iD Mobile: Carphone Warehouse's network reviewed
WHEN iD Mobile launched in May 2015, they were somewhat unusual for a virtual operator in that they were able to offer handsets as well as SIM-only plans straight off.
The jump start was made possible by the fact that they're owned by Carphone Warehouse, who have long sold handsets both independently and as a third party retailer for the other networks.
They use Three's network to provide their service - and like Three they offer free roaming in a host of countries with some of their plans. They also offer a couple of other types of plan that have their own advantages - and as we might expect there's a decent range of handsets too.
But how good are those features, and how much do they cost? Read on to find out more about iD, or skip ahead using the menu to the right.
As with most network operators, iD offer their SIM-only plans on both one month and 12-month terms - but which is best for us depends on which extra feature we want.
The one-month plans come with a choice of either free data rollover, or capped bills - known respectively in iD terms as their GoTo and ShockProof plans.
iD's TakeAway plans, which come with inclusive roaming, are only available to SIM-only customers willing to sign up for 12 months.
One month plans
For full flexibility, iD's one month SIM plans come with between 250MB and 6GB of 4G data, with prices ranging from £4 to £15.
Once we've picked our ideal tariff, we'll be asked to choose between being able to roll over any unused data to the next month, or capping our bills.
Selecting a GoTo plan gives us the chance to keep using one month's data the following month.
Say we have the 2GB plan and in our first month we only use 1.5GB. We'll start the next month with 2.5GB - and we'll use last month's leftovers before starting this month's allowance.
At the end of the second month we've used a total of 3GB of data - which means that we still have 1GB of that month's data left. We'll use that up before starting the third month's allowance - and so on.
The ShockProof extra is a bit of an odd one. Various mobile operators give their customers the chance to set a cap on their additional usage, whatever other features and services they get, but it's not often a headline feature.
People choosing the ShockProof option can adjust their additional spending cap via the iD mobile app, or online; the minimum is £5 and the maximum is £100.
A spending cap is useful, even for those of us who stay well within our allowances, as they provide an allowance of sorts for the kind of occasional usage that simply isn't included in standard allowances; we're just not sure that it should be a "special feature".
Those of us who like travelling will find iD's 12-month TakeAway plans more useful, as they give us the freedom to roam in 29 countries for no extra cost.
That's not quite as generous as host network Three, whose Feel at Home service is available in 42 foreign destinations - and while the difference between Three's Essential and Advanced plans is only about £3 a month, iD charge at least £7.50 a month more for their inclusive roaming:
Whether it's worth the extra cost depends on where we're planning to travel. A large part - but not all - of Europe is included, but beyond that only Australia and the US are included.
Out of allowance costs
There are two ways to deal with additional costs, such as calls made beyond the limits of our allowance: buying an add-on, or paying the following:
|Calls to UK landlines and UK mobiles||40p/minute|
|Calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers||Free|
|Calls to 084, 087, 09, and 118 numbers||Access charge of 45p/minute|
|Picture messages (MMS)||30p each|
|UK data||10.24p per MB|
Those with a ShockProof plan will obviously only be able to spend up to their cap on additional usage - unless they buy one of iD's add-ons:
Pay as you go
When they first launched, iD didn't offer anything in the way of pay as you go. However, they now sell PAYG SIMs for as little as £5:
- £5 PAYG credit: 3p per minute calls, 2p per text, 1p per MB data
- £5 bundle: 125 minutes, 500 texts, 100MB data
- £10 bundle: 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data
- £15 bundle: 1,000 minutes, unlimited texts, 4GB data
Each bundle lasts up to a month, or until the allowances have been used up.
iD don't allow tethering - unless we buy one of their data SIMs.
Data plans range from £5 a month for 500MB of data up to £25 a month for 15GB; anyone needing an occasional extra shot of data can buy one of the add-ons listed above to tide them over.
iD only sell one mobile broadband device - the Huawei e5573 4G MiFi hub. It's available on one-month rolling terms or with a 24-month contract.
Expect to pay up to £29.99 upfront then from £7.50 a month for a one-month deal with at least 2GB of data, or from £10 for 2GB a month with no upfront cost on 24-month terms.
Handsets from iD
If we're after a handset to go with our phone SIM, there seems to be a good range at first glance. Devices range from budget choices from the likes of Huawei, Alcatel and Microsoft to the flagship Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, Google Pixel XL and iPhone 7 Plus.
But our choice of plan type will affect how much choice we actually have: the cheapest handsets are only available with one of iD's ShockProof plans for example, while anyone after a top of the range device will end up with a TakeAway plan.
There's some overlap between each of these and the handsets available with a GoTo plan, which covers a good selection of mid-range and older flagship models.
At the time we're writing this review, it's not possible to get a handset from iD on PAYG terms.
As we've mentioned a few times, iD use Three's network. In their 2016 Connected Nations Report, Ofcom had the following figures for Three's UK coverage:
|Voice coverage||Data coverage|
It's a bit of a mixed bag: Three lag behind the other main networks for geographic voice coverage, but they're second only to EE for geographic data coverage.
They're last in terms of indoor data coverage too, despite having access to the 800MHz frequency which is better suited to penetrating obstacles (like multiple walls within buildings) than the other 4G bands.
Where Three - and therefore iD - have scored points previously has been in being able to provide a signal while we're on the move: they provide better coverage on the UK's motorways, A, and B roads than O2 and Vodafone have managed in the past.
They also win points for offering the second fastest 4G mobile data in the UK - behind EE, almost inevitably - and when 4G isn't available, iD Mobile customers can share a sense of smugness with Three's users at having the fastest average 3G data speeds:
|Average download speed|
On the header of iD's Twitter page, they're celebrating reaching the landmark figure of 500,000 customers - which, for a relatively new operator, isn't bad. But it's nowhere near enough for them to be included in Ofcom's customer satisfaction or complaints figures.
However, Which? have found that 80% of iD customers would recommend them as a provider - and there's plenty of praise for their mobile app, which allows users a huge degree of control over their accounts.
There's no online forum, which is a shame as many other MVNOs have made good use of their existing customers' knowledge and experience to provide rapid, cheap support - but like Tesco, iD have a strong physical presence in our towns and cities, which many users seem to find reassuring.