The free-market utopia is one where competition is vicious and consumers can easily switch allegiances on a whim. We've seen that in action with the aggressive marketing policies of energy suppliers; I know people who still willingly sign forms on the doorstep at the request of anyone holding a clipboard.
But figures just released by YouGov show that the UK mobile market is comparatively immobile. Half of British mobile users have never changed their network, and only 11 per cent of us bother to look around for a better deal when our contract expires. Bearing in mind the amount of sniping you hear from people about the performance of their mobile network – whether that's poor coverage, risible customer service or slow data speeds – it's a surprising statistic.
You wonder whether our reluctance to switch is a hangover from the days when you'd be left without a phone signal for days while a sulky network reluctantly posted out the PAC transfer code via second-class post. Ofcom sorted that out a while back of course; a network switch now takes no longer than a couple of hours. Or maybe we're just unconvinced about the benefits of switching, a belief that all networks are as good or as bad as each other and it's a case of better the devil you know.
But in fact, according to a spokesperson at moneysupermarket.com, it might be more to do with networks compelling us to be loyal by slinging treats in our direction. "The longer you've been with them, the bigger the loyalty discounts," she says, "and if you show any signs of moving, they'll throw all sorts at you – although Ofcom have stopped the offering of early upgrades."
Now that 4G is rapidly expanding across the UK, it'll be interesting to see if more of us make the leap and what kind of discounts the networks will be prepared to make to hold on to our business and dissuade anyone tempted to do the old switcheroo.