of four mobile companies in the UK that runs its own network. The others are Vodafone, EE and Three. All the other mobile operators ‘piggyback’ off one of these networks, rather than owning their own infrastructure.
O2 claims to cover 98% of the UK population, but it’s important to understand how signal is measured (for all providers, not just O2). Signal reliability is calculated as a radius around the mast, taking into consideration hills and contours that can affect the signal. But it doesn’t take account of buildings (i.e. between the mast and your location) or thick walls that might block your signal.
If you’re thinking of switching to O2, it’s always worth asking around to find a neighbour on O2 then quizzing them about how reliable the coverage is where you live. Assuming they’re not an axe murderer, invite them round to your house and see how strong their signal is.
Whatever your network, mobile coverage is heavily weighted towards built-up areas, with those in rural areas likely to get worse reception than their urban-dwelling counterparts.
You can check O2’s network coverage on its website. 4G is the fourth generation of mobile phone technology, with speeds five to seven times faster than 3G. If you have a 4G-ready phone, but you’re not in a 4G area, you’ll still be able to use 3G.
O2 Priority offers some decent perks. You can buy tickets for events at The O2 arena in Greenwich, London, 48 hours before they go on sale. Once you’re there, you can take the fast track queue to the O2 lounge and take three friends with you. In today’s security-conscious times, this gets you in much quicker than the long queues for the main entrance.
The O2 Priority app offers discounts from various high street and online brands – these change regularly. O2 also has public wi-fi hotspots around the country, which O2 mobile users can log-on to for free.
O2’s a solid choice for mobile users. The coverage is generally good and there’s plenty of choice of handsets and tariffs. Be on guard for the price hikes though – both mid-contract and at the end of 12-month SIM-only deals. O2 Travel is a quick and easy bolt-on for jetsetters, although there are better networks for regular travellers.
If you go to a lot of gigs or events at the O2, then opting for O2 for your phone is a no-brainer. You get access to pre-sale tickets, fast queues and a trendy, uncrowded lounge to hang out in before the show.