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

Carphone Warehouse is part of Dixons Carphone, a group that also includes Currys PC World.

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.

By Network

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:

EE

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

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:

O2

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:

Vodafone

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.

Vodafone’s Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling service will not normally work on Android devices from the Carphone Warehouse.

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.

More Information

For more information, please see the Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk official websites.

Your Comments 24 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 24 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hi,

    I’m due an upgrade and currently had 30% friends and family discount with EE that I’ve had since it was Orange. If I upgraded through Carphone Warehouse and stayed with EE would I lose my 30% f&f discount because I’ve upgraded through a 3rd party I.E Carphone Warehouse?

    • Hi Ric,
      Thanks for your comment, and a very good question! I’m not actually sure the answer to that – it really depends on the terms of the discount and whether you’d be able to re-apply it to a new account. It might be worth checking with EE to see whether that’s possible before deciding whether to buy from the Carphone Warehouse.
      Ken

  • Christine Joyce said:

    I am on EE through the carphone warehouse, I would like to get a 4g smart watch, can I get a plan as an add on through EE direct? I did have my last contract directly with EE but it was seriously more expensive this time round, so went with Carphone Warehouse

    • Hi Christine,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think it should be possible to add a Smart Watch plan directly through EE at a later date.
      Ken

  • I’ve been discouraged from using Mobiles.co.uk by my current provider Vodafone by saying the Iphones supplied by such companies are sourced from Asia and are not to the standard of European Apple products as they do not need to meet the same strict quality control checks. This is why 3rd party retailers are able to offer such cheap deals. Is there any truth in this or is it a tactic by the network provider?

    • Hi Janette,
      Thanks for your comment. No, the iPhones supplied by Mobiles.co.uk & the Carphone Warehouse are the same European stock provided directly by the networks. The mobile networks will normally pay out fairly hefty commission to retailers like Mobiles.co.uk for introducing new customers to their network. Some of that comes back to you in terms of discounted rates or cashback.
      Ken

    • Hi Ian,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the Carphone Warehouse will not match Mobiles.co.uk deals when in store 🙁
      Ken

    • Hi Jason,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure there’s an official way to get Wi-Fi Calling on Android devices from a third-party retailer such as the Carphone Warehouse. I think some people have a bit of success changing the firmware on their phone (e.g. to use the mobile network’s firmware), but this isn’t guaranteed to work and may void the warranty on your phone.
      Ken

  • if i buy a iphone xr from carphone warehouse on ee package
    will i be able to take it into an ee shop to transfer all my data from my old phone to the new one????

    • Hi Pete,
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe EE retail stores will officially provide support for an iPhone that’s purchased from the Carphone Warehouse. However, they might be nice and may just do this for you anyway (otherwise, you can try your nearest Carphone Warehouse or Apple retail store).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Hi Ken

    EE retentions have just told me that if I buy a new IPhone XR on EE through mobiles.co.uk it will be an ‘old ‘ Essentials plan with 4G speeds capped at 20 Mbps and no wifi calling – can this be true?

    Many thanks

    • Hi Andrew,
      Many thanks for your comment. I don’t believe the 20Mbps download speed cap applies any longer to EE Essential price plans. It’s been several years since they did this. Similarly, an iPhone purchased from Mobiles.co.uk should work fine with Wi-Fi Calling on EE (the same isn’t true for Android devices).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Jim Collins said:

    If I buy a phone from Mobiles.co.uk would my local Car Phone Warehouse set it up and transfer all my data from my current phone which I bought from CPW originally.

    • Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe Carphone Warehouse retail stores will provide support for handsets purchased from Mobiles.co.uk. However, if you were to ask nicely and they weren’t too busy, it’s possible they might do this for you!
      Ken

  • Hi ken

    I’m considering buying a new phone from online resellers like affordable mobiles or buy mobiles. Net. I’ve seen a good deal I’d like to go for on buy mobiles. Net. I’ve read a lot on their reliability and legitimacy. I wanted to know from you what you think about such websites. Also, if I trade in my phone with Apple and get money from the sim free plan. Once I’ve paid of the reminder- is the phone then line? E.g. my current iPhone 7 is worth £220 on trade in value. The iPhone 8 Plus is £699. So il have £499 to pay for the phone— can I do this monthly?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Bowale,
      Thanks for your comment. I haven’t had any personal experience with Affordable Mobiles or Buy Mobiles so the reviews you’ve read online will probably be a more reliable indicator than anything I can say!
      With regards to the trade-in, I believe this is normally processed as a discount on the upfront price. You can also look into is recycling your mobile phone elsewhere as you’ll sometimes get a bit more for it by comparing different providers.
      With regards to paying monthly for a SIM-free handset, some retailers provide the option of finance so you can split up the cost of your handset over multiple months. You could also use a credit card for a very similar outcome (especially if you have an interest-free period that you’re able to make the most of).
      Ken

  • Caroline Stones said:

    Hi

    I have just had a conversation with EE as I am thinking of leaving them and purchasing my next contract through the Carphone Warehouse. However, they have said that the signal and coverage will not be as good as I am going through a third party. When I questioned them on this they just kept saying “it’s because you’re going through a third party” – even though I will be using EE masts etc. Can you shed some light as to whether this is true or what they mean exactly please? Thank you

    • Hi Caroline,
      Thanks for your comment. If you’re buying an EE plan through the Carphone Warehouse, you’ll have access to the exact same coverage as if you were purchasing an plan directly from EE! So I’m also not really sure what they’re talking about here! One valid difference is you might not have access to 4G Calling or Wi-Fi Calling, but this is a separate and different matter to the signal & coverage you receive.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Good article. Another thing you could add is the update situation on Android. If you buy direct via the network you get a phone running the network branded firmware, this is why WiFi calling etc will work. However it also means updates are controlled by the network, usually adding delays or in some cases not pushing them out at all/dropping support earlier.

    Carphone warehouse phones being unbranded will get updates straight from the manufacturer.

    • Hi Pete,
      Thanks for the feedback! This is a great idea, and something I’ll definitely bear in mind for the future!
      Hope you’re well 🙂
      Ken

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