How we rate mobile service providers
Choosing a mobile service provider was so much simpler a decade ago when there was only a handful of carriers to choose from. Today there are dozens of companies vying to stick a SIM card in your smartphone.
It reasonably simple to compare phone plans (you should try our phone plan search engine to see for yourself) but comparing the companies behind the phone plans can be really tricky. Some companies offer a premium product, but charge more for the extra services, support and perks. Others offer a no-frills product for cheap, but this comes at the expense of important things, like sufficient customer support channels, or affordable access to overseas calling.
The biggest hurdle is how subjective a question like this is. If you were to ask 10 customers of a particular service provider about their experience it would be unlikely to get the same response from everyone. Some people will be extremely happy with the service, others will have had a poor experience. No one service is right for everyone.
To rate mobile carriers in a meaningful way we’ve come up with a robust checklist of pros and cons that we use to evaluate each of the suppliers. We focus on:
- Value for money
- Product features
- Customer support channels
- Publicly available customer reviews
Each component is made up of numerous considerations, which we rank and then aggregate into the final score. We weight each of these components differently too, leaning towards value for money as our primary guide to find the best providers.
It is important to point out that these ratings are not based on personal experience (even though we have collectively used at least 10 of the providers reviewed). At the end of the day, our personal experience will likely vary from yours. Just because I had a good experience with a service provider doesn’t mean that you will too.
Value for money
Phone plans come in a number of different shapes and sizes, but at the core of what we pay for is mobile data, so how much do the providers charge for this? We choose several data tiers to cover a number of different use cases, and then compare the price each of the carriers charge to meet these needs.
Beyond calls and data, there are numerous different components that we commonly find in phone plans that extend the use of our plans in important ways, or add on extra perks and bonuses that are nice to have.
We look for things like whether the provider offers plans that cater for overseas calling and international roaming. Can you buy a prepaid plan with long expiry credit? Does the provider offer data rollover to extend the use of the data you’re paying for? These are important features for some people and can be deal-breakers if they are missing from the equation.
Customer support channels
Customer support is one of the key areas of contention for many telco customers. We’ve all had to call for tech support at one time or another, and how the provider deals with these problems usually defines what we think about the company as a whole.
How we seek this help has changed over the years, and while all of the providers have a phone number you can call, or an email address to write to, the better providers now offer numerous ways to get in touch, like online chat and social media. These are not cheap services for the providers to offer, and this is usually reflected in the price of the plans, but offering a variety of support avenues is something that many will agree is essential.
If the internet is good for one thing, it is giving people a place to share their thoughts. The thoughts of current and former telco customers are just a Google search away. We aggregate review scores from a number of popular sites, like Product Reviews, but we weight these scores lower in our aggregation than the other considerations. Online review sites tend to attract extreme views, both positive and negative, and it can be difficult to get a true sense of a service by reading these reviews. We think there is some value in considering these, but not as much as the other factors we take into account.
Once we have all of this data collected, we crack out the calculators and turn it into something much easier to understand than our spreadsheets. Our star rating reflects all of this research and we think it is the best reflection of what a mobile provider offers and whether it represents good value for money compared to all of its competitors.