O2 review - a mixed bag

By Adrian Vincent - 11 Jan 2024, 21:21 O2 review
3.5 / 5
  • The last of the big 4 networks to still provide free EU roaming
  • Particularly good coverage for smaller towns and villages, as well as rural areas
  • Flexibility with O2 Refresh plans
  • O2 Wifi Extra for automatic signal boost
  • O2 Priority still going strong
  • Surprisingly decent pay as you go offers
  • Poor customer service
  • Slowest download speeds among the 4 major networks
  • Can be expensive compared to MVNO providers
  • Expensive compared to smaller networks

Of the 4 major networks, O2 really is a mixed bag.

O2 boasts strong performance and coverage for more rural areas, including smaller towns and villages. They’re particularly focused on delivering connectivity to those who feel they may have been left behind or forgotten about by the other major networks.

Their flexible plans, commonly known as O2 Refresh, are also an attractive offer, allowing you to build your own plan and split a phone contract into 2 separate agreements - one for the device, and one for the airtime plan.

In addition, O2 Priority is still going strong, offering weekly freebies from sausage rolls, coffees, and exclusive access to tickets.

While Vodafone, EE and Three have abandoned free EU roaming, O2 appears fully committed to delivering this benefit for all their customers.

But here’s where things start to turn sour. Although they do have respectable coverage, O2 has the worst download speeds by quite a fair margin, backed up by many independent tests.

Furthermore, their customer support is really bad. Abysmal, even. They have one of the worst rated scores for any UK network on Trustpilot, with a 1.2/5 rating. They also rank joint last in Ofcom's most recent complaints data.

As for their prices, they simply can’t compete with the smaller MVNO providers. You get less data and allowances for your money compared to many of their competitors - some of which even run on O2.

Therefore, we can’t recommend O2 for everyone. If you prioritise fast download speeds and good customer support, look elsewhere. But if free EU roaming and a good reward scheme (O2 Priority) ticks your boxes, O2 might be a decent option to consider.

Good flexibility with O2 Refresh phone plans

O2 is one of the most comprehensive networks when it comes to phone plans, with a wide range of tariffs to suit most needs. You can even create your own plan, by specifying the contract length, allowances, upfront cost and more.

As well as a wide range of plans, O2 also offers a diverse set of devices from many manufacturers, including more obscure brands such as Xiaomi Redmi. Of course, if you’re after the top phones, O2 has them as well, including the iPhone 15 and Samsung Galaxy S23.

The majority of plans include separate device and airtime (basically your data, minutes and texts allowances) agreements. This split of essentially 2 separate agreements was previously referred to as O2 Refresh, however O2 appears to be moving away from this branding, with little mention of it on its website apart from the small print.

With these plans, the device and airtime are linked for a minimum of 24 months. This means if you want to end your airtime plan before 24 months, you must pay the remaining amount of your device agreement at the same time.

After 24 months, you are free to end your airtime plan whenever you like. You can continue paying the monthly payments for your device as normal, assuming your device agreement is still ongoing.

O2 also offer Plus Plans. These work the same as the plans above, however you get a range of additional benefits.

Plus Plans include O2 Switch Up, which allows you to to swap your device for a new phone every 90 days. Your phone must be in a good condition to perform a swap - that means no dents, obvious scratches or any other noticeable damage. It must also be in a perfect working condition. You can read more about O2 Switch Up from our detailed article - it's quite an attractive offer if you always want the latest device.

In addition to Switch Up, Plus Plans also included a 3 year extended warranty, O2 Travel Inclusive Zone (roam in additional countries, including USA, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia), an O2 Extra for 6 months, Apple Music for 6 months, and free Apple TV (3 months for Android devices, and 6 months for iPhones).

Plus Plans are included with 12GB, 30GB, 60GB, 150GB and select Unlimited plans (note that not all Unlimited plans come with a Plus Plan).

O2 offers free next working day delivery for all phones. If you’re not happy with your device or service, you can return for a refund or exchange within 14 days.

Diverse SIM only contracts, double data if you have Virgin Media broadband

If you don’t want a phone tied to your contract, you can get a separate O2 SIM, which includes 30 day, 12 month and 24 month contracts.

Select 12 and 24 month plans also include Plus Plans, which include the same benefits as described above for phone plans (except the extended 3 year warranty, of course).

O2 aren’t the cheapest network for SIM only plans, with their lowest plan starting for £14 per month. However, unlike the 3 other major networks, you do get free EU roaming included at no additional cost.

If you have Virgin Media broadband at home, you can also get double the data at no additional cost. This offer appears to be available for all 12 and 24 month contracts, but not for 30 day plans.

Excellent coverage within rural areas, small towns and villages

O2 has decent coverage. Although they don’t have the best coverage (that crown belongs to EE), they have a particular focus on providing good coverage to more rural, remote and less densely populated areas, including small towns and villages. RootMetrics data shows that O2 has similar levels of coverage overall when compared to the 3 other major networks.

O2 delivers 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage. 5G is not included with pay as you go. It’s important to note that O2 plans to switch off 3G access by the end of 2025, so make sure you’ve upgraded to a 4G or 5G handset before this date. O2 intends to convert existing 3G spots into 4G and 5G masts.

With over 47 million connections, O2 is one of the most subscribed UK networks.

O2 claims over 99% of the UK population has access to their 4G network - quite an impressive feat. Note that this doesn’t mean 99% of the UK land mass has 4G access, it just means that 99% of the population live in areas where O2 4G is readily available.

For extended coverage, O2 customers also get access to Wifi hotspots (also known as O2 Wifi). This means you’ll be able to use an O2 hotspot for a stronger signal with calls - we’ll talk more about this further down.

In 2023, O2 invested more than ever in their infrastructure. They added 4G to an additional 241,000 postcodes, and introduced 5G to 300 towns and villages.

Although O2 are focusing on adding 5G throughout the UK, that doesn’t mean they have forgotten about 4G - O2 are continuing to invest significant amounts to bring at least a 4G signal to more rural areas than any other network.

From 2018 to 2021, O2 was awarded Best Network for Reliability by Global Wireless Solution, partly due to their ongoing coverage efforts.

Decent 5G coverage, but not the best

5G is included with all O2 plans (except pay as you go), with great coverage across major towns and cities, and a good amount for smaller towns and villages.

O2 says they deliver 5G to well over 3,000 UK towns and cities, and added 5G to many additional smaller locations in 2022.

O2 claims their 5G network is on average 35% quicker compared to their 4G network. Although this doesn’t seem like a big increase, 5G generally gets faster over time with improved infrastructure - the maximum theoretical speed of 5G is a whopping 20Gbps, which no UK network is close to achieving just quite yet. So you can expect O2 to get faster as they continue to improve and upgrade their network.

Over 50% of the UK population can get access to O2’s 5G network today. This isn’t quite as high as 4G with over 99%, however it’s still a significant milestone, which is increasing month to month.

Slow download speeds that can't keep up with EE, Vodafone and Three

Now here’s where things start to falter with O2. Although they have decent coverage, they simply have the slowest network, according to various independent tests.

One noticeable and reputable research group, RootMetrics, has repeatedly found O2 to be lagging in speed when compared to EE, Vodafone and Three.

In RootMetrics’ latest 2023 study, O2 scored 41.9/100 points for overall speed. To put this in perspective, the highest was EE, with 86.9/100 - more than double that of O2.

Furthermore, average download speeds clocked in at 15.5 Mbps. EE was the fastest network at 65.1 Mbps, followed by Three at 34.7 Mbps, and Vodafone at 29.4 Mbps. This means O2 is roughly twice as slow as the next slowest (Vodafone), and more than 4 times slower than the fastest (EE).

However, RootMetrics did note that O2 are continuing to improve speeds, but the other 3 major networks are also improving speeds at roughly the same rate, meaning O2 are currently stuck in an endless race of last place.

When it comes to 5G speeds specifically, O2 recorded 100 Mbps in five markets. However, overall they also have the slowest median 5G speeds at 75.1 Mbps. For context, Three is the fastest at 202.2 Mbps, followed by EE at 144.6 Mbps, and Vodafone at 131.5 Mbps.

WiFi calling at no extra cost

Like with most networks, O2 offers Wifi calling to all customers at no extra charge.

This means if you're on a call, O2 will automatically use your WiFi connection or 4G for better reliability and call quality. Of course, you’ll need to be connected to a Wifi network beforehand, or be in a 4G area.

WiFi calling is completely free, and it works automatically. By default, WiFi calling should be enabled in your phone’s settings, so there’s usually nothing you need to do to use it. O2 will automatically figure out where it can get the strongest signal from, to deliver the highest call quality.

Most modern phones support WiFi calling. They can seamlessly switch between WiFi, 4G and 2G.

Currently, Vodafone is the only network to have launched 5G WiFi calling. O2 have not mentioned 5G Wifi calling at the time of writing.

Free EU roaming still included, despite Brexit

Out of the 4 major UK networks, O2 is the network only to continue free EU roaming. O2 continuously advertises their free roaming as a major selling point (as you may have seen on TV recently), meaning they’re unlikely to pull the rug any time soon.

All O2 customers can use their regular allowance up to 25GB within 48 European destinations, at no additional cost.

Furthermore, with select O2 Refresh plans, O2 SIM only plans and Volt plans, you also get the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On for free, which allows you to use unlimited data, minutes and texts in 27 international destinations outside the EU.

Alternatively, you can pay for the separate O2 Travel Bolt On, which costs £6 per day, for unlimited data, minutes and texts in 27 international destinations outside the EU.

For further information, see our detailed article on roaming with O2.

O2 Wifi and O2 Wifi Extra for automatic signal boost

Launched in 2012, O2 Wifi enables anyone, regardless if they are an O2 customer or not, to connect for free to thousands of O2 Wifi hotspots across the country. To connect, you need to simply select O2 Wifi from your available networks.

However, O2 Wifi Extra is only available to O2 customers. It’s almost identical to O2 Wifi, except it’s automatic:

If you’re an O2 customer and you have a compatible device (most new smartphones), O2 will automatically connect you to an available O2 Wifi hotspot, as long as the signal is stronger compared to 3G or 4G within the area you are currently in.

Unlike O2 Wifi, O2 Wifi Extra is completely automatic, meaning you don’t need to manually connect to a Wifi network. Of course, you are still free to manually connect to any available O2 Wifi hotspots if you choose to do so.

You can’t opt out of O2 Wifi Extra, however disabling Wifi in your phone’s settings will prevent it from joining to a hotspot.

If you’re worried about security, you shouldn't be - O2 Wifi hotspots use the latest encryption standards for Wifi, meaning no one else will be able to see which websites or apps you are using.

Free Disney+ and Amazon Prime with O2 Extras

Select O2 plans, such as Plus Plans, include a free O2 Extra, which lets you choose from a range of add-ons and services for a trial period (3 or 6 months, depending on your plan):

  • Amazon Prime
  • Amazon Music Unlimited
  • Audible
  • Disney+

Once the trial has ended, O2 will automatically charge you for the Extra, ranging from £4.99 to £10.99 per month (see below). If you don’t want to be charged, it’s important you opt out before the trial ends. You can do this though your My O2 account.

Note that most plans only include 1 free extra.

You can also pay for additional Extras. For example, Disney+ Premium is available as an Extra for £7.99 per month (usually £10.99). You’ll also get a £2 discount every month on your airtime plan (only with Disney+ Premium).

  • Amazon Prime (£8.99 per month)
  • Amazon Music Unlimited (£10.99 per month)
  • Audible (£7.99 per month)
  • Cafeyn (£7.99 per month)
  • McAfee (£4.99 per month)
  • Disney+ Premium (£7.99 per month - includes £2 off your airtime plan)

With select plans, you’ll also get Apple Music for 3 months or 6 months, on top of your Extra.

Plus Plans and select other plans also include O2 Travel Inclusive Zone, which lets you use unlimited data, minutes and texts in 27 international destinations outside the EU.

Family plans with Multisave

O2’s family plan is known as Multisave, which lets you save 20% (on the airtime plan only) for all additional pay monthly contracts you add to your account.

The 20% discount will not apply to the primary contract, but only to the additional contracts. You cannot add an existing pay monthly contract to Multisave - it must be a newly created contract on your account.

You can have a maximum of 20 Multisave plans, 5 of which may be Refresh Plans.

Only the airtime plan gets the 20% discount. For example, if you have a phone contract which costs £10 per month for the airtime plan and £20 per month for the device, you will only get a £2 discount (20% of the £10 airtime plan).

To use Multisave, buy a new pay monthly phone, SIM or tablet through your account. Then within 28 days, text LOYALTY to 21500 from the new number. The discount will be applied within 3 days. If you upgrade a Multisave contract, you’ll need to text again to reapply the discount.

Note that you won’t get a 20% discount on out of bundle charges - for example, the amount you will be charged if you go over your data allowance or call a premium number.

The primary account holder can purchase their O2 contract directly from O2 or a 3rd party retailer, however additional plans intended for Multisave must be purchased directly from O2, or else they won’t be eligible for the 20% discount.

O2 Priority still going strong

O2 Priority is the longest ongoing reward scheme offered by any network - and it’s still going strong.

It’s available to all O2 customers and Virgin Media broadband customers.

So what exactly does it get you? Here’s some of our top picks:

  • Free Greggs sausage roll or bacon roll (Friday & Saturday - 25,000 limit)
  • Free Greggs coffee (everyday - 10,000 limit, 7,000 on Sunday)
  • 2 Vue tickets for £9, with 20% off food and drinks
  • Save £2 per month on Disney+ (phone plans and 12 and 18 month SIM only contracts)
  • 48 hours early access to tickets for popular gigs, events and concerts

There are many other freebies and discounts available. Some are only available depending on your location.

O2 switches up the offers every month, so keep the app handy on your phone to grab the latest deals first.

To get O2 Priority, simply download the app, or text PRIORITY to 2020.

Decent pay as you go offers

Although not advertised as much in today’s market, O2 still offer pay as you go SIM cards.

Just like with pay monthly plans, you get free EU roaming and access to O2 Priority.

The main way to use pay as you go with O2 is through Rolling Plans or Big Bundles.

Rolling Plans are essentially like 30 day contracts. You get a set amount of data, minutes and texts, which renews every month via direct debit. Of course, you can choose to change or cancel your plan at any time - you are not obliged to commit for a set period.

Big Bundle is similar, except that it doesn’t renew every month, and can only be purchased through your top up credit. This is ideal for those who aren’t sure if they will be able to afford a plan every month.

The third option is to use O2 pay as you go in the traditional way - top up your account with credit, and be charged as you use services on your phone. However, paying per minute, text or MB of data can be expensive, so we don’t recommend this for most people, unless you seldomly use your phone.

If you’re on a £10 or higher Rolling Plan or Big Bundle, you’ll also get data rollover. This means any unused data will be rolled over once to the following month.

If you run out of data, minutes or texts, you can purchase an O2 Bolt On for additional allowances. You can do this via the O2 app or your My O2 account.

Interestingly, most Rolling Plans with O2 are cheaper compared to their 30 day contracts. The price discrepancy even exists for 30 day contracts which don’t include additional benefits, such as O2 Extras. So don’t dismiss pay as you go, as it can work out cheaper.

Customer service needs drastic improvements

Regrettably, this is the point where O2 begins to decline. To put it bluntly, their customer service leaves much to be desired.

O2 has a 1 and a half star rating on Trustpilot, with over 13,000 reviews. This is officially rated as ‘bad’. In fact, we’re struggling to find a network with a worse rating.

Furthermore, Ofcom's recent report on customer data shows that O2 received 5 complaints per 100,000 customers, ranking it third from the bottom among mobile networks. Only Virgin Mobile and BT Mobile fared worse. However, Virgin Mobile is currently merging with O2, transferring its customers to O2 plans. This is a result of the Virgin Media-O2 merger. Similarly, BT Mobile customers are transitioning to EE plans as BT refocuses on business services and positions EE as its primary consumer brand. This transition follows BT's acquisition of EE in 2015.

Considering these transitions, O2 emerges as the lowest-rated active network in Ofcom's statistics - not great.

Also note that O2’s call centres are located in India, South Africa and the UK. You’re only likely to be connected to a call centre in the UK if you’re joining or upgrading, and directed to a call centre in India or South Africa for other customer support queries.

As well a phone support, O2 also have a live chat support service on their website. You need to speak to an AI assistant first, before you're handed over to a real human.