The Upgrade…

I’m not too far away from being able to upgrade my mobile phone (currently an Huawei P30) to something new. Ordinarily this would mean sticking with my existing network (Vodafone) and looking at what handset best suited my budget and desires. This time is a little different, for I am weighing up a new network too (based on my boss’s son’s experience).

I’ve been a loyal customer of Vodafone since 2000. I would ideally like to stay with Vodafone, but I can’t ignore the cost factor. First up, let’s compare one of the two handsets I’m considering – The Samsung S21 5G.

A two-year contract with Vodafone yields a price of £51 per month with £19 upfront for the handset. The deal includes 50GB of mobile data per month and unlimited texts and calls. This is for new customers, rather than upgrades.

A two-year contract with Virgin Media (who use Vodafone’s network, at least in part) for the same handset sees a price of £48 per month, zero upfront cost and 100GB of data per month (along with unlimited calls and texts.

So, over two years, the Vodafone deal would cost £1,243 (including the upfront cost) for half the data Virgin offer. Virgin’s deal would cost £1,152. I’d save £91 over two years, and get double the data, but wait, there is more…

Virgin also do a three-year deal. This (for 100GB of data per month) would cost £36 per month, which works out to £1,296 over a three year period. To look at it another way, over two years I’d pay £864 for that deal – obviously I have to consider the caveat that I’d be in a longer contract, but in the long run I’m only paying a little bit more and getting more bang for my buck.

The Galaxy S21 isn’t the only handset I’m looking at. I had my head turned by Apple once before (despite a few misgivings about the iPhone), and I’m looking at the iPhone once again. The iPhone 12 Pro is the model I have my eye on, here’s how Vodafone offer it…

For a two-year contract, they want £29 upfront then £75 per month. This includes unlimited calls and texts and 100GB of data per month. Total cost: £1,829.

Virgin are looking at no upfront cost and £57 a month for the same terms. Total cost: £1,368. If looking at their three-year contract, I’m looking at £42 a month with a total cost of £1,512.

So, Virgin are coming out a fair bit cheaper than Vodafone! A three-year contract for the same hardware is over £300 cheaper than a two-year deal with Vodafone. Virgin are slightly more expensive over three years for the Samsung S21 than Vodafone are over the two years, but not significantly so. The S21 is a fair bit cheaper than the iPhone and yet just as capable in terms of hardware.

There’s one more thought. I want to get my daughter her own phone this year, for she starts senior school soon (don’t get me started on fast she’s growing up). The phone I am thinking of for her (though ultimately this idea may change) is the Samsung Galaxy A12. At £23 a month for two years, including unlimited calls/texts and 50GB of data, Vodafone actually have a stronger offer here than Virgin. Or do they? Virgin offer a two-year contract with 100GB of data and unlimited calls/data for £33 a month. Ok, it’s £5 more per month, but it’s double the data – and (at the time of posting) that price includes a Nintendo Switch console. That might be useful for a number of reasons.

My hope would be that if I look to switch networks (and take out two contracts at once, with the prospect of moving my wife over to Virgin later on as well) that Virgin might be able to do something even better. Alternatively, might the prospect of leaving prompt Vodafone to offer me more? I have home broadband with Vodafone too, so would adding another contract to the ones we already have convince them to fight to hold onto our business?

Who knows – I can’t upgrade yet and there may be changes to deals and offers over the next few months. There’s certainly some food for thought – and so far, I have only compared two networks. With the iPhone there’s virtually £500 of savings to be had by signing up with Virgin. With the S21, I get more data for less money, and only pay £53 more in total if I take Virgin’s three-year deal. There’s a lot to consider – and it gets even more strange.

Vodafone not only offer phones directly but they offer them via Carphone Warehouse. Via CW, a two-year contract on the S21 is £43 a month with a £29 upfront fee, and 100GB of data. This offer works out to £1,061 in total. Somehow Carphone Warehouse can offer a better deal on behalf of Vodafone than Vodafone can offer directly. It still doesn’t work as good as the three-year Virgin deal (if we looked at cost per year), but it’s substantially better than Vodafone’s own direct offering. Virgin don’t appear to offer the S21 via Carphone Warehouse.

If we run the same comparison with the iPhone 12 Pro, where do we stand? Well, a 50GB deal via CW is £53 per month with £29 upfront. A 100GB deal is £59 a month and £29 upfront. Both are via Vodafone (again, Virgin don’t appear to offer this via CW). 50GB works out to £1,301 and 100GB to £1,445. Ultimately, Virgin are fractionally cheaper, coming in at £1,368 for 100GB of data over two years for the iPhone 12 Pro.

What about other networks? Well, let’s look at the S21 on EE…

Currently (because at the time of writing this, things can of course change, and often do with mobile phones) EE don’t do 100GB data plans, but jump from 40GB (which to be fair is pretty good) to Unlimited data plans. On an Unlimited plan we’re talking £60 per month and £30 upfront for the S21. £1,500 exactly. Not particularly cheap when weighed against either Vodafone or Virgin. More data than Vodafone’s offering and Virgin’s deal, though to be fair, 50GB and 100GB of mobile data is a lot.

With the iPhone 12 Pro, EE price themselves well out of contention – £73 per month plus £50 upfront for 100GB of data. £1,802. Only slightly cheaper than Vodafone and considerably more than Virgin’s deals.

On to Three, and things start to get interesting. The S21 is up for £25 a month for 6 months then £50 a month for the next 18 months, with £19 upfront. The deal includes unlimited data. This works out to £1,069 over the two year term of the contract. That’s not bad.

With the iPhone 12 Pro, they want £99 upfront and then it’s £35.50 for 6 months, followed by a whopping £71 for the next 18 months. Once again, this includes unlimited data. Overall that would cost me £1,590.

Finally, O2, the last of the ‘Big Five’ networks.

With the S21, we’re talking £30 upfront and £46.99 for 50GB of data per month, on a three-year contract. That’s £1,721.64 and well over the prices offered for the S21 by other networks. I’m not even going to look at their Unlimited plan as that costs even more.

Their iPhone 12 Pro offering includes 100GB of data and is again over three years. At £56.10 per month and £30 upfront, this would set me back £2,049.60.

The inescapable reality of all this is that Virgin are the cheapest network, at least for the most part. If going via Carphone Warehouse Vodafone’s offers are stronger, and EE and O2 are completely out of the picture. Three’s S21 deal is pretty good, but is it enough? There is the added dimension of wanting another contract on behalf of my daughter, and then there are details like signal coverage, network speeds, customer service etc. Virgin haven’t always scored highly on customer service, but they use Vodafone’s network to provide coverage, so that at least will be good. In fairness, most networks nowadays don’t have signal issues. It will boil down to whether Vodafone can get close to Virgin’s deals, or even their own deals via Carphone Warehouse.

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