Is an unlimited data SIM worth it in 2024?

Dan Howdle | March 5th, 2024

Woman using a mobile phone

A few short years ago an unlimited SIM was the stuff of dreams. Three was the first major provider to offer them, but while being desirable, they were anything but cheap. Now, in 2024, the picture looks very different. Every provider in the UK now offers at least one unlimited SIM, where you can use as much data as you like, to a point. But is it worth it? Is there still money to be saved by plumping for a limited SIM, and what sort of problems might that cause you, if any? Let's take a look.

How much mobile data do I use?

This is the key question when it comes to determining whether you need an unlimited data plan or not. Nowadays, a lot of providers will be able to let you know how much data you currently use per month, and failing that you can usually find that statistic in your phone's settings. Your 'ideal' data limit is going to be whatever that number come to, plus one third – so that if you choose to limit your data more than it currently is, you still have a nice cushion.

Here are some broad categories of data usage, and the sorts of user and activities that typically come along with them:

Monthly Usage User Type Description
3-10GB Light User Stays mostly within wifi range, browses, uses instant messaging and social media
11-50GB Moderate User Half their time out of reach of wifi, browses, social media, instant messaging and streams the odd video
51-200GB Heavy User Often out of wifi range, watches a lot of video content as well as all the other stuff
More than 200GB Unlimited User Almost always out of wifi range and watches videos many times per day

As you can see from this rough overview of mobile data needs, there are a few key factors. They are:

How often are you in wifi range?

Ultimately, mobile data limits play more or less of a part in the choice of SIM you make for yourself, depending on how much of your time you spend out of range of your home and/or work wifi broadband connection. You only use your mobile data when you're not in reach of a wifi network you're able to use, so even if you're thinking 'I use a shedload of data', you may yet still be using a lot less mobile data than you imagine.

What sort of things do you do with your phone?

What you're doing with your phone makes a huge difference to the amount of data you use. If you're using Google to look up answers to questions, answering emails, or engaging with non-video social media you might be using as little as half a GB per day. On the other hand, if you're regularly engaging with video content on YouTube, TikTok and so on, you could be using several GB per day. Across a month that quickly adds up, which is why it's doubly important to have a good handle on how much mobile data you're actually using before considering whether you need an unlimited SIM or not.

Who should consider an unlimited data mobile SIM?

We're still at a moment in telecoms history where few people really need an unlimited SIM. You may want one because, well, it's peace of mind in terms of never hitting your limits on the one hand, and on the other unlimited data SIMs just aren't that expensive anymore, especially from budget-friendly providers like giffgaff, VOXI and SMARTY.

That said there are, we would say, four types of people specifically who should consider an unlimited data SIM before anything else. They are:

  • High usage individuals: As we've already covered, whether for recreation or for work, or for a mixture of both, you use a huge amount of data when out and about and ways from your home or work wifi connection
  • Frequent streamers and gamers: Those who frequently stream music, TV, YouTube or any other source of video, as well as those who spend a lot of time downloading and playing online games on their mobile phone or tablet and are frequently away from a wifi connection
  • Frequent work travellers: If you travel a lot for work and tether other devices to your phone, such as a laptop, and are in essence using your mobile network connection as your main internet connection should usually consider an unlimited mobile data SIM
  • Fire and forget is important: Finally, if you just never want to have to worry about data limits, an unlimited mobile data SIM could be for you. You may pay a little more than for a limited SIM, but to you that's worth it for peace of mind

How to choose an unlimited SIM

If you've got to this point and decided that you do indeed need an unlimited data SIM, how do you go about choosing? There are two distinct ways to find the right SIM for you:

Method 1: Use an unlimited SIM comparison tool

Lucky for you, this is what we do here at – provide comparison tools to make choosing a SIM or a broadband deal as simple as possible, When it comes to unlimited data mobile SIMs, we have a dedicated page you can visit to see everything that's available right now. You can sort by cheapest, shortest contract, or any other facet of the SIM to find the right one for you.

You should consider:

  • Coverage and speeds: Compare the coverage maps and speeds among different providers to ensure reliable connectivity where you need it.
  • Availability of add-ons: Check if the provider offers add-ons for tethering and international usage, like data packs or international calling minutes..
  • Additional features: Look for options with additional features, such as international roaming or bundled services, that align with your needs.
  • Contract length and fees: Assess the contract length and any associated early termination fees to understand the commitment and potential costs over the long haul

Compare unlimited SIMs

Method 2: Save time and let us find the best deals for you

We regularly write about the best SIM deals available at any given time. Checking out our guide to the best SIMs available right now (a mix of limited and unlimited plans) can save you a lot of time poring through tables and trying to determine if a particular provider and SIM card is a good fit for you.

Unlimited data SIMs and tethering

One question we're frequently asked is whether you could, in theory, get a cheap, unlimited SIM deal, then use your phone or tablet as a mobile hotspot (essentially a router with minimal range) and run your whole home's broadband needs from that connection. The answer is yes, and no. Yes in the sense that it's possible to leverage your unlimited data to other devices via tethering, but no in the sense that phones and tablets have a fraction of the range of a typical home broadband router, meaning they're only really any good for tethering to devices in the same room.

You should also be aware of something called an FUP, or fair usage policy. Because although many mobile providers offer unlimited tethering, there are several who put a data limit on how much data you can use via tethering in any given six-month period, with the aim to prevent customers doing exactly that: Using their mobile contract as a stand-on for a home broadband connection. Because if everyone did that, the mobile networks simply wouldn't be able to cope.

We have an entire guide on the ins and outs of tethering that you should take a look at if this is what you intend to use your unlimited data SIM for. In the meantime, here's a quick overview of the tethering rules on unlimited SIMs, per provider:

Network Overall tethering allowance Maximum tethering data per 6 months
Three Unlimited No limit
EE Unlimited 600GB
O2 Unlimited 650GB
Vodafone Unlimited No limit
VOXI Unlimited No limit
Giffgaff Unlimited 650GB
iD Mobile Unlimited No limit
Smarty Unlimited No limit
Asda Mobile Unlimited No limit
Lebara Mobile Unlimited No limit
Tesco Mobile Unlimited No limit
Lyca Mobile Unlimited 450GB
Talkmobile Unlimited No limit

Can you save money with an unlimited SIM?

This is another question where the answer is unfortunately: 'Kinda'. If you have your single-provider blinkers on – for example, if you're looking for a SIM on Three's website – you'll see that yes, it's most likely the unlimited version of any given SIM is going to be the most expensive one. But when you compare all SIM providers' deals you suddenly realise that the 10GB SIM you see from one provider is more expensive than the unlimited SIM from another, for example.

So while it's true to say that unlimited mobile data SIMs are more expensive within the confines of the offering of each single provider, and so are more expensive broadly, that doesn't preclude paying less than the price of a limited SIM from one provider, by choosing an unlimited SIM from another.

Compare unlimited SIMs

Most people do not need unlimited data in 2024

Finally, we come to the point we made briefly at the start. There are incredibly few people who need unlimited data at this point in time. Mainly, that's because the vast majority of us either spend most of our time within range of our wifi, don't spend a lot of time watching videos on our phones, or both.

But whether we need unlimited data or not, unlimited SIMs are soon going to be the only game in town. Providers don't want complexity, and data and bandwidth are slowly becoming a non-issue for UK networks. So, sooner than you think, unlimited data SIMs are going to be all there is. In one sense that promotes the idea that you should take advantage of cheap, limited SIMs while you can, and in another sense there's an urge to join the badwagon sooner rather than later. Ultimately it depends what deals are out there on as given day, and the best way to find that out is to use a SIM comparison.