Fast 4G is now the default mobile internet connection offered by most providers. The data allowances on offer have steadily increased to keep up with the growth of data-hungry video and music-streaming services.
Here's our round-up of some of the best deals currently available on 4G, pay monthly SIMs. There is something here for everyone, from boxset-hungry video streamers, to occasional email checkers – all infused with speedy, 4G goodness.
Right now, it seems like no SIM deals round-up is complete without this £20 goodybag from gifgaff. Despite being one of the more expensive SIMs in this list, it is the cheapest one around offering unlimited data. The only catch is that after using 9GB of data, the connection speed is drastically reduced for the rest of the month (except between midnight and 8am).
Unlimited minutes and texts are always welcome, plus travellers can take advantage of 9GB of data roaming in European Union/EEA destinations. Giffgaff roaming is 'always on', which means once your 9GB roaming allowance is spent, your data will automatically switch to a reasonable 0.6p per MB.
Unlimited 'all you can eat' data, is the stand-out feature of this plan. It's at the expensive end of this list, but it still represents good value for money, especially when you consider that you also get unlimited minutes and unlimited texts.
13GB of data can be used when roaming abroad in 71 destinations including the USA, Australia and European Union/EEA countries (up to 30GB can be used in the UK). This plan also has the bonus of Three's Go Binge feature, so watching Netflix or listening to Apple Music won't eat into your data allowance.
If you are considering Three, it's wise to check its network coverage in your area, since Three doesn't have quite as much 4G network coverage as some providers.
O2 didn't quite make it onto this list, despite its excellent 4G coverage in the UK. Happily, Tesco Mobile uses O2's network, giving its customers access to all that great infrastructure at a reasonable price. 15GB is plenty of data for most people, for example, 15GB represents around 15 hours of standard-definition streaming on Netflix .
Tesco Mobile has struck a good balance of cost and data-allowance in this plan, and its 5000 minutes and texts are as good as unlimited, providing 2 hours, 42 minutes talk-time per day.
Tesco Mobile also offers the ability to cap your bill with a 'Safety Buffer', so you won't be caught out if you exceed your data allowance. A feature which may appeal to parents providing a phone for their child.
EE was first to market with 4G when it was first rolled-out in 2012, and it has the best coverage in the UK, covering 95% of the population according to Ofcom. This is the main reason EE is on this list, after all, it's no good having tons of gigabytes to play with if you you can't get a signal.
The 20GB of data for £21 per month offers excellent value, and with unlimited calls and texts, this plan becomes a good option for people who like to use apps and stream music or TV. Plus, if you also have EE broadband, you will get a bonus 5GB of data.
Smarty is a 4G network, owned by, but distinct from, Three. Its mission is to provide a very simple lineup of three SIM-only 4G plans, aimed squarely at consumers (not for business use). In line with its budget approach is this low-priced deal for just £7.50 per month. The 30-day contract allows you to change or leave whenever you like.
All Smarty plans provide customers with unlimited texts and calls and either 2GB, 4GB or 8GB of data. If you want to add more data, you can top-up at a cost of £1.25 per GB.
In addition to its top-up feature, Smarty will refund you £1.25 for each GB of unused data at the end of each month. With a flexible deal like this, at such a low price, 2GB is a great starting point, and will see a lot of users through a month of emails and social media.
If you have recently switched to 4G from a 3G handset, you may have questions about how much data you will munch through on a 4G connection.
If you continue to look at exactly the same content with your 4G device as you did with your 3G device, you won't use any more data than before. However, the faster download speeds you get with 4G make it possible to view a lot more content in the a shorter space of time. So it's absolutely possible you will use more data. This is reflected in the current trend for larger data allowances in mobile plans.
If you want to stream a lot of video and music, then it's a good idea to opt for a plan with an unlimited or very high data allowance. Check out plans with 20GB or above per month. To give you an idea, Netflix standard-definition streaming uses approximately 1GB per hour of video.
Those who spend a lot of time using social media apps, browsing the internet and sending emails, but not streaming entire TV programs or films, will normally be fine with 4GB to 6GB, while people who check in with social media a couple of times a day and answer the odd email will be well served by 1GB 2GB per month.
It also depends on how much time you spend at home or at work with your phone logged in to wi-fi, since that will reduce the data usage on your phone. If you rely entirely on your phone for the internet, then an unlimited plan is really the way to go.
Older handsets like the iPhone 4 are still in use, but they are 3G-only phones. If you have an older handset or one which is 3G-only, your handset should be able to connect to the internet, but you will not receive a 4G service. You will receive the data allowance included in your plan, but it will be at 3G speeds (assuming your handset is 3G-ready).
So you have a 4G-ready handset already and you are hunting for a 4G SIM. If you live in an urban area, it is very likely you will be hooked up to 4G in no time. However if you live in a remote rural area, despite ever-improving 4G coverage, it is possible you can only get a 3G connection. It's important to check coverage in your area before signing up to any SIM contract.
You can use the Ofcom coverage checker, or visit your prospective provider's website to use its coverage checker.
Each provider will have a different policy on this. Most providers will let you use some or all of your 4G data allowance in European Union/EEA countries. Some providers also include other countries further afield. It is best to check your provider's website to see what the limits are and which destinations are included.
4G providers want to be sure their network's capacity is enjoyed fairly by all its customers. Different providers will have different Fair Usage Policies, but generally speaking it refers to the reduction of upload and download speeds for users at the busiest times of day – or a reduction in speed for people who use their 4G a lot more than other customers. This is done to prevent particularly enthusiastic users from hogging the network's capacity.
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