Switching Mobile Providers: The Ultimate Guide to Changing Phone Networks

With so many networks on the market in the UK, switching mobile providers can feel like a daunting task. There are lots of factors to consider and things to line up - it’s easy to fall back into complacency and just stick to what you know. However, by doing this, you’re severely limiting your options, and you could be missing out on a perfect deal. 

Fortunately, our ultimate guide is here to help. You’ll learn everything you could possibly want to know about changing networks, from breaking the news to your old provider to keeping your old number to how to find the best deal for you. 


Why would you want to switch?

Here’s a question you might be asking - why would you want to switch in the first place? Here are the most common reasons people choose to move networks:



Well, for starters, there’s your monthly bill. Ofcom found that there were 1.4M UK customers who were overpaying once their current contract expired by not switching to an equivalent SIM only deal. Although measures have now been put in place to stop providers from taking advantage of customers out of contract, you could still be paying too much for what you get. 


Data allowance

Another factor to consider is your allowance. The amount of data, and, to a lesser extent minutes/texts, you get each month can vary greatly between networks. Some offer unlimited deals, where you don’t need to worry about going over your data cap, whereas other providers offer straightforward pay as you go SIMs, where you only pay for what you use. Staying with your current network could limit your options.



You also need to consider network coverage. Plainly put, some providers cover certain areas better than others. If you’ve been shouting at your phone for losing signal one too many times, it might be worth looking to make a change.



Finally, there’s the various perks and benefits that can come with mobile networks. You may find better data roaming rates, data-rollover schemes, access to 5G, exclusive experiences and discounts, free subscriptions to video and music services, vouchers, and much, much more with another provider. If you want to find out what specific benefits you get with different providers, Uswitch has put together a guide to network perks



When are you able to switch network providers

When are you able to switch networks?

The next thing to consider is if you’re in a position where you can switch networks. 


Can you switch from contract to SIM-only (or vice-versa)?

Of course you can! This is an increasingly common trend, where customers are moving away from fixed-term handset contracts, to more affordable and flexible SIM only deals. 


Switching mobile phone provider mid-contract

A common time to want to switch is whilst still under contract. You may feel unhappy with your current provider and want to receive a better service. 

Whilst it is possible to switch providers mid-contract, you need to check the small print. If you’re on a fixed term contract, you may be hit by a huge exit fee if you try and leave. This is usually because you have entered into a contract where you’ve agreed to pay a set amount over a fixed period of time. Simply put, you will have to pay the money you agreed to pay. You may also find there is an additional exit fee for leaving part way through your term. 

If you’re on a rolling 30 day contract, you shouldn’t have any fees to worry about. 


How to check your contract

There are a few ways to find the terms of your contract:

  • Check your records: Be it via email or on paper, you will have a copy of your contract somewhere
  • Log-in to your online account: Most networks provide you with a login portal where you can access important documents like policies and contracts
  • Contact your network directly: if you can’t find it yourself, try to get in touch with your network. Ring them up or use online chat and enquire about switching


Avoiding double charges

One thing you should make sure is that you don’t accidentally pay for two mobile phone networks at the same time. Avoid this by making sure your old network end-date and new network start-date lineup. If you want to move to pay as you go, this is very easy, as you can have your SIM all ready, and just top it up the day you leave your old network. 



Check what coverage is available in your area

Check what coverage is available in your area

Before switching, you need to first find out what network coverage is like in your area. Although the majority of networks cover practically all of the UK, there are a few outliers and anomalies which could leave you without signal. 

You should check how signal strength compares between networks, as you might find that a certain provider covers your area better and can provide faster 4G and more reliable phone calls. 

Try our coverage checker to see what Asda Mobile is like in your area.



How to change mobile networks

Changing mobile networks used to be a pain. Providers would make you jump through hoops just to get through to their cancellation team, and even then they would continue to offer you incentives in the hopes that you’d stay. It was an exhausting process to say the least. 

Now, switching providers couldn’t be easier. Ofcom introduced ‘Text to Switch’ in 2019, which allows customers to leave their network just by sending a simple text message. This was introduced to put the control back in your hands, and to stop providers from trying to prevent you from leaving. 


How does Text to Switch work?

Text to Switch is a very simple process, and only slightly changes depending on if you want to keep your number or not. 

  1. Send a text. To keep your old number, text ‘PAC’ to 65075. To get a new number, text ‘STAC’ to 75075
  2. Receive a text back within a minute, containing your code to switch, as well as important contract information (such as early cancellation charges)
  3. Give your code to your new provider. This can be done online or over the phone
  4. Switching is completed within one working day


If you just want to find out information about your current provider without committing to switching, text ‘INFO’ to 85075.

And that’s all there is to it. You don’t even have to speak to your old network. Of course, you can still do that - each network will have its own customer service number that you can ring or text to request a switching code, and most allow you to request one through your online account. Your provider has to provide you a code within a minute, just like if you had used Text to Switch. 



Keeping the same phone number when switching mobile networks

How to keep the same number when changing mobile networks

It’s very common to want to take your same number with you when changing networks. Your friends and family will all have your old number saved, as well as the countless websites you’ve signed up to over the years. It’d be a pain to have to notify and update your number everywhere. To keep your old number you’ll need a PAC code.


What is a PAC code?

A ‘Porting Authorisation Code’, most commonly known as a PAC code, allows you to keep your old number when switching mobile providers. A PAC code is issued by your old provider free of charge and is valid for 30 days. All you need to do is give this code to your new provider, and they’ll make sure that your number comes across with you. 

To acquire a PAC code, text ‘PAC’ to 65075.



Changing number when switching

Technically, if you wanted to change numbers when switching networks, you could just let your old contract expire. You’ll receive a new number from your new provider anyway, and your old number will eventually go out of circulation. However, we’d recommend making the process a little bit more official by using a STAC code. 


What is a STAC code?

A ‘Service Termination Authorisation Code’, most commonly known as a STAC code, allows you to cancel your old number and contract when changing networks. It’s very similar to a PAC code, except it notifies your old provider that you have no intention to keep your number. A STAC code is issued free of charge by your old provider and is valid for 30 days. 

To acquire a STAC code, text ‘STAC’ to 75075.


What happens to my old number? 

If you choose not to take your number with you when switching networks, your old number will be ‘retired’ for a certain period of time (decided by your old provider). After this period, your old number could be re-allocated to a new user.



Keep the same mobile phone when switching

Keeping the same phone when switching

Unless you’re signing up to a phone and SIM contract, you’re probably looking to keep your old handset. This is a great way to save some money, especially when the cost of new devices keeps going up and up. Prices of top-end phones have risen by a shocking 490% over 20 years

If you want to continue to use your old phone, you need to make sure that it will work with SIM cards from other networks. This is because phones are often locked to the original network. 


How to find out if your phone is unlocked

To find out, simply insert a SIM card from another network (this could be a free one you’ve ordered online or picked up in store), and see if the name of the network appears. If it does, your phone is unlocked. 


How to unlock your phone

There are a few ways to unlock your phone. For starters, you could take it to an independent mobile phone shop and pay for them to do it. This won’t cost much (usually less than £20), but it may invalidate the warranty on your device. 

A safer way to unlock your phone is by contacting your old network provider. You will need to provide them with details about your handset, including your IMEI number, which is a 15 digit number unique to your device. You can usually find this in your phone’s settings, or by entering *#06# into your phone app. The process is different depending on the network, but there usually isn’t a cost involved. 

For more help, read our guide on how to unlock your phone.  



SIM cards and switching mobile networks

SIM cards and switching

When you switch networks, you’ll have to switch SIM cards. There’s no way around this - a SIM card is tied to a specific provider and cannot be changed. Swapping SIM cards over in your phone isn’t very tricky, and a number of handsets support dual SIMs, where you can have two working at the same time. 

The one thing to be aware of is the different SIM card sizes:

  • Standard SIM - 25mm x 15mm
  • Micro SIM - 15mm x 12mm
  • Nano SIM - 12.3mm x 8.8mm

As a rule of thumb, the more modern the phone, the smaller SIM card it takes. Fortunately, most SIM card providers supply all three sizes, so there’s nothing much to worry about. If you want to learn more, take a look at our SIM card guide



Finding the right deal

Possibly the most important aspect of switching networks - finding the right deal. After all, there’s not much point in switching unless you’ve got a good reason to. Here’s what you need to consider when shopping around.


Decide how much data you’ll need

It can be awfully tempting to go for the deals offering higher data caps, or even unlimited usage. However, you need to figure out how much you currently use and if you need any more. Both Android and iPhones have data usage tracking built-in as standard - there are also a bunch of apps on the marketplace that can do it for you. If you’re constantly hitting your data cap each month, then that’s a great indication that you need to up your allowance. 

Also consider how much time you spend out and about. Whilst at home, you’re more than likely going to be connected to Wi-Fi, where mobile data isn’t needed. Whereas if you’re a heavy public transport commuter, you might burn through data by streaming videos and music. 


Consider going SIM only

With the rising costs of new handsets and not much separating one release from the next, a lot of people are making the switch to SIM only. It makes sense - why pay for a new phone when there’s nothing wrong with your old one? SIM only deals are considerably cheaper than contracts, as you’re not also having to pay for a new phone in your monthly bill. 

With SIM only deals, you need to pay attention to what allowances you get, and how long you’re going to be tied down for. For instance, with Asda Mobile, you can buy recurring 30 day bundles, giving you the flexibility month-on-month. Other networks may have you locked into a contract for 12 to 24 months. 


Live a simpler life with Pay As You Go

Only want to pay for what you use? Pay As You Go is just what you’re looking for. This type of SIM was extremely popular back in the early 2000s, but it’s been seeing a resurgence in recent years as people try to save as much money as possible on their phone bills. With providers offering great usage rates, Pay As You Go gives you the ultimate freedom and flexibility. 

No contracts, no limits

With no contract you have the freedom to flex your usage whenever you need to.

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