Vodafone review: Good-value bundles, but customer service needs to improve

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Vodafone’s speeds and 5G coverage show potential, but customer satisfaction is surprisingly low

Feature-packed bundles with optional extras
Good 4G and 5G speeds
Strong coverage and reliability
EU roaming now costs extra
Poor scores for customer service and support
Restrictions on unlimited 5G plans

It may not have the low prices offered by Three or Giffgaff, or the lightning-fast performance of EE, but Vodafone seems to have found its own niche as a mobile network that combines rich features with decent speeds at a reasonable cost. Improved 4G performance has seen it moving past Three and O2 and inching closer to EE, while it’s also developing a strong 5G presence.

Unfortunately, not all of Vodafone’s customers seem to be happy with the network or its service. The results of our 2021 Mobile Network Awards survey show lower than average levels of satisfaction with customer support and value for money. And where 94% of Tesco Mobile’s customers would recommend the network and 97% of Giffgaff’s, the best Vodafone could do was 78%.

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Vodafone review: What do you get?

Vodafone isn’t always the best place to look if you’re buying a new smartphone on a contract. An iPhone 12 with 25GB of data, for example, comes in at roughly £47 a month over 24 months, plus £29 up front. You’ll find the same phone cheaper on Tesco Mobile, iD Mobile or Virgin Mobile, and with more monthly data too. However, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G – yours for £45.50 a month on Vodafone – is actually cheaper here than with Tesco Mobile or Three, even if iD Mobile still hits a lower monthly price.

What’s more, Vodafone often has some particularly cheap limited time offers, so it’s worth taking a look to see what’s available before you assume that it’s going to be expensive.

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When it comes to its SIM-only plans, Vodafone can be pricey. 1GB for £12 a month is nobody’s idea of a bargain, while 20GB for £21 is more a reasonable deal than a great one. However, 120GB for £20 a month is more attractive, and occasional discounts can make Vodafone more competitive.

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Vodafone also adds to its basic Red packages with a series of Red with Entertainment options, throwing in one streaming service for the duration of your contract, with the options being YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime Video or Spotify Premium. If you’d normally pay for the service anyway, then getting it for £7 extra on Vodafone doesn’t seem like a bad idea; you can save a quid or two a month depending on what you pick.

5G is bundled as a free upgrade, while Vodafone now offers a selection of Xtra packages, giving you bonus features such as a device care insurance package or inclusive roaming. However, watch out for Vodafone’s unlimited 4G and 5G plans. While the basic Lite and Unlimited packages look like they’re great value, they come with speed restrictions that make 5G not really worth having. Who wants unlimited data if you’re stuck with a pitiful 2Mbits/sec download speed?

Monthly fee (12 months)Monthly fee (24 months)Monthly fee (30 days)DataTextsMinutes
Vodafone Red 1GB£12£11£241GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 5GB£16£15£285GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 5GB with Entertainment£23£22n5GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 20GB£21n£3320GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 20GB with Entertainment£28nn20GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 120GBn£20n100GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Red 120GB with Entertainmentn£27n100GBUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Unlimited Lite£24£22£36UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Unlimited£28£26£40UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Unlimited with Entertainment£35£33nUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Unlimited Max£33£30£45UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Vodafone Unlimited Max with Entertainment£40£37nUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

It might be this kind of gotcha that has resulted in Vodafone doing less well than expected in the Value category of our Mobile Network Awards. Only 17% of the Vodafone customers we surveyed said that they were very satisfied with the network on value for money, against 66% on Tesco Mobile, 68% on Giffgaff and 79% on Sky Mobile. It probably doesn’t help that Vodafone is seen as a premium option, but Three, O2 and EE did better, on 37%, 33% and 37%. Some 13% of Vodafone’s customers were actively disappointed on this count.

Vodafone review: Customer service

The bad news for Vodafone doesn’t stop there. While 66% of its customers said they were satisfied with its customer support, only 21% were very satisfied, leaving only Virgin Mobile scoring lower. Plus, only Three and Virgin Mobile had more customers dissatisfied with the level of service and support.

Ofcom’s research isn’t much more favourable. While Vodafone can take comfort in the fact that it scored 90% for overall customer satisfaction, it still has the highest percentage of customers with a reason to complain (16%) of any major UK network, and the third highest number of Ofcom complaints per 100,000 subscribers (20 to Three’s 23 and Virgin’s 25). Virgin fares worse for customer service, but Vodafone needs to make improvements if it’s to compete with the best mobile networks.

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Vodafone review: Coverage, reliability and speed

The latest research from RootMetrics puts Vodafone as the second fastest of the major UK networks, though its UK-wide median download speed of 25.2Mbits/sec is still a long way off the standard set by EE, with 58.5Mbits/sec.

Coverage is great but not quite as comprehensive, though Vodafone’s reliability was rated as outstanding in the last RootMetrics tests, with awards for reliability in 12 out of 16 of the UK’s largest cities. 4G speeds are definitely improving, too, with more of the UK’s 16 biggest metropolitan areas posting median download speeds of 40Mbits/sec or more, and fewer posting speeds of 20Mbits/sec or less.

When it comes to 5G connectivity, Vodafone’s availability could be better. It was the only UK operator where RootMetrics couldn’t record 5G results in three of the 16 test cities, and what RootMetrics calls everyday 5G availability was under 40% in ten of the remaining 13. Yet Vodafone still managed median download speeds of over 100Mbits/sec in 12 of RootMetrics’ 16 metropolitan test areas, reaching 192.2Mbits/sec in Glasgow and over 140Mbits/sec in Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham.

Speeds don’t seem to be holding Vodafone’s users back. 92% can get a fast enough connection for web browsing and social media, and 83% get ample bandwidth for audio streaming too. Where Vodafone slips behind a little is on video streaming, where 78% get enough speed to make it work reliably, against 88% of BT Mobile customers and 87% of Sky Mobile and Giffgaff users.

Vodafone review: Roaming

Like EE, Vodafone is reintroducing roaming charges for Europe, with a charge of up to £2 a day for using your inclusive minutes, texts and data while abroad. However, some plans include inclusive roaming as an additional benefit, and both the EU and other destinations are covered by EE’s Global Roaming scheme.

With its roaming add-on, you can use your allowances in the US, Australia and a range of other places, and this is either free with the Unlimited and Unlimited Max packages, or £6 per day with the less expensive plans. Your data allowance is included, but Unlimited customers have a data cap of 25GB per month. Data above your allowance will cost you £3.95 for 1GB or £19.75 for 5GB, which isn’t bad value when you see some networks charging £5 or more per megabyte.

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Vodafone review: Other services and spending caps

Like EE and Three, Vodafone supports Wi-Fi calling, so you can make and take calls over a wireless network instead of 3G or 4G. This doesn't save you any money – it comes out of your normal allowance – but it helps you stay in touch in locations you might not otherwise get a decent signal. Vodafone is also more flexible than EE or Three, as this feature is supported on a wider range of plans and phones.

You can set data caps for a Vodafone contract, either through the website or Vodafone’s smartphone app. You’ll get an alert when you’ve run through 80% of your data allowance, another when you’ve used it completely, and more for each further 250GB of data you consume.

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Vodafone review: Verdict

Vodafone has become easier to recommend over the past few years, thanks to improved speeds and network coverage and packages that either add a lot of useful features or work harder to compete on price.

However, this only makes it all the more disappointing that customer support remains a bugbear, and its users seem unimpressed with its value for money and less enthusiastic about recommending it to others. Vodafone still has its share of good deals and offers, but we’d like to see some real improvements to put the network back on track.

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