As an alternative to buying your mobile phone direct from the mobile networks, you can buy it from the Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk.
In the UK, Carphone Warehouse and its online-only subsidiary, Mobiles.co.uk, sell mobile phones on contract from EE, iD Mobile, O2 and Vodafone. Buying a handset from one of these mobile phone retailers can be a good alternative to buying directly from the mobile networks as you’ll often get the same plan for a lower overall cost.
If you decide to buy your mobile phone on contract from one of these third-party retailers, your device will be provided by the Carphone Warehouse whereas your SIM card and tariff will be provided by the mobile network you contract with. You’ll normally get most of the same tariff features as if you were going directly to the mobile network, but there can be some differences in terms of early upgrading and access to features like Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling.
In this article, we’ll review Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk. We’ll also compare the price plans and features they offer to what you can get directly from the mobile networks.
Carphone Warehouse or Direct
In the UK mobile market, there are two ways to buy your mobile phone on contract: through a retailer like the Carphone Warehouse or direct from your mobile network.
If you choose to buy your mobile phone through a third-party retailer, Carphone Warehouse (and its subsidiary, Mobiles.co.uk) is by far the largest and most popular. They act as a “middle-man” between you and the mobile networks, often comparing and suggesting the best deal for you. Your new mobile phone is provided by the retailer, but you’ll still contract with the underlying mobile network for your monthly airtime package. The retailer makes some commission from your mobile network for introducing you to them, some of which may sometimes go back to subsidising lower prices for you.
If you choose to buy your mobile phone directly from a mobile network, you’ll have a wider range of networks to choose from including BT Mobile, EE, O2, Sky, Three, Virgin and Vodafone. You’ll need to do a little more work comparing all of these options yourself, as they aren’t all offered through a third-party retailer. When you buy your mobile phone direct from the mobile networks, you’ll take out a contract directly with them for a new handset and some airtime every month.
The following table shows a comparison of some of the key differences when buying your mobile phone from the Carphone Warehouse and buying it directly:
|Buying from the Carphone Warehouse||Buying Direct from the Mobile Networks|
|You’ll be able to choose from selected price plans on EE, iD Mobile, O2 and Vodafone. It isn’t possible to choose a price plan from other mobile networks.||You’ll have a wider choice of networks, including those that are not listed by the Carphone Warehouse. You’ll need to do more research yourself.|
|Your handset will be provided by the Carphone Warehouse (or Mobiles.co.uk). Your airtime plan will be provided by the mobile network you contract with.||Both your handset and your airtime plan will be provided by the mobile network you contract with. There is no middle-man when going direct.|
|May sometimes offer lower prices than going direct. Look out for discounts, cashback deals, bundled gifts and vouchers which bring down the price.||May sometimes be more expensive than buying through a retailer, but a wider choice of price plans will normally be available.|
|You’ll get an unlocked handset from the Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk. This may sometimes lack Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling support on Android.||Your handset might be locked, depending on your network. Better compatibility with network features like Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling.|
If you’d like to buy your handset through a retailer, please see the Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk websites. They’ll sometimes offer lower prices, cashback deals and bundled “free gifts” like tablets, games consoles and high street vouchers. Watch out for the terms and conditions on deals that require “cashback by redemption”. The amount that comes out of your bank account each month is higher than the headline comparison price (you’ll need to send off a copy of your bills every so often to receive a refund by cheque).
If you’d like to buy your mobile phone directly from the networks, see the BT Mobile, EE, O2, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone websites. Many of the deals available directly from these mobile networks will not be available through third-party retailers so it’s always worth double-checking and comparing prices on the two.
In the following section, we’ll compare how price plans and features differ on each mobile network when buying from the Carphone Warehouse (or Mobiles.co.uk) versus going direct:
At the time of writing, the Carphone Warehouse offers a full selection of EE price plans, including EE Max and EE Essential plans. You’ll get the normal benefits when purchasing an EE plan through the Carphone Warehouse, including 4G download speeds, inclusive roaming and BT Sport.
On some EE Max price plans that are taken directly with EE, it’s possible to upgrade your handset every year through EE’s annual upgrade programme. This programme is only available to customers who buy directly from EE, and is not available to customers who join EE through the Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk.
Android devices purchased from the Carphone Warehouse will not normally be compatible with EE’s Wi-Fi Calling or 4G Calling service. Apple iPhones sold by the Carphone Warehouse will have full compatibility.
View and Compare EE Plans on:
iD Mobile is the own-brand mobile network from the Carphone Warehouse. Using coverage from the Three network, iD Mobile offers features like data rollover on their plans.
You can buy an iD Mobile plan from the Carphone Warehouse or direct on the iD Mobile website. It doesn’t make a huge amount of difference where you buy your plan, but different tariffs and handsets will sometimes be available on the two websites.
View and Compare iD Mobile Plans on:
If you buy a mobile phone on O2 via the Carphone Warehouse, you’ll get a standard 24-month contract rather than an O2 Refresh price plan. This gives you less flexibility compared to the O2 Refresh price plan which is only available directly (for instance, there’s no ability to customise the length of your plan, or to upgrade your handset early by paying off your Device Plan).
A non-O2 Refresh price plan will also be subject to higher mid-contract price increases, as the RPI increase will apply to your entire plan. For instance, a non-O2 Refresh price plan costing £50/month might increase to £53.56 after two years, assuming an annual 3.5% price rise. Meanwhile, an O2 Refresh price plan structured as £28 for the handset and £22 for the airtime (currently £50 in total) would only increase £51.57 after two years (£28 for the handset and £23.57 for the airtime). This is because the RPI increase only applies to the airtime portion of O2 Refresh contracts.
Aside from the differences in how the price plan is structured, you’ll still get other standard O2 benefits when signing up through the Carphone Warehouse (e.g. access to the O2 Priority app).
Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling should normally work on iPhones from the Carphone Warehouse. The same is not true for Android devices sold by the Carphone Warehouse: these will not normally be compatible with Wi-Fi Calling or 4G Calling on O2.
View and Compare O2 Plans on:
The Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk offer a selection of Essential, Red Extra and Red Entertainment price plans from Vodafone. These contain all of the normal inclusive benefits like Vodafone Global Roaming and VeryMe Rewards. On the Red Entertainment plans, you’ll get the inclusive 24-month subscription to either Spotify Premium, Sky Sports Mobile TV, NOW TV or Amazon Prime Video.
View and Compare Vodafone Plans on:
Other Mobile Networks
At the time of writing, the Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk do not offer price plans from any other mobile network. This means you’ll need to go direct to the mobile network if you’d like a price plan from BT Mobile, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three or Virgin Mobile.
As an alternative to buying your mobile phone on contract, you should also consider buying an unlocked smartphone and choosing a low-cost SIM-only deal. This often works out to be cheaper than a 24-month contract, but requires you to pay the full cost of your handset upfront.