What do I need to know?
- Every operator offers student discounts, either based on agreements with universities or with student-focused loyalty brands
- None of the student discounts last beyond the term of the initial contract, e.g. up to 24 months, with the exception of Three’s discount, which is just 6 months
- O2 and Vodafone separately target younger users (e.g. under 30) through sub-brands Giffgaff and Voxi, respectively
- Voxi offers zero-rated social media and video for all its tiers
Similar to other high-income Western European countries, birth rates in the UK have been falling, leading to a decline in the number of young people. However, in contrast to countries like Italy or Spain, immigration is helping to replenish the overall population and that of people in their 20s. Currently, the UK’s population of people in their 20s is around 8 million people, of which approximately 2.38 million are university students.
The UK is one of the most connected markets, with smartphone penetration at 82% of the population. A majority of users (60%) consider the smartphone the most important device for internet access, and 35% of internet users access the internet exclusively through their smartphones. Smartphone usage among those in their late teens, their 20s and early 30s hovers around 98% to 100%, and social media sites are the most popular destinations for smartphone users, particularly among these age groups.
What are operators offering?
EE doesn’t offer a dedicated youth-focused plan, but it offers a discounted plan for university students through a partnership with UK student loyalty platform Student Beans. Users who register with Student Beans receive a code for 20% off their monthly bill, 500MB of extra data each month, six free months of Apple Music and three free months of BT Sport.
The offer is open only to users taking postpaid plans, either SIM-only or with a device. The discount lasts only for the minimum term of the plan, i.e. for up to 24 months. Meanwhile, the extra data is available only when the user consumes their monthly data allowance; it remains in force for 30 days or until the next billing date, whichever comes first, and unused extra data doesn’t roll over at the end of the month. Like the discount, the extra data is removed from the plan at the end of the minimum term.
O2 also doesn’t have any youth-focused plans under its main brand. Instead, it caters to the youth demographic in two ways: with a 20% discount for students, and with a sub-brand, Giffgaff.
Similar to EE’s student discount, O2’s Student Offer is a partnership with two student-focused loyalty brands, Unidays and Totum, and offers 20% off the Airtime portion of an O2 Refresh contract taken out with an eligible smartphone, tablet, hotspot or dongle. It isn’t available for SIM-only plans, prepaid plans or family sharing plans, and the discount doesn’t apply to the cost of the device, which under O2 Refresh plans is spread out over 24 months. To redeem the offer, Unidays and Totum members must log into their accounts and provide a voucher code on O2’s website.
O2’s other youth-focused offering is its sub-brand, Giffgaff. Run as a no-frills pay-as-you-go carrier, Giffgaff (a Scottish expression that means mutual giving) keeps costs low by using its online message board community for functions such as customer service and customer acquisition. The community also self-moderates message board content and in some cases suggests new features, such as data-tethering and types of mobile plans. With its social media influence, Giffgaff resembles the youth strategy of O2’s Spanish sister company, Movistar, which converted social network Tuenti into a youth-focused sub-brand.
Plans start at £6 per month for the lowest tier, which offers 500MB of data, all the way up to £35 for unlimited data and up to 20GB of data for roaming when traveling within the European Union. Interestingly, the range of plans is more diverse than that of parent brand O2, yet Giffgaff’s plans aren’t necessarily better value. Indeed, the most expensive plans for each brand offer unlimited data but O2’s is cheaper than Giffgaff’s by GBP5 per month.
|Data Allowance & Price||Bottom Tier||Top Tier|
|O2||5GB for £10||Unlimited data for £30|
|Giffgaff||500MB for £6||Unlimited data for £35|
Like O2, Vodafone offers a student discount and a youth-focused sub-brand. The discount applies for students of universities that have signed up with Vodafone, and offers 10% off the monthly price of selected mobile, tablet and SIM-only plans. In addition, during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Vodafone partnered with the charity, Mail Force Computers for Kids, to provide 150,000 data SIMs to pupils and university students lacking connectivity. Each SIM held 30GB of data to use for 90 days, and was sent to students at schools, colleges and universities across the UK.
Vodafone launched Voxi in September 2017, as a SIM-only brand aimed at users under the age of 25 and featuring zero-rated social media. It subsequently raised the age limit to 30, added an unlimited data tier and added zero-rated video (including YouTube).
Three’s student discount is probably the least generous of any of the UK operators. It offers 10% off certain handset plans and certain SIM-only plans (previously 20% off SIM-only), as well as 20% off home broadband plans, but these discounts are only for the first six months. To register, and access the discounts, users must enter their university email address.
Overall, EE’s student discount appears to be the most generous, since it offers the largest discount on the monthly bill and 500MB of bonus data per month. O2’s discount is a close second, because although it’s also 20%, the discount does not apply to the cost of the device. Both are also run in partnership with student loyalty brands, meaning the discounts are available to anyone who can sign up to those brands.
In contrast, access to the student discounts from Vodafone and Three depends on whether the user’s university has an agreement with either operator – and on top of that, Three’s discount lasts for only six months. That said, Vodafone’s plan to offer free data SIMs to underprivileged users during the pandemic was an innovative response to the lockdowns that forced students to adopt distance learning, frequently at their own expense.
In terms of youth-focused sub-brands, Voxi’s offering is simpler and more generous than Giffgaff’s. Voxi offers fewer plans, meaning it’s easier for a user to determine what plan fits their needs. In terms of data, Voxi’s lowest-priced plan might cost more than Giffgaff’s, but it offers 8GB to Giffgaff’s 500MB, and includes zero-rated social media and video.