Plusnet Mobile only came onto the scene relatively recently, in 2016, as an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) running on the EE network. It is a SIM-only provider, aiming to provide straightforward, affordable plans, and it also offers rewards to customers who use Plusnet TV, broadband or home phone services.
Plusnet started up in 2000 and was bought by BT in 2007. The company still presents itself as a “friendly, no-nonsense, award-winning communications provider”, which is proud of its northern roots, and likes to give back to the community.
It has been a sponsor of Sheffield Wednesday football club and works with Sheffield Children's Hospital. This may all sound very worthy, but let's see how Plusnet measures up as a mobile provider.
Plusnet Mobile has a simple range of SIM-only plans, which are all on 30-day rolling contracts, so you can leave when you like. Plusnet rewards its existing broadband, TV and phone customers, with double (or more) mobile data, plus double or unlimited minutes and texts, compared to its standard SIM plans. Plusnet calls this Mates Rates.
Customers wishing to take advantage of Mates Rates must sign up to Plusnet Broadband at least 24 hours before joining Plusnet Mobile.
Roam Like at Home is included in some Plusnet Mobile plans, allowing customers to use their minutes, data and texts in EU countries at no extra cost. But beware: if you use up all your minutes or data while abroad, the out-of-plan calls and data can be expensive.
You can play it safe by capping out-of-plan charges with Plusnet Mobile's Smartcap, which sets an upper limit on your bill. This is a good idea when home or abroad. Out-of-plan charges like MMS (picture messaging) can really add up, so this is a useful feature for those on a budget, or a parent who pays their child's mobile bill.
Bear in mind that cheaper roaming is the result of a European Union ruling targeting unfair roaming charges, which means similar EU roaming is available from most UK mobile providers and is not unique to Plusnet.
Plusnet Mobile doesn't sell phones, or offer contracts with handsets. As a SIM-only provider, its target audience is people who already own a handset, or have bought a new one in advance. Remember, your current handset may need to be unlocked if you were previously with another provider (check with your old provider to find out).
The SIMs provided by Plusnet Mobile are of the 3-in-1 variety. They have perforations, allowing the correct-sized SIM to be punched out and fit any phone.
According to the Plusnet Mobile website, its Support Team are available all day, every day. In practice this means 7:30am to 10pm by phone. This is a very respectable set of opening hours compared to a lot of providers. Customer service can also be contacted via online chat, and there is a FAQ section on the website where answers to common questions can be found.
Ofcom doesn't have figures on the quality of Plusnet Mobile's customer service. However there are 2016 Ofcom figures for Plusnet Broadband. (The service experienced by broadband customers may differ from the experience of mobile customers, so take this with a pinch of salt.)
Plusnet Broadband customers waited longest for their calls to be answered and it received the second highest number of complaints. On the other hand, customers of EE mobile (which provides the network for Plusnet Mobile) expressed 92% satisfaction with its service, which is similar to the other large providers.
Unless you are already a Plusnet Broadband customer, the value for money represented by Plusnet Mobile's SIM plans isn't particularly attractive. Data allowances in particular can feel ungenerous when compared with other providers. The situation improves considerably for Plusnet Broadband customers, who can take advantage of its Mates Rates deals, which on all but their cheapest bundles have unlimited texts and minutes, and at least twice as much data.
Mates Rates seems intended to reward customer loyalty, and encourages new customers towards Plusnet Broadband as well. If its basic SIM-only plans were more attractive, perhaps the double data and unlimited calls of Mates Rates would seem a fair reward for customer loyalty. However because the basic plans are not particularly great, the contrast between the two tiers starts to feel like a penalty against new customers.
When comparing Plusnet Mobile's plans to other providers, the data offering in its most expensive plan seems a bit small. Even Mates Rates customers who receive double are getting less data than what's on offer from the competition. There are other providers whose similarly priced plans offer considerably more data, alongside the same unlimited minutes and texts.
EE provides the network infrastructure for Plusnet Mobile, so coverage is good, especially when it comes to 4G. Plusnet Mobile's website states that "We cover 99% of the UK population". Other findings from Ofcom show 85% of customers are satisfied by the mobile reception provided by EE, which is only beaten by the 86% figure, reached by Vodafone and O2.
It's always important to check your local coverage before signing up to anything, especially if you live in a rural or remote area, where Ofcom figures suggest there is a 4% drop in customer satisfaction with mobile coverage. You can check your area an the Plusnet Mobile coverage checker, or you can take a look at the Ofcom coverage checker.
Bear in mind that coverage may be generally good in your area, but mobile signals can be blocked by tall buildings or landscape features. To be certain, you could invite a friend with Plusnet Mobile or EE to your home, and see what their reception is like. This advice applies to all mobile providers.
Plusnet Mobile has the heritage of a local company with strong roots in the community. However, despite its image as a good-value provider, the SIM-only deals it offers lack decent data allowances. Much of Plusnet's competition will give you a better deal on data. This is less of a problem for Plusnet Broadband customers, who can get a much better deal. The Smartcap feature could also be useful in controlling your spending.
However, the service's much-vaunted flexibility really is a big advantage for many. If you find the amount of data that you use varies a lot from month to month, this could be a really useful feature; and one that could be ideal for families with social media-mad teenagers.