How good is mobile broadband from Vodafone?

samantha smith
By Samantha Smith

vodafone sign close-upVodafone

WHEN we're talking about mobile data, there are usually two names that come up again and again: EE and Three.

But Vodafone have an ace up their sleeve: they offer a 50GB a month data SIM for £30 that, at the time we're writing this, represents the biggest data allowance currently available in the UK.

We're aware that even with a deal this competitive, many might be put off Vodafone because of their recent customer service issues - but there are signs that the worst is behind them.

Quick jump menu
Data SIMs
Tablets and iPads
Mobile broadband devices
Tethering on Vodafone
Coverage and speed
Other products and service

Here we focus on the plans and devices available, before looking at their other products and the benefits available to existing Vodafone customers - and finally taking a quick look at those complaints figures.

Use the menu to the right to jump ahead to the details that interest you, or keep reading to get the full picture.

Data SIMs

It's not immediately obvious that Vodafone sell pay as you go data SIMs, as they're not available online on SIM-only terms.

Those looking for a new tablet or a dedicated mobile broadband device on a PAYG plan are in luck however - skip ahead to find out more.

Pay monthly data SIMs

But as is the case with their rivals, Vodafone's pay monthly data SIMs are available on both 30-day and 12-month contracts; as with their rivals the prices are the same for each plan, however how we want to commit for.

Data Contract term Monthly price
vodafone 2GB 30 days OR
12 months
vodafone 5GB 30 days OR
12 months
vodafone 15GB 30 days OR
12 months
vodafone 30GB 30 days OR
12 months
vodafone 50GB 30 days OR
12 months

Those who take out either the 30GB or 50GB plans on a year-long contract will also benefit from limited inclusive European roaming: as long as they're within Vodafone's roaming zone, they'll get 2GB of data per month.

It's a nice touch, but those who need more generous roaming allowances might want to consider Three, whose Feel At Home roaming scheme allow us to use up to 12GB internationally, or an EE 4GEE Max plan, which allows up to 15GB to be used roaming.

Extra data

Prices for exceeding these allowances are steep: in the UK we'll be charged £6.50 per 250MB unit. A much cheaper option is to plan ahead when nearing the limit:

Extra data Price
vodafone Pay as you go £6.50 per 250MB unit
vodafone 1GB £6
vodafone 2GB £10/mth

Those who are happy with their bundle in general but want more than 2GB of data when travelling in the EU (or who are going further afield) need to consider the following:

Roaming region Data Valid Price
vodafone Inclusive roaming zone 100MB 24 hours £2
1GB 30 days £15
vodafone World Traveller zone UK allowance N/A £5/day

Tablets and iPads

At the time of this review Vodafone only offer four brands of tablet: alongside the obvious iPads and a couple of Samsungs are a few of their own-brand devices and one from Huawei.

Furthermore, only Vodafone's own brand tablets are available on pay as you go terms:

Device Upfront price Preloaded data
vodafone Vodafone Tab speed 6 £125 6GB
Valid for 90 days
vodafone Vodafone Tab prime 6 £175 6GB
Valid for 90 days

Once we've used the preloaded data, we'll need to top up with one of the packs listed below.

All of Vodafone's pay monthly tablet plans are 24 months long, and all but one come with a choice of just three plans: 5GB, 15GB or 30GB a month.

The exception is Vodafone's budget Tab Speed 6: in keeping with its budget price tag there's a 2GB plan available as well.

Those after an iPad should expect to pay between £10 and £180 upfront, depending on both which model and memory size we choose, and our choice of data plan. Upfront costs for Vodafone's other tablets range from nothing to £80.

iPads on Vodafone
Click here to see the range
of iPads available on Vodafone

In all cases, the bigger the data plan, the lower the upfront cost we'll be expected to pay - but we will also pay more per month to cover the rest, on top of our data costs.

As a rough guide: the Vodafone Tab Prime 7 costs from £21 to £31 a month for 5GB up to 30GB of data; the iPad Pro 9.7 costs from £38 to £48 a month on the same plans.

Mobile broadband devices

Be careful when looking at mobile wi-fi from Vodafone: they sell a few 3G-only devices alongside the 4G-capable versions.

The upfront prices are lower - but more importantly the connections will be much slower despite the data costing the same.

Device Upfront price Preloaded data
vodafone K4203-Z 3G dongle £15 1GB
Valid for 90 days
vodafone K5160 4G dongle £60 6GB
Valid for 90 days
vodafone R207 3G Mobile Wi-fi £30 1GB
Valid for 90 days
vodafone R216 4G Mobile Wi-fi £60 6GB
Valid for 90 days

After using their preloaded data, both 3G and 4G customers will need to top up with one of the following packs:

Data Price
vodafone 250MB
Valid 90 days
vodafone 1GB
Valid 90 days
vodafone 2GB
Valid 90 days
vodafone 5GB
Valid 90 days
vodafone 15GB
Valid 90 days

Pay monthly customers can sign up for 30 days at a time, or for 24 months, with a choice of data plans reflecting those available on the SIM-only terms listed above.

They have an additional choice of device - or rather, an additional piece of kit available. Vodafone's version of in-car wi-fi is their standard 4G mobile wi-fi device bundled with an in-car charger.

It's £10 more upfront, but it's more versatile than the in-car hotspots available from Vodafone's rivals, as it doesn't need to be plugged into a 12V socket to work.

Device Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
vodafone K4203-Z 3G dongle 30 days OR
24 months
£0 to £15 £11 to £30
vodafone K5160 4G dongle 30 days OR
24 months
£0 to £30 £11 to £30
vodafone R207 3G Mobile Wi-fi 30 days OR
24 months
£0 to £20 £11 to £30
vodafone R216 4G Mobile Wi-fi 30 days OR
24 months
£0 to £35 £11 to £30
vodafone R216 4G Mobile Wi-fi
+ Belkin Car Charger
30 days OR
24 months
£0 to £45 £11 to £30

As with all the plans and prices we've listed here, these are subject to change. While we make every effort to keep this article up to date, the latest devices and tariffs can be checked here.

Tethering a mobile phone

As far as Vodafone are concerned, the only limits their customers should face when it comes to tethering are whether their device is capable, and staying within their plan's data allowance.

The exact plans it's possible to get vary depending on whether we're looking at getting just a Vodafone SIM or adding a mobile phone to the package - we explain more in the full review of the network, available here.

The cheapest way to get a tethering-friendly deal is by going for one of their 12-month SIM-only plans. We'll ignore the 250MB and 500MB plans as they're too small for any realistic tethering.

12-month phone SIMs

Plan type Data EU roaming Monthly price
vodafone Standard 1GB None £15
vodafone Red 8GB 500MB £17*
vodafone Red Value 20GB 2GB £20*
vodafone Red Value 25GB 4GB £25*

*Promotional price. Offer ends March 15th 2017.

Vodafone sell a wider range of plans on 30-day terms, but the allowances are different, and the prices are much higher once we need more than a few GB per month.

There are also far fewer special offers on certain tariffs, if any, and no perks like inclusive European roaming or free streaming subscriptions, as is the case with the Red and Red Value pay monthly deals.

Data Monthly price
vodafone 1GB £17
vodafone 2GB £19
vodafone 4GB £24
vodafone 5GB £19
vodafone 8GB £29
vodafone 10GB £25

Note how it's possible to get 5GB of data for less than the price of 2GB or 4GB, and 10GB for less than the 8GB plan. In these two cases, the larger data allowances come with just 500 minutes of talk time rather than the usual unlimited allowance.

Coverage and speed

Vodafone have long made the point that they don't cover the whole of the UK, but where they do the signal will be solid, even inside a building with sturdier than average walls.

That's borne out by the data: OpenSignal say the Vodafone 4G network is 98% reliable, and if we find ourselves out of its reach, the 3G signal has 93% reliability.

That will help make the connection feel faster - or, more accurately, smoother - which is just as well, because only O2 offer slower data services, over both 3G and 4G:

Average download speed
3G 4G
ee 5.5Mb 28.0Mb
o2 4.1Mb 16.2Mb
three 6.10Mb 24.5Mb
vodafone 4.8Mb 18.0Mb

SOURCE: Opensignal State of Mobile Networks report 2016. Available here.

And while they don't cover everywhere in the UK just yet, Vodafone are working hard to increase their footprint - the figures below for indoor and geographical coverage are significantly higher than they were the previous year:

3G and 4G data coverage
Indoor, premises 92%
Outdoor Premises 97%
Geographic 63%

SOURCE: Ofcom Connected Nations 2016. Available here.

Geographically, Vodafone are a little ahead of O2, who cover 63% of the UK, but lagging behind Three and EE, who cover 70% and 76% of the UK landmass respectively.

In terms of indoor coverage they're joint second with O2 - but we're now at the point where more than 95% of us should be able to get a data signal from all four main networks if we're willing to nip outside.

Adding services

Vodafone keep things simple when it comes to their existing customers: anyone who already has a pay monthly device or SIM-only deal will get 15% off the price of each additional pay monthly plan they buy.

Home broadband from Vodafone

Existing customers also get £3 a month off the price of Vodafone's fixed line fibre broadband - but not their ADSL broadband.

Prices are therefore as follows:

Package Broadband Contract Upfront price Monthly price
vodafone Unlimited Standard Broadband 17 Up to 17Mb
18 months £6.99 £23
vodafone Unlimited Fibre 38 Up to 38Mb
18 months £56.98 £23
vodafone Unlimited Fibre 76 Up to 76Mb
18 months £56.98 £28

At various points in the past few years, there's been talk of a Vodafone pay TV service, but each time the plans have been shelved for some reason.

At the time we're writing this review their TV ambitions have been put on hold indefinitely; chief executive Vittorio Colao has told The Telegraph that while the service is essentially ready to go if they change their minds, they have other priorities for now.

This is the point at which we suggest that improving their customer service may be one of those priorities: like numerous other previously well regarded companies, their issues began following the move to a new IT system.

As the graph below shows they are at least seeing a reduction in the number of complaints made about them to Ofcom, but they're still provoking far more than any other mobile provider.

Pay monthly mobile complaints per 100,000 customers, Q4 2014 - Q3 2016

pay monthly mobile complaints, q3 2016

SOURCE: Ofcom Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints Q3 2016. Available here [pdf].

Ofcom receive the most complaints about Vodafone's billing, pricing and charges, but they say many customers are also upset about the way the operator handles complaints made to them.

On the plus side, Vodafone offer a 30-day no quibble satisfaction guarantee. Whether it's the coverage, our choice of plan or device, or something else, if we're not happy for any reason in our first 30 days we're free to cancel without penalty.

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