mobile phonesPeter Kneffel

The mobile phone industry has evolved substantially since the days when they looked like a brick. And likewise, the amount we rely on our cellular friends has changed. Indeed, for many people, if their mobile stops working, so do they.

Which is why receiving good customer service from your mobile operator is now more important than ever.


Ofcom publishes data on the number of complaints it receives about each of the big telecoms providers, including mobile phone networks, each quarter. It's now reporting complaints separately for Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go providers.

These are its results for Pay Monthly mobile phone providers from the most recent report, covering July to September 2012 (Q3).

Provider

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q3 2012)

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q2 2012)

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q1 2012)

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q4 2011)

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q3 2011)

Complaints per 1,000 customers (Q2 2011)

T-Mobile

0.175

0.177

0.183

0.165

0.149

0.176

Three

0.162

0.194

0.186

0.193

0.18

0.172

Orange

0.16

0.135

0.16

0.387

0.164

0.157

Vodafone

0.138

0.154

0.176

0.16

0.161

0.139

Virgin Mobile

0.104

0.096

0.128

0.134

0.15

0.102

O2

0.051

0.048

0.045

0.047

0.054

0.05

As you can see, T-Mobile has taken over this quarter from Three as the most complained-about provider. Both providers have, relatively speaking, consistently led to the highest number of complaints over the past 18 months. Orange and Vodafone also generated above-average complaint numbers over the past three months. By contrast, O2 and Virgin Mobile have consistently enjoyed lower numbers of complaints.

Ofcom says the complaints about T-Mobile are mainly due to "billing, repairs and customer service issues".

As Ofcom receives very few complaints about Pay As You Go providers (which, by their nature, are far easier to switch), it doesn't provide a company-by-company breakdown. It says it receives fewer than 30 complaints per month per provider, which means the statistics are subject to small fluctuations and, as such, could be rendered meaningless.

Earlier this year the consumer group Which? carried out its own research into mobile phone operators by speaking to 8,000 customers. These stats not only took into account the handsets, costs and clarity of bills offered by providers, but also included a wider range of operators.

Here are the results for contract and SIM-only phones:

Network

Customer service

Aftersales care

UK call costs

Network coverage

Handset range

Incentives

Customer Score

O2

4/5

4/5

3/5

4/5

4/5

4/5

66%

Tesco Mobile

4/5

4/5

5/5

4/5

4/5

2/5

66%

Virgin Mobile

3/5

3/5

4/5

3/5

3/5

2/5

60%

Orange

3/5

3/5

3/5

2/5

4/5

4/5

58%

T-Mobile

3/5

3/5

3/5

2/5

4/5

2/5

57%

Three

2/5

3/5

4/5

2/5

4/5

2/5

55%

Vodafone

3/5

3/5

3/5

3/5

4/5

2/5

55%

Talkmobile

2/5

3/5

3.5

3/5

3/5

2/5

54%

Here are the results for Pay As You Go:

Network

Customer service

Aftersales care

UK call costs

Network coverage

Handset range

Incentives

Customer Score

Asda Mobile

4/5

n/a

4/5

4/5

3/5

1/5

72%

Tesco Mobile

4/5

4/5

4/5

4/5

4/5

3/5

70%

O2

4/5

4/5

3/5

4/5

4/5

3/5

64%

Three

3/5

4/5

4/5

3/5

4/5

3/5

59%

Talkmobile

n/a

n/a

3/5

3/5

n/a

n/a

58%

Orange

3/5

3/5

2/5

3/5

4/5

4/5

57%

Virgin Mobile

3/5

3/5

3/5

3/5

3/5

2/5

56%

Vodafone

3/5

3/5

2/5

4/5

4/5

3/5

56%

T-Mobile

3/5

3/5

3/5

3/5

3/5

2/5

53%

So Tesco and O2 are both very consistent performers at the top end, while Vodafone struggles in both areas.

The survey also shows that pay as you go operators emerged slightly better than their contract counterparts when it comes to customer service.