2014 iPhone buyers guide: How to choose between Three, O2, EE, Vodafone or alternatives such as Virgin Media or GiffGaff for your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus!
If you're in the U.K, choosing a carrier for your new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus is as tough as ever. We've now got LTE support across the country from all the major carriers, even some of the MVNOs are starting to get in on that and pricing is become every more competitive. Add to that increasing competition from high-street retailers to get your business and it can become a real challenge to hunt down the best deal.
That's where we come in. We've rounded up the best the major players have to offer so you don't have to!
O2 vs EE vs Vodafone vs Three - The big four
While last year 4G LTE was still in its relative infancy when the iPhone 5s launched, this year all the major carriers can boast significant and ever increasing coverage. With the headstart it had, EE can still boast higher download speeds and more areas covered, but they're no longer the only big player. O2, Vodafone and even Three have all started their aggressive rollouts of LTE data and various deals to lock you in to for 2-years. As with last year, calls and texts aren't really an issue anymore since most contracts offer unlimited or very high allowances of both.
At the time of writing there aren't any subsidized prices available – we'll be back with those when pre-orders have gone live – but also worth considering are some of the SIM only deals available from each of them. If you're happy to pay the full retail price for your iPhone by buying it from Apple you can save yourself some of the monthly outlay while still getting a good amount of data. Check out this next chart for a roundup of some of the best SIM only options for 4G LTE data.
Something else worth considering is Wifi calling. Introduced with iOS 8, EE has already announced its intentions to support Wifi calling. Three and O2 will also allow you to do the same, though you need to download a separate application to allow you to do it.
The MVNO's - Virgin Media and GiffGaff
There are numerous smaller MVNO carriers in the UK, but the two biggest to consider are Virgin Media and GiffGaff. Both offer good signal, and good packages on a SIM only basis to prospective iPhone buyers. On GiffGaff you're looking at paying £12 a month upwards for packages with unlimited data but without tethering included. Compared to the main carriers these 30-day rolling deals offer an extremely compelling package.
Virgin Media offers a range of packages but as ever those who are already customers on one of the suppliers TV or broadband packages will get the best deals. As such, Virgin is probably only worth really considering if you fall into this category. Tariffs with 1GB of data and up start from just £10 a month on a 30-day rolling arrangement. 2GB will cost £15 and for unlimited of everything you're going to pay a pretty reasonable £18 a month.
Then there's coverage to take into account. After all, there's little point paying out if you're not going to be getting what you're paying for. Generally the big four all have excellent coverage nationwide, with the usual blackspots to be expected. The best thing to do is to check out the coverage maps at the links below for each of them.
And, since two of the bigger MVNOs, Virgin and GiffGaff that we mentioned above, use EE and O2 signal respectively, check out those carriers maps for more information on those.
One of the strengths here is O2 Refresh, where the phone and the cellular connection are split apart from each other. Each incurs a cost that combines to make one monthly payment, but the net result is a potentially cheaper way to upgrade next year to the next iPhone. You won't have to buy out your whole remaining contract, just the amount you still owe on the phone, and then you get to start all over again.
On the SIM only front, O2 isn't the most expensive options and you can find a good compromise of data packages at reasonable prices should you be willing to lock in for 12 months.
And of course, if you get great O2 signal where you are, they're worth a look.
EE has more coverage than the other LTE enabled carriers so far, and has even rolled out double-speed data in certain locations such as London and Birmingham. The network that came together as a combined effort of Orange and T-Mobile has solid signal across most of the UK, and also has a decent reputation for working indoors.
EE has recently shaken up its price plans a little and the biggest thing missing on a SIM only basis is a really high data cap offering as you get with most of the other UK carriers. But if you're in an area well served by EE LTE signal, particularly the double-speed, then it's certainly worth a look.
At this point, the strongest argument is that if the signal in your area is strongest on Vodafone, then go with them. Their LTE offering is improved on 12 months ago but their tariffs are still more expensive when you get towards the higher tiers of data allowance than the competition. But, Vodafone does offer higher allowances on a SIM only basis than EE, which is another point in its favour.
Long serving customers and folks who enjoy the best signal are best suited to Vodafone.
If you want unlimited data, properly unlimited data, then Three is the one to beat. New customers still get unlimited mobile data but it no longer includes unlimited tethering. Only customers on an existing contract will be grandfathered in to that so if it's important to you you're probably better buying a new iPhone outright. There's a misconception that Three signal isn't great, but those days are over with the majority of the UK now covered.
Three's LTE rollout is now in full swing but it's not yet covering wide areas of the UK. But its HSPA+ network offers some pretty astounding speeds as it is, with 20Mbps+ down on tap in many areas.
Three is the single best choice for the truly data hungry iPhone owner.
Who should get their iPhone on Virgin or GiffGaff?
If you can afford to buy an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus outright from an Apple Store, there's no reason not to look at one of these two. Signal is pretty great and without the phone to worry about paying for your monthly bill will be much lower than on one of the big four carriers who want to sell you the phone as well, and on a SIM only basis both are extremely competitive without requiring you to be locked into a contract for more than 30 days at a time.
If you're still not sure about which UK carrier to get for your new iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus or even if you're going to pick up a new iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c jump into our iPhone discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out. Then let me know - which one did you go with and why?