Tesco Mobile review: Come for the bargains, stay for the service

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
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Good deals and great customer service make up for average performance

Good for smartphone and SIM-only deals
Strong customer service and satisfaction scores
Fast 5G at no added cost
EE and Vodafone are faster
Long waiting times for customer support
Roaming costs can be high

The UK’s biggest retailer has become a major player in the mobile phone market, with some good deals on the latest handsets and some equally eye-catching prices on SIM-only plans. You can buy in-store, online or in dedicated Tesco Mobile shops, and there’s usually something for the keen bargain hunter. However, there’s more to the supermarket brand’s mobile services than just the cut-price offers.

Tesco Mobile scored well with users in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards survey across all categories, including performance, and 94% of those we surveyed would recommend the supermarket own-brand network to someone else. That’s a result that puts some of the more established networks to shame, so Tesco Mobile seems to be doing something right.

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Tesco Mobile review: What do you get?

It’s always worth checking out Tesco Mobile if you’re after a new handset, particularly as you can play with the parameters, such as the contract length or upfront payment, to get the right deal for you. Effectively, you’re paying for the phone itself over 12 to 36 months while your minutes, texts and data are covered by a separate plan.

As a result, you can (at the time of writing) have an iPhone 12 for as little as £26 per month, although that means paying for it over 36 months, managing on just 3GB of monthly data and splashing out £180 upfront. On a 24-month contract with £60 upfront and 25GB of data you’re looking at £41 per month or £1,050 over the two-year term, but that’s still a fair bit cheaper than similar deals from EE, Vodafone, O2 or even Three.

READ NEXT: Giffgaff review

What’s more, Tesco Mobile usually has a decent range of budget and mid-range phones on offer, meaning you can easily pick up a Galaxy A52 5G for under £23 a month or a Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 5G for under £20 a month, depending on the term of the contract, the upfront cost and how much data you require. iD Mobile has a slightly bigger range and can be cheaper, though, so compare prices before you sign up.

Tesco Mobile’s SIM-only deals can be even better value, particularly if you’re happy to commit to an 18-month contract. At the time of writing, Tesco Mobile will give you 25GB of data for 50p more than Three or Giffgaff charge you for 12GB, or you can have 50GB for just £13.50 per month. Three and iD Mobile undercut it for 100GB or unlimited data, but if you’re after a SIM-only bargain with a decent monthly data allowance, Tesco Mobile often has something to push.

All of Tesco Mobile’s SIM-only plans are available with a 5G SIM, and there’s no difference in price. The current options are listed below:

Monthly fee (12 month)Monthly fee (18 months)DataTextsMinutes
2GB data-£7.502GBUnlimitedUnlimited
10GB data£10£910GBUnlimitedUnlimited
25GB data£15£12.5025GBUnlimitedUnlimited
50GB data£17.50£13.5050GBUnlimitedUnlimited
100GB data£20£17.50100GBUnlimitedUnlimited
250GB data-£20250GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Unlimited data£30£27.50UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

While Tesco Mobile doesn’t offer cut-price family plans like EE or BT, you can take out several contracts on a single account and choose a family perk like additional data, a discount or money off some phone insurance. The amounts scale upwards and downwards with the cost of your plan.

Meanwhile, Tesco Mobile also earns some extra brownie points for freezing prices while you’re on a contract, so you don’t get a nasty surprise price rise before it’s up.

Users seem to appreciate Tesco Mobile’s approach. It scored the third-best result for value for money in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards survey, with two-thirds of customers very satisfied and a further 25% satisfied, putting it just behind Giffgaff and Sky Mobile, and way ahead of the rest of the pack.

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Tesco Mobile review: Customer service

For a while, Tesco Mobile has been winning hearts and minds with its excellent customer service and support, and that’s reflected in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards survey. Some 86% of users surveyed were satisfied with customer support, with the vast majority of those (58%) very satisfied. Only Sky Mobile posted better figures, leaving Tesco Mobile with a Highly Commended in this category, just ahead of Giffgaff.

Ofcom’s latest figures paint a similarly rosy picture. Some 91% of users Ofcom surveyed were satisfied with their service overall, and Ofcom only received three complaints about Tesco Mobile per 100,000 subscribers. That’s the lowest figure for any network, and that’s been true of Tesco Mobile for the last seven years. Average call times are on the long side, but Tesco’s customer service figures are never worse than average, and often good.

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Tesco Mobile review: Coverage, reliability and speed

As with Sky Mobile and Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile operates as a virtual network running on top of O2. In fact, O2 is a part owner, so the relationship is that bit closer. O2 has put a lot of work into improving its network over the past few years, and is investing more now that it’s merged with Virgin Media.

Over 99% of the UK population should be able to get a decent 4G signal, and while RootMetrics’ latest coverage maps show some blackspots in the Scottish Islands and Highlands, you shouldn’t have any trouble elsewhere. What’s more, O2 also scored highly for the reliability of its data connections in RootMetrics’ latest tests, and had its network accessibility rated as outstanding.

O2’s speeds have improved since RootMetrics’ last round of testing, with two more UK cities showing median download speeds of over 30Mbits/sec, and four fewer registering median download speeds of below 20Mbits/sec. On the downside, its UK-wide median download speed – 15.6Mbits/sec – is still the slowest of the four major networks, so there’s still a lot of work to do.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Tesco Mobile will feel slow. In our survey, 94% of users said they had adequate speeds for web browsing and social media, 90% said the same for audio streaming, and 85% had no issues streaming video – all above average results. However, if you want the fastest service, you need to look towards Vodafone or EE.

If you’re thinking of shifting to 5G, O2 is posting some impressive results. It clocked up three of the five fastest everyday 5G median download speeds in RootMetrics’ latest tests, with speeds of 163.3Mbits/sec to 179.3Mbits/sec in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leicester. Availability is improving across and outside the UK’s 16 biggest cities, although it still lags behind EE, Three and Vodafone in eight of the metro areas where RootMetrics tests.

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Tesco Mobile review: Roaming

Tesco’s roaming options are still fairly basic. Under its “Home from Home” scheme, you can use your call, data and text allowances in 48 destinations in Europe, but that’s about it. Charges aren’t too steep if you go over your allowances, with calls charged at 25p per minute, texts at 10p and data at 10p per megabyte. What’s more, Tesco Mobile has no current plans to start charging for allowances within the EU. Given that other networks are reintroducing charges like there’s no tomorrow, that’s good news for Tesco Mobile customers planning European holidays or travel.

Once you roam outside of this area, things start to get expensive. You’ll be charged £5 per megabyte with a £40 spending cap while abroad and calls cost £1.49 per minute to make and 89p to £1.49 per minute to receive. There are better options if you plan to spend much time travelling abroad.

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Tesco Mobile review: Other services and spending caps

Tesco now lets you limit your monthly spending to your allowance and not a penny more, giving you the reassurance that neither you nor your offspring will end up with a huge bill at the end of the month.

Otherwise, you can set a ‘safety buffer’ of up to £100 above your monthly fee if you’d prefer to have some wriggle room. You can set the cap at the same time as purchasing the contract, then change it online or through the Tesco Mobile app.

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Tesco Mobile review: Verdict

Tesco Mobile isn’t the cheapest network and it’s definitely not the fastest or most feature-packed, but its plans are flexible, affordable and straightforward, and its users feel like they’re getting a good service and an even better deal.

Sure, its performance is held back by its reliance on O2 as a host network, but there are signs of improvement there, particularly as we move into the 5G era. With a Highly Commended in our Mobile Network Awards for Customer Service and a few others only just out of reach, it’s one supermarket own brand that you shouldn’t think twice about buying into.

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