VOXI – has it got more to offer than those TV adverts with the thumbs? Let’s have a little scratch under the surface.
After having been out of the country for some time I felt it might be time to have a look how the state of things in the UK mobile market are and I noticed that VOXI, following their reversal of an age cap their service, is now available to all. I also saw their TV adverts. Wow, what were they thinking? Since Vodafone suddenly got serious about things and introduced an Unlimited plan so it’s no longer just Three UK doing so, O2 and EE have been forced to up their games too. Following the success that Gifgaff has been for O2, Voda have been seemingly trying to repeat it with Voxi. I like the idea; unlimited “social media” traffic and some decent data bundles. 45GB for £20 isn’t really that bad for any network other than 3.
You see Three UK are still somewhat the plucky upstart and seen by many as the ‘el cheapo’ network and a bit bargain basement. Vodafone on the other hand have pretty much always promoted themselves as a premium, more expensive (read value) but better network. On paper it certainly looks like it should be too. Voda have a 2G, 3G ,4G and a newly launched 5G network. This means that they have a splattering of spectrum all over the place. This matters since they can refarm all of it for 4G if they want so they have massive potential. To illustrate, they have spectrum in the 800, 900, 1500, 1800, 2100, 2600 and 3500MHz bands. In short they have huge infrastructure all over the place and this gives them the potential to have massive carrier aggregation, delivering crazy speeds, high frequency for capacity, low for area and building penetration and that wired slab of 1500MHz as a downlink only supplementary band to hike download speeds ever higher.
So, in theory Voxi gets you the same network you would on Vodafone directly but for a not bad price and its all a prepay/rolling monthly contract, so no credit check. Very handy if you only just moved to the UK and electronically barely exist. This all sounds great right? I thought so, so I ordered a SIM to give a try and see how it is without committing to leaving my existing network.
In goes the SIM card and no network. A phone notification tells me the SIM isn’t provisioned. Go to the voxi site to activate it I think, which seems all fine then demands I register. Okay, I register, and then it tells me my desired username is taken. Strange but okay, so I try another. I receive the same result. I try to contact Voxi with their 24-hour web support. Little did I know by that it means it takes about 24 hours for you to get some one on the webchat. Once I did, they tell me oh, well because your registration didn’t go through the first time it has now used your email address so you can either use another or register through me, by which I had to give all my info including password, pin, pets name, etc, which seemed rather lacking from a security standpoint. Aren’t we always told never to give your passwords in full to staff by companies? The other option was go to a Vodafone shop and have them do it for me. This was not a good start and its feeling like VOXI is Vodafone’s impression of Steve Buscemi; “How do you do, fellow kids?”
After the initial hurdles, I managed to get the SIM activated, but I have no data. Okay let’s install the VOXI app. It might be an APN issue? There is no VOXI app, and no I can’t use the Vodafone one either. Perhaps they are still using the SMS setup, so I text WEB to them. No, nothing, nada. Ten minutes pass and nothing, so I send it again out of pure hope – nothing. I start to try to manually add the APN. I have data!
I’m eager to see just what bands they are using here and what carrier aggregation they are using having so many bands. This cant be right, I am only seeing 800MHz and a dash of refarmed 2100MHz. That can’t be right can it? Vodafone didn’t refarm the 2100 band until fairly recently. It can’t be surely? Granted I’m not in a super high density area so I didn’t expect to see any 1500, but maybe some 1800 and 2600 should be easy enough to stumble across? Sadly not.
Today I went for a tour around the City and whilst 4G coverage was great thanks to all that 800MHz (even deep into Ikea) there was a frightening lack of other bands. 2100MHz showed up regularly but almost nothing of anything else. In the City centre, yes some 2600MHz appeared but the 2100 pretty much went away. Seriously Vodafone, is this right? Loading up Cell Mapper and setting to Vodafone and going through the various bands I can see, it would seem I am right. I am very disappointed as Voda has such massive potential with its spectrum holdings and this just seems a cheap and lazy implementation.
Traveling a little further and the 800MHz coverage really does start to show itself as a plus. Compared to Three UK and their focus on 1800MHz in the countryside, the wide coverage from the 800 spectrum is perfectly suited and gives excellent coverage. Granted it’s not blazing fast as when you’re on 800. Three UK however drops to 3G constantly, but when it’s 4G on the 1800 band comes back it’s faster, for the brief time your covered by that cell on the motorway. Voxi it seems would make a good option for those traversing the green wastes between towns with regularity.
The 45GB option for £20 is not at all bad. It however can be beaten if you are willing to take a contract. Where I think the real value proposition lies, is if you want to give a child a phone. There is a fixed fee so they aren’t going to run up a bill, regardless of whether they use all their data. If all other data is exhausted, they can still use social media, so they never completely run out of data as it were. If you are an adult, have just moved to the UK, and cant get a contract, or if you only plan to be here for 6 months, it’s also a pretty great option. A decent data limit for a reasonable cost.
So much of this is about Vodafone as the network rather than VOXI itself as a product. Actually, most of the negatives come from that angle. Voda could be great but it isn’t currently. No VoLTE, almost no use of LTE other than 800MHz with a scattering of 2100MHz is frankly not really acceptable from a network that has always billed itself as a premium, frankly better operator. VOXI however is not billing itself as that. If anything it’s the cheaper, no contract and “endless” social media type of product. This, it does really quite well. Giffgaff will only give 40GB in their products, and to get “endless” social media data, they require you to move up to £25. Smarty, however, will give you unlimited everything for £18.75 which is cheaper and you get more.
The products delivered by networks have undoubetedly gotten much more competitive. Three UK, O2 and Vodafone all have cheap, youth friendly MVNO’s, and they are each pretty similar value for money (unless you need tons of data in which case Three UK is arguably your only option). Those not wanting a contract (or can’t get one) now have three reasonable options to choose from. If you are currently with one of the other two and were hoping that Vodafone may give you a big network speed or quality boost, sadly that is not the case unless you are off the beaten track most of the time. VOXI is a solid option providing decent value, very nice coverage, and decent data speeds. Their setup could be streamlined though.