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Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Mobile Network Providers UK market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Key points included

  • Preventing churn and fostering brand loyalty can be short-term aims
  • Bringing 5G’s potential to life for consumers can help re-energise MNOs’ proposition
  • Mobile networks’ next battleground could be away from mobile phone

Covered in this report

The market value has continued to decline from 2018 as subscriber numbers plateau and average monthly spend per subscriber continues to fall. We see a continuation of consumers moving to SIM-only deals and putting off upgrading to the latest edition of smartphones.


The continual rollout of 4G services is being continued. The UK government announced in-principle support for the MNOs’ proposed Shared Rural Network (SRN) agreement which aims to deliver mobile coverage to under-served rural areas. Meanwhile, EE, O2 and Vodafone launched 5G mobile services in 2019. The trio are offering 5G in some form in more than 40 UK cities and towns.

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Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Joe Birch, a leading analyst in the Technology sector, his extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

The market for mobile network providers has reached a mature point as a static subscriber base continues to gravitate to flexible options offered by competitive SIM-only deals. 5G could help usher in a new dynamic helping operators to move from being a provider of communication to a platform of connected services. However, the functionality and promise of 5G capabilities will need to resonate more clearly with consumers before we see a significant shift towards these new services Joe Birch
Technology Analyst

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What's included

What's included

Table of contents

Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Products covered in this Report
      • Executive Summary

          • The market
            • A stagnant subscriber base, with a decreasing monthly spend contribute to market decline
              • Figure 1: Mobile network providers’ market size and forecast, 2014-24
            • Companies and brands
              • O2 and EE are top providers but MVNO proposition gains ground
                • Figure 2: Mobile network provider, 2018 and 2019
              • The big four roll out 5G in 2019 across major cities in the UK
                • Vodafone and O2 infrastructure agreement to deliver faster 5G rollout
                  • Vodafone showcases 5G capability at Ricoh Arena in Coventry
                    • Virgin Mobile moves to Vodafone’s network from 2021
                      • Three pioneers cloud-based core network in partnership with Nokia…
                        • The consumer
                          • SIM-only contracts continue to rise as consumers delay upgrading
                            • Figure 3: Contract with a phone vs SIM-only vs PAYG, 2017-19
                          • Users in longer-term contracts are down in 2019
                            • Figure 4: Length of contract, 2018 and 2019
                          • Ethical and environmental traits can add halo effect for providers
                            • Figure 5: Factors influencing purchase decision, November 2019
                          • Take-up of 5G contracts and handsets looks set to be a slow burn
                            • Figure 6: Uptake of 5G phones and contracts, November 2019
                          • Customers tend to stay loyal to network providers
                            • Figure 7: Length of time with network, 2018 and 2019
                          • Data allowances still a priority for consumers
                            • Figure 8: Attitudes towards mobile contracts, November 2019
                          • What we think
                          • Issues and Insights

                            • Preventing churn and fostering brand loyalty can be short-term aims
                              • The facts
                                • The implications
                                  • Bringing 5G’s potential to life for consumers can help re-energise MNOs’ proposition
                                    • The facts
                                      • The implications
                                        • Mobile networks’ next battleground could be away from mobile phones
                                          • The facts
                                            • The implications
                                            • The Market – What You Need to Know

                                              • Market continues to decline on back of mature consumer base and decreasing prices
                                                • SIM-only deals increase as those with longer-term contracts with providers go down
                                                  • Ofcom launches a host of initiatives to encourage competition in the mobile market
                                                    • Bundled services see a drop-off in 2018 as market reaches maturity
                                                    • Market Size and Forecast

                                                      • A stagnant subscriber base, with a decreasing monthly spend contribute to market decline
                                                        • Figure 9: Market size and forecast for mobile network providers, 2014-24
                                                        • Figure 10: Volume of mobile network connections, 2014-24
                                                        • Figure 11: Value and volume of mobile network connections, 2014-24
                                                        • Figure 12: Contract with a phone vs SIM-only vs PAYG, 2017-19
                                                    • Market Drivers

                                                      • Mobile minutes increasing gradually as fixed line use drops off
                                                        • Figure 13: Average monthly voice call minutes per line/subscription, 2013-18
                                                      • Decrease in international calling from mobiles
                                                        • Figure 14: Outgoing mobile call minutes, by call type (bn), 2013-18
                                                      • Bundled services see a drop-off in 2018 as market reaches maturity
                                                        • Figure 15: Mobile retail revenue, by service (£ billion), 2013-18
                                                      • Contract spend decreases as competition across the board hots up
                                                        • Flagship smartphones’ price points can be a hindrance to the upgrade cycle
                                                          • Figure 16: Average monthly payment of those with contracts on phone, 2017-19
                                                        • Data use continues to rise on the back of 5G capacity…
                                                          • …but take-up will likely be a slow burn
                                                            • Figure 17: Total mobile data use, by subscription type, (PB) 2013-18
                                                          • MNOs focus on 4G rollout to continue targeting not-spots and increased coverage in rural areas
                                                            • Transparency and contract rules aim to increase fairness and transparency for mobile customers
                                                              • Clearer signposting on cost implications for handset and airtime contracts
                                                                • A challenge to industry to reduce bills across the board
                                                                  • Focus on delivering converged services can shift MNOs’ business models
                                                                    • Ofcom launches Text-to-Switch service to make it easier for consumers to change providers
                                                                      • Proposals to ban mobile providers selling handsets locked to their networks aimed to ease switching inconvenience
                                                                      • Companies and Brands – What You Need to Know

                                                                        • EE and O2 share top billing in Mintel’s research as most popular providers
                                                                          • EE, O2 and Vodafone go live with 5G service
                                                                            • Virgin Mobile will move from the EE network to the Vodafone network from 2021
                                                                              • BT outlines its future of connectivity
                                                                                • EE and Vodafone named top two providers in 2020 UK Mobile Benchmark test
                                                                                  • O2 adds Apple Watch to its Custom Plans
                                                                                  • Market Share

                                                                                    • EE and O2 share top billing in 2019
                                                                                      • Figure 18: Mobile network provider, 2018 and 2019
                                                                                  • Launch Activity and Innovation

                                                                                    • EE joins O2 and Vodafone in trials to provide 4G on London Underground
                                                                                      • EE, O2 and Vodafone go live with 5G services…
                                                                                        • …but Three delays its launch due to technical problems
                                                                                          • Shared rural network agreement to bolster 4G coverage across the UK
                                                                                            • Virgin Mobile will move from the EE network to the Vodafone network from 2021
                                                                                              • Vodafone partners with Mencap to provide technological help to people with a learning disability
                                                                                                • Vodafone prioritises cross-selling services to existing subscribers to drive growth
                                                                                                  • BT outlines its future of connectivity
                                                                                                    • Three aims to provide the fastest 5G network with partnership with Nokia
                                                                                                      • Vodafone showcases 5G capability at Ricoh Arena in Coventry
                                                                                                        • O2 adds Apple Watch to its Custom Plans
                                                                                                          • EE and Vodafone named top two providers in 2020 UK Mobile Network Test
                                                                                                            • Mobile providers eye strategic initiatives to boost ethical credentials and reduce environmental impact
                                                                                                              • Giffgaff pushes refurbished phones
                                                                                                                • Vodafone and Sky Mobile partner with Fairphone
                                                                                                                  • Consumers need tech brands to take the lead
                                                                                                                  • Advertising and Marketing Activity

                                                                                                                    • Advertising spend sees small decrease in 2019
                                                                                                                      • Vodafone looks to “Unlimited” future
                                                                                                                        • EE uses Rugby World Cup to consolidate its 4G positioning
                                                                                                                          • 5G focus could boost spend in 2020
                                                                                                                            • Figure 19: Recorded above-the-line, online display and direct mail total advertising expenditure on mobile network services, by advertiser, 2016-19
                                                                                                                          • Nielsen Ad Intel coverage
                                                                                                                          • Brand Research

                                                                                                                              • Brand map
                                                                                                                                • Figure 20: Attitudes towards and usage of selected brands, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Figure 21: Key metrics for selected brands, January 2020
                                                                                                                              • Brand attitudes
                                                                                                                                • Figure 22: Attitudes, by brand, January 2020
                                                                                                                              • Brand personality
                                                                                                                                • Figure 23: Brand personality – Macro image, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Figure 24: Brand personality – Macro image, January 2020
                                                                                                                              • Brand analysis
                                                                                                                                • Giffgaff joint top for levels of satisfaction
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 25: User profile of Giffgaff, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Tesco Mobile is the most recommended provider
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 26: User profile for Tesco Mobile, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • O2 has the highest levels of brand awareness
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 27: User profile of O2, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • EE is most used brand in the last 12 months
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 28: User profile of EE, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Three has work to do to stand out from the crowd
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 29: User profile of Three, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Virgin Mobile tops MVNO usage
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 30: User profile of Virgin Mobile, January 2020
                                                                                                                                • Vodafone is the least recommended provider
                                                                                                                                  • Figure 31: User profile of Vodafone, January 2020
                                                                                                                              • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                                                                                • SIM-only contracts continue to rise as consumers delay upgrading
                                                                                                                                  • Users in longer-term contracts are down in 2019
                                                                                                                                    • Nearly 70% of PAYG users are spending £10 or less a month
                                                                                                                                      • Ethical and environmental traits can add halo effect for providers
                                                                                                                                        • Awareness of 5G is high amongst the majority, but knowledge of the details is low
                                                                                                                                          • Take-up of 5G contracts and handsets looks set to be a slow burn
                                                                                                                                            • Customers tend to stay loyal to network providers
                                                                                                                                              • Three in 10 are with a different provider for their current mobile contract
                                                                                                                                                • Data allowances still a priority for consumers
                                                                                                                                                  • Mobile network providers can foster loyalty through transparency
                                                                                                                                                  • Contracts vs PAYG

                                                                                                                                                    • SIM-only contracts continue to rise as consumers delay upgrading
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 32: Contract with a phone vs SIM-only vs PAYG, 2017-19
                                                                                                                                                    • Users in longer-term contracts are down in 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 33: Length of contract, 2018 and 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • Contracts and PAYG Spending

                                                                                                                                                    • Nearly 70% of PAYG users are spending £10 or less a month
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 34: Contract, SIM-only and PAYG spending, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                  • Consumer Priorities when Choosing a Network Provider

                                                                                                                                                    • Ethical and environmental traits can add halo effect for providers
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 35: Factors influencing purchase decision, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                    • Awareness and Interest of 5G

                                                                                                                                                      • Awareness of 5G is high amongst the majority, but knowledge of the technology is patchy
                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 36: Knowledge of 5G, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Take-up of 5G contracts and handsets looks set to be a slow burn
                                                                                                                                                        • Demographics show typical early-adopter spike in intent to buy
                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 37: Uptake of 5G phones and contracts, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Contract Length

                                                                                                                                                        • Customers tend to stay loyal to network providers
                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 38: Length of time with network, 2018 and 2019
                                                                                                                                                      • Switching Behaviour

                                                                                                                                                        • Three in 10 are with a different provider for their current mobile contract
                                                                                                                                                          • Text-to-Switch should reduce inertia
                                                                                                                                                            • Figure 39: Switching behaviour, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                        • Attitudes towards Mobile Contracts

                                                                                                                                                          • Data allowances still a priority for consumers
                                                                                                                                                            • Mobile network providers can foster loyalty through transparency
                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 40: Attitudes towards mobile contracts, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                            • CHAID Analysis

                                                                                                                                                              • Methodology
                                                                                                                                                                • Data still the calling point for younger males
                                                                                                                                                                  • 5G provides the platform for data-focused deals to appeal
                                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 41: Mobile network providers – CHAID – Tree output, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 42: Mobile network providers – CHAID – Table output, November 2019
                                                                                                                                                                • Appendix – Data Sources, Abbreviations and Supporting Information

                                                                                                                                                                    • Abbreviations
                                                                                                                                                                      • Consumer research methodology
                                                                                                                                                                      • Appendix – The Market

                                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 43: Value of mobile network connections, 2019-24
                                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 44: Volume of mobile network connections, 2019-24

                                                                                                                                                                      About the report

                                                                                                                                                                      This report will give you a complete 360-degree view of your market. Not only is it rooted in robust proprietary and high-quality third-party data, but our industry experts put that data into context and you’ll quickly understand:

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Consumer

                                                                                                                                                                        What They Want. Why They Want It.

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Competitors

                                                                                                                                                                        Who’s Winning. How To Stay Ahead.

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Market

                                                                                                                                                                        Size, Segments, Shares And Forecasts: How It All Adds Up.

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Innovations

                                                                                                                                                                        New Ideas. New Products. New Potential.

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Opportunities

                                                                                                                                                                        Where The White Space Is. How To Make It Yours.

                                                                                                                                                                      • The Trends

                                                                                                                                                                        What’s Shaping Demand – Today And Tomorrow.

                                                                                                                                                                      Please Note: This is a sample report. All of the figures, graphs, and tables have been redacted.

                                                                                                                                                                      Description