The increasing popularity of virtual mobile networks - Techtalk
Eir’s digital network GoMo reached a significant milestone earlier this week, with 300,000 customers signing up. Eir has been seen as a real disruptor to the world of mobile networks, but will this trend of people opting to use virtual networks continue?
Our Head of Communications at bonkers.ie, Daragh Cassidy, appeared on Newstalk’s Techtalk to discuss the value to be had by choosing a virtual mobile network, the best SIM-only deals on offer and whether or not to opt for a bundled broadband deal.
Were you surprised to hear that 300,000 people have made the move to GoMo?
Not at all, to be honest. GoMo has a really good product offering. It’s clear, simple and good value. It hits all of the aspects you’d want in any product or service.
Before GoMo entered, there was almost too much choice in the mobile market. A lot of plans were difficult to understand and quite cumbersome.
GoMo’s offering started out at €9.99 per month and while it has increased slightly since then to €14.99 for new customers, it’s still good value for unlimited texts, unlimited minutes and unlimited data. This value proposition really resonated with people and was backed up with a really strong marketing campaign.
GoMo suffered from a few teething problems at the start and the company was definitely a victim of its own success. Even ComReg had to get involved as well. It seems that GoMo has ironed out these issues since then.
Can you give us an overview of the digital mobile network landscape?
Due to its success, GoMo brought in a lot of other competitors who were looking for a slice of the pie. The main one was 48.
48 is another MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) and is a subsidiary of Three. Previously 48 was a youth-oriented network, but the brand was relaunched a year or so ago and now offers a similar offering to that of GoMo. For €10.99 a month, you get 100GB of data and free calls and texts.
Another is Clear Mobile which is a subsidiary of Vodafone. Clear Mobile has a similar offering for €12.99 a month, with free calls and texts and unlimited data. The caveat though is that speeds are restricted to a maximum of 5Mbps. This would be enough for some people, but obviously not for others who use their phones quite heavily.
Then there’s also Virgin Mobile as well, a subsidiary of Virgin Media. Virgin Mobile often has deals that start at €5 per month and will increase to €15-20 per month thereafter.
It’s still a crowded market at the moment and GoMo is definitely the one that’s still the most well-known. There is choice and slightly better value out there for people who are prepared to look around.
Compromising on customer service
These MVNOs might not suit older clientele and people who like the personal touch of being able to walk into a branch.
The customer service for these networks is purely online and it should be flagged before people sign up. You can’t walk into a shop if something goes wrong.
It’s similar to when we talk about digital banks, like N26 and Revolut. Both of these are excellent value but you might find yourself stuck if something goes wrong, or else you’re stuck dealing with a chatbot.
When you do look at the prices the mobile networks are charging, it’s understandable that they don’t have a really good customer service offering. We can’t have it all for €10 a month.
Always consider what you value the most. If looking for a more personal experience with better customer service, then it’s best to opt for one of the main networks, such as Vodafone.
Take a look at this blog to discover what other factors you should keep in mind when choosing a mobile phone provider.
Is the coverage the same for VMNOs as the main network?
The coverage is usually the same, but there are rumours that people who are on the virtual networks don’t get quite as good service. Certainly, the Three network is a little more crowded as multiple networks - 48, Virgin Mobile and Lycamobile - are also using it.
ComReg has a coverage map and we’d advise people to check this for your area and assess the quality of service. Also always ask friends and family as well what they think the coverage is like, particularly if you’re in a rural area.
Usually in the urban areas, like Dublin, Cork and Galway, the network connection can be quite strong, but in rural areas, it can be hit and miss. Service can vary from town to town. Make sure you do your research.
Are billpay phone plans good value?
There will always be a place for billpay phone plans for the foreseeable future because even though SIM-only deals are getting more popular, not everyone has a thousand euro that they can just drop on a new iPhone or Samsung phone in one go.
A lot of people may only be able to afford €200-300 upfront. That amount can get you a decent phone these days if you’re prepared to go for a slightly lesser-known brand or one with fewer features.
If you’re going with a billpay plan, there are different tiers usually depending on how much you pay upfront. Usually, the more you can pay upfront, the less it will cost you over the course of the plan.
If you can afford the initial cost upfront, the best deal will be one of these SIM-only plans. These are often monthly contracts too, so you can leave whenever you want.
Will the virtual providers eventually increase prices?
This could potentially happen. What’s happening at the moment is that all the suppliers are putting their eggs in one basket by launching virtual networks. They’re trying to cater to both sides of the market.
It will be interesting to see how popular they become. The more popular Clear Mobile becomes, for example, the more money Vodafone might lose. You’d wonder if sneaky charges will then start coming in.
You should really read the terms and conditions too. You’ll be able to see if there are charges for going over your fair usage policy and if you go roaming outside Europe. You should always be aware of what you could be charged.
There’s never been more choice and as many networks and I’d encourage people not to be afraid to go with some of the smaller networks. You may be apprehensive, but at the end of the day, all the providers are using one of the three main networks in Ireland - Three, Vodafone and Eir. Everyone else is piggybacking on those networks.
Is bundling services good value?
It really does depend on your circumstance, but it can often work out cheaper if you purchase everything separately. It’s similar to dual fuel deals for energy. It can often be cheaper to buy electricity and gas separately.
On bonkers.ie you can easily filter whether you want to get a TV package with your broadband or not. When it comes to TV packages though, these can be difficult to get by themselves and there isn’t as much choice. So sometimes you have to end up going with a home phone package.
Certainly don’t think that just because something is being bundled it’s going to be cheaper.
Is moving phone networks difficult?
There’s a process in place to switch mobile phone providers, so it’s actually really easy.
You’ll get the option to switch over your number or get a new one. If you want your number switched over, it’s usually done within an hour or two. Sometimes it may take a bit longer.
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