Switching your mobile isn’t as complicated as you may think. All mobile service providers make allowances for this, so you pretty much have free rein. The drawback is that if you want to switch mobile carriers while you’re still under contract, you’ll inevitably have to pay an early termination fee. This makes it best to wait until your contract has expired.
Last update: April 2022
In either case, all you have to do to switch mobile is choose your new provider and the package you want, whether it be a SIM-Only deal or a mobile phone deal, and request a PAC or STAC code from your existing supplier. You send this to your new provider and, just like that, you can go from a fixed contract to a pay as you go SIM-only deal. You’ll also have a choice of whether you want to keep your existing number or get a new one. Here’s your guide on how to switch mobile providers.
Switching mobile phone when you’re still under a contract
Switching your mobile can be a pretty seamless process. All you need to do is contact your existing service provider and ask for a PAC or STAC code, then give it to the new one you’ve chosen. Just be aware that if you still have time on your existing contract, you’ll have to pay a pro rata termination fee linked to the number of months left.
Are you eligible to switch network?
You’re always eligible to switch mobile phone networks. The only hindrance is if you have too much time remaining on your existing contract, you might find the cancellation fees a bit steep. You can simply wait until your contract has expired, and then you’re free to choose a new network without incurring any cancellation costs.
Why would you want to switch mobile phone network?
The most common reasons to switch mobile networks are usually centred around four factors: price, service quality, perks and better coverage. Specific reasons to change include:
- You’re looking for a cheaper deal
- You’re not happy with the voice quality
- You’re not getting good customer service
- Your call quality is poor
- Your coverage is erratic
- You don’t get enough useful perks
- You can’t get the new phone you’re after on your network
Switching networks when you don’t want to keep your number
It’s easy to switch mobile carrier deals if you don’t want to keep your number:
- Get a STAC code from your current service provider.
- Send this to your new carrier.
- The STAC is activated in hours and your new deal begins.
- You’ll receive your new number.
How to check your contract status
You have multiple ways of doing this when you want to switch mobile operators:
- Call customer care and ask the agent to check.
- Use the telephone prompts to get your contract status.
- Log in to your account online.
- Use your service provider’s app, if it has one.
- Check on your monthly bill.
Can I keep my old phone if I decide to change my plan?
If you’re on a contract and took a new phone when you signed on, the device will be locked to your service provider for the duration of your contract. This is because you pay off the cost of the phone as part of your monthly instalments. Thus you can only keep your phone if you decide to switch mobile carrier deals by cancelling your contract and paying an early termination fee that covers what you still owe on the device. To have it released for use with a new contract, ask your service provider for a Network Unlock Code (NUC) once you’ve settled your contract. They’ll send this to you. To use this code, insert your new operator’s SIM card and enter your NUC when you’re prompted. If you already own your phone then naturally you can keep it.
Porting your mobile number when buying online
This involves the same process as making switch mobile transfer using any other method. You can simply request a PAC or STAC code through your provider’s website, or call them. Then provide this code to the new service carrier that you’ve signed up to online.
How to switch mobile provider if you’re out of contract?
Switching mobile providers is very easy once you’re out of contract. There are two scenarios to switch mobile in this way. First decide on a new operator and choose the deal you want.
Then, if you own your own device that’s it. However, if you previously were on a contract, took a new phone as part of that contract and have been using pay as you go with the same provider when your contract ended, your device may still be locked to that network by default. If this is the case, simply ask for a Network Unlock Code as described above.
Avoiding double charges when switching
The PAC and STAC codes also function to prevent double charges when you switch mobile. As soon as the code is generated by your existing service provider, your contract charges will stop, and your new carrier will only start charging you from when the code is activated, which can take a couple of hours.
Mobile phone end of contract notifications
As your contract term draws to an end, your mobile service provider will let you know in advance, by text message, email or a push message in your ISP’s app. This will usually be accompanied with an upgrade reminder or offer, which allows you to evaluate whether to stay with your current provider or switch mobile phone services.
When does my phone contract end?
Your phone contract ends on the calendar day before the anniversary of when you signed up for your mobile service. Typical contract periods are for 24 months, so you can calculate the end of your contract that way. You can also call your service provider or log in to your account online to get the information. Here’s how to do it with some of the main UK providers, if you’re thinking of switching mobiles:
BT Mobile: Log in, scroll to accounts and select ‘Products’. Choose your active contract and you’ll see the end date.
EE: Log in, select ‘Upgrade Status’
O2: Log in and go to ‘My Tariff Summary’.
Vodafone: Log in choose ‘Upgrade’ or ‘Change Plan’.
Tesco Mobile: Log in, select ‘Help & Support’, the click on ‘Your Bill and Contract’ under the ‘Pay Monthly’ section.
Three: Log in, go to ‘Upgrades and Offers’, and click ‘Check If You Can Upgrade’. Your contract end date is under ‘Minimum Term’.
Virgin Media: Log in, select ‘My Account’ and click ‘Check Your Contract Details’.
Sky Mobile: Log in to ‘Sky Message Centre’, and find the initial message titled ‘Confirming your Sky offer’. You contract end date will be there.
Plusnet Mobile: Simply call 0800 432 0200.
TalkTalk: Log in to your account, click ‘My Account’, then ‘My Package’ – your end date will be in the ‘Package Overview’ section.
How to switch and keep your mobile number
Below you’ll find all the details on how to switch mobile and still retain your number. There really is nothing to it, other than getting the correct code from your current carrier.
Keeping your number when you switch mobile phone providers
Retaining your number is often a primary concern when you switch mobile carriers, as it can be disruptive to get a new one. Thankfully, it’s always possible to keep your number when you switch mobile. Just call your current service provider and request a PAC code. This will ensure that when you are transferred to the new carrier network you’ll keep your number.
How do I transfer my mobile number?
- Tell your new provider that you’ll transfer your number.
- Ask your current provider for a PAC code.
- Use that code on the new provider’s number transfer form.
- Your new provider will activate the transfer.
For example, if you want to switch to Sky Mobile, get your PAC code from your previous provider, and enter it on the Sky number transfer form, either at a physical outlet or online.
What are PAC codes?
PAC stands for Porting Authorisation Code. This alphanumeric code is what enables you to switch mobile carriers. Request if from your provider. Once you have this, give it to the new network that you want to switch mobile services to. This will initiate the transfer process. This will typically take one working day. The PAC is valid for 30 days.
Contact numbers to get your PAC code from your network
But how do you contact the right provider? Below you find the necessary contact information:
|EE||Call 150 from an EE mobile phone or 079 5396 6250|
|BT||Call 150 from your BT Mobile phone or 0800 800 150 from any other phone|
|O2||Call 202 from an O2 phone or 034 4809 0222|
|PLusnet||Call 500 from a Plusnet Mobile phone or 080 0013 263|
|Tesco Mobile||Call 4455 from a Tesco Mobile phone or 34 5301 4455|
|Sky Switch||Call 033 0041 2639 from any phone|
|Virgin Media||Call 789 from a Virgin Mobile phone or 034 5600 0789|
|Vodafone||Call 191 from a Vodafone phone or 033 3304 0191|
What’s the difference between a PAC and STAC code?
The difference is really simple. Request a PAC code when you want to switch mobile and keep your existing number. Ask for a STAC code when you want to switch mobile carriers and get a new phone number.
Compare different kinds of mobile phone plans
You typically have three types of mobile phone plans from which to choose: contract plans , SIM-only deals and bundle contracts. Each offers its own advantages and disadvantages.
Mobile phone deals
These are contract-based deals (add internal linking) where you get a new mobile phone as part of your package. These are differentiated by the phone you choose, and how much airtime, data, and text you need per month. Note that many come as bundled data and airtime deals, such as those from BT below. Other providers offer deals linked to specific phones.
Of course, there are the most popular mobile deals which we present below:
|BT||Small Data Plan||£30 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Includes the BT Sport app
|Sky Mobile||2GB Plan||£6 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Unused data rolls over for 3 years
|EE||Essential Plan 1GB||Starts at £17 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Which mobile phone deals have unlimited data?
You can get phone deals with unlimited data from most of the major service providers in the UK, including but not limited to BT Mobile, O2, EE, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Three, and Vodafone. If you want to use a smaller provider, just call them and ask.
SIM-only deals are flexible and are designed for people who don’t want to commit to a 24-month contract. If you already own a phone you can get a SIM-only deal from any service provider. You can top up your data and airtime as you need it. This avoids getting locked into fixed costs and allows you to manage your cashflow better.
Popular SIM only deals
Are you more of a flexible person, who prefers to not commit? Then you find the most popular of the more fitting deals for you below:
|BT||4GB Plan||£13 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
|Sky Mobile||3GB Plan||£7 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Unused data rolls over for 3 years
|EE||12 Month SIM Plan||Starts at £13 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
250MB – unlimited data
You’ll most often find bundle contracts in the form of special promotions, particularly when a service provider is launching a new phone that it’s just received from a manufacturer. They’re also used to sweeten the deal on lower end contracts, to make it more worthwhile for consumers. Bundle contracts will usually include extras like earphones, smart watches and other tech gadgets, and you can also get airtime vouchers and free streaming service subscriptions.
|BT||Chromebook 4 Bundle||From £29 per month (depending on chosen device)||Google Chromebook included
Choice of devices
Unlimited minutes and texts
|Three||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G||£66 per month||Half price for 6 months
Up to £500 trade-in
Unlimited minutes and texts
Free pair of Buds Pro
12 months of Disney+ free
|EE||iPhone 5G Plan||Starts at £29 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
1GB – unlimited data
6 months free Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+
Should I choose pay as you go or contract?
There are pros and cons to both.
Advantages of a Contract
- Lower call costs
- Access to the latest devices
Disadvantages of a Contract
- You’re locked in for the contract period
- Your phone is linked to your contract
Advantages of Pay As You Go
- Only pay for what you use
- Can be more affordable than a monthly premium
- You’re free to shop for different providers
Disadvantages of Pay As You Go
- You’ll need your own phone
- Call charges can be higher than with contracts
What is a pay-monthly phone deal?
A pay-monthly phone deal is simply another term for a mobile contract. It’s a deal that gives you a specified amount of airtime, data, and texts at a fixed monthly amount. These deals usually include a device, which you pay off in instalments added to your monthly bill. You can save on call costs if you switch mobile services to this kind of plan.
Popular monthly deals
Below you find the most popular pay-monthly phone deals:
|BT||Medium Data Plan||£33 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Includes the BT Sport app
|Sky Mobile||7GB Plan||£9 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
Unused data rolls over for 3 years
|EE||Essential Plan 4GB||£33 per month||Unlimited minutes and texts
How do I ensure my plan has monthly allowances that are right for me?
Go into one of your provider’s physical outlets and discuss your needs with an agent there. They will explain the various packages, and help you choose the right one for your purposes. Some providers also have online “wizards” that will ask you about all your needs and recommend the best option automatically.
How to compare our best mobile phone deals, phone contracts and SIM-only offers
There are three important factors to consider when evaluating the best mobile phone deals, whether you sign a contract or use SIM-only pay as you go. These are network coverage and quality, the length of the contract, and how much data you’ll receive for the price.
There are few things more frustrating than battling to talk while calls are breaking up, or being intermittently cut off because of a weak signal. Before you switch your mobile, check the network coverage of alternative providers very carefully to make sure you don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.
Where to check network coverage for the major UK providers
You are not sure where to check network coverage? All the information you need is in the table below:
Length of contract is important, because you’ll be committing to a set payment per month, for a given amount of data and airtime. You may not always use all of it, so consider whether the convenience is worth it. Most mobile phone contracts in the UK are for 24 months, with some operators offering shorter contracts, like the 12-month SIM-only contracts from BT, the 12-month SIM Plan from EE and the SIM-only plans from EE. You can also get 12-month contracts on a range of phones from Tesco Mobile.
Data is possibly more important to most people than airtime, given that we tend to communicate on instant messaging, and do most of our online socialising on social media platforms. This has made the mobile phone a vital part of staying connected and up to data. Make a note of your average mobile Internet usage and find a package with a data allowance that suits you. You can also get plenty of unlimited data deals, like the iPhone packages from EE, the 5G-ready deals from Three, and Vodafone’s Unlimited Lite and Unlimited Max packages.
Is there anything to pay upfront when you sign up to a pay monthly contract?
You won’t usually have to pay any upfront costs with most of the mobile networks in the UK, unless you choose one that comes with a particularly expensive device. In this case you may be required to pay an upfront deposit on the device, with the rest spread across your monthly payments. However, if you have your own phone, there’s no reason to expect any upfront charges when you sign a monthly contract, barring nominal admin fees.
Can I switch from contract to pay as you go?
Yes, you’re free to do that at any time, but there can be pitfalls. If your contract has come to an end, then it’s seamless and won’t cost you anything extra. If, however, your contract hasn’t expired, you’ll have to pay a termination fee calculated on a combination of your monthly rate and the number of months left on your contract.
Comparing mobile phone providers
The best advice is to target the type of package that will suit you most, and find the closest deals to those on the carriers’ websites. Then take a close look at what each offers.
Compare 4G and 5G
The difference between 4G and 5G is speed. 5G can be up to 100 times faster. It uses shorter wavelengths, which allows the spectrum to carry a greater number of simultaneous connections more efficiently. However, 4G speeds are perfectly sufficient for everyday use. 5G also results in lower latency (the time it takes to send and receive information. This further enhances the connection. To illustrate, 4G latency is usually around 200 milliseconds – the latency rate of 5G is only around 1 millisecond. Additionally, 5G can reach speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, which means that something that would take you about 50 minutes to download on 4G will take more like 10 minutes on 5G.
However, that does not mean that 4G is bad. 5G is simply being built on top of the 4G network. So your 4G phone will continue to work fine and you will only need to upgrade if you want to use the high speed of 5G.
How to choose the best mobile network provider
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Everybody wants to join the best network. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing to switch mobile carriers, including network quality and coverage, costs, and customer support levels. According to customer surveys and expert technology reviews, these are the best in class for each category, according to RootMetrics and TechAdviser:
|Best Network Coverage||EE – over 90%|
|Best Network Quality||EE|
|Best Network Speed||EE|
|Best Customer Support||Sky Mobile|
How to choose a mobile network with the best signal?
Word of mouth remains a powerful source of advice, so ask around and read online user forums. You can also test it yourself by comparing your own signal with that of a friend who is on a different network when you’re together. Online rating articles are good sources of information too. You can also consult independent evaluation websites, like Broadband Plansg.
Check what coverage your new network offers in your area
It’s easy to check what coverage a network offers. Most have detailed network coverage maps on their websites. You can also visit the offices and ask them to analyse the overall reception in your exact location.
Why switch mobile phone network?
Most people switch mobile networks if the voice quality isn’t good, or if the network coverage isn’t sufficient. Another big motive to switch mobile is a lack of decent customer service or technical support. Other reasons include wanting better perks, or desiring a particular phone model that isn’t available on one’s current network. Cost is usually less important, as most providers are roughly on par with their deals.
What mobile phone network providers can I switch to?
You can switch to virtually any mobile phone network provider in the UK. The main ones include:
- BT Telecom
- Sky Mobile
- Plusnet Mobile
- Virgin Mobile
- Tesco Mobile
You have more questions about mobile network? We got you:
- The latest on 5G services in the UK
- What is mobile broadband and is it right for you?
- How 4G Can Help You Get Online at Home & on the Go!
- SIM Only Deals Compared
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Will I lose service?
You're not likely to lose much service when you switch mobile, but make allowances for a delay of perhaps an hour or two. It's best to choose a day when you won't urgently need your phone.
Can I transfer a disconnected number?
Unfortunately, it's not possible to transfer a disconnected number, as the number cannot be reactivated. So don't cancel your contract before you start the process of switching your mobile.
What’s the difference between a contract plan and a SIM-only deal?
A contract plan links your entire mobile and all services to your current network provider. A SIM-only deal is where you own your device and can shop around to use SIMs from any provider.
What happens if my PAC code expires?
Your change will only occur once your PAC code has been activated by your new provider. So if you don't get a new carrier within 30 days of getting your code, your existing contract continues. You'll then have to start the process again.
Updated on 9 May, 2022