Buying A Mobile Phone Guide

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This guide is intended to help you make the right mobile phone choice and network provider.


O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-mobile are networks. They supply the service, not the phone. Each network is basically a collection of radio towers all over the country, linked together and transmitting people's conversations.

There are also "virtual networks", which use one of the existing networks infrastructure, but sell under a different brand. For example, Virgin mobile and Value Telecom use T-mobile, OneTel uses Vodafone, NTL Mobile uses Orange and Sainsbury's uses O2. 3 has its own UMTS network, but until that has full coverage, they "borrow" from O2 to fill in coverage holes.

Strictly speaking, you don't have "a Vodafone". You have a Nokia or Motorola or Ericsson (or whatever) connected to Vodafone, O2 etc. Similar models are available on each network, sometimes under the network's brand name.

Choose your network

The network should be the first thing you choose when you're starting out. Your choice of network will decide where you get good coverage, and how good the customer service is. Some networks have better coverage in particular areas than others, but customer service varies from day to day, depending on demand.

Prepay or Contract?

Next, decide whether you want a pay as you go phone or a traditional contract arrangement:

  • Pre-pay, where you pay (usually by buying vouchers) before you make calls. No risk of a bill, but sometimes this is an expensive option, and adding vouchers can be inconvenient.
  • Contract - where you get a bill each month, but the call charges are usually lower, and there are more facilities offered.

But it isn't as easy as that! Some Pay As You Go have monthly line rental to pay or topups that only last a month, even if you don't use the minutes you paid for. Some contract tariffs have no standing charges, and some offer free calls with no line rental for an up-front payment.

T-mobile offer 'Mix-it' where you pay the normal monthly line rental and get inclusive calls, but any additional (non-inclusive) calls have to come out of pre-paid top-ups. This is a rather good idea!

Choose your tariff

Generally, paying higher line rental gets you cheaper call charges.

Before you commit yourself, check whether you can change tariffs later. Your usage may change. At first you may make many calls checking out the phone and its capabilities (or you may take time to get used to using it). You may find it far more useful than you expected.

When you buy a phone, it is subsidised by the network or service provider. The higher the tariff, the bigger the subsidy. If you switch to a lower tariff within 3 or 4 months, the dealer may suffere a "clawback" where that subsidy is withdrawn. The dealer will probably recover this loss from you. This means that although you can switch tariffs early on, it may not be in your financial interests to do it!

Insuring it

Because it is subsidised by the service Provider when you sign a contract, the phone is worth more than you paid for it: if it is damaged, lost or stolen, the replacement cost will be higher. Consider the insurance position carefully.


Once you have seen all the information here, and decided what you want, find a good retailer. Most retailers are helpful so just visit your local shop and read the buyers guide. Which will have more helpful information for you.

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