SIM-only deals enable you to put together your own mobile package, pairing the handset of your choice with the right airtime deal. Doing this can save you money – what’s not to like?
Only two providers offer truly unlimited SIM-only deals: Three, and Virgin Mobile, which reserves its unlimited deal for its broadband and TV customers. We’ve looked at some of the best deals out there, what you get for your money and how long you need to sign up for.
All-you-can-eat (AYCE) is one of Three’s Advanced plans – so you get a whole load of extras thrown in. These include Three Feel At Home Around The World that allows you to use your monthly allowances for no extra cost in 71 worldwide destinations. However, Feel At Home Around the World isn’t unlimited – data is capped at 13GB a month abroad.
You also get a 30GB Personal Hotspot for tethering purposes, but this can only be used in the UK - so you can't use it to connect your laptop while you're abroad. The price includes a £5 monthly discount for paying by a recurring method, such as direct debit. The same unlimited deal is also available on a 30-day rolling contract for £32 a month.
Virgin Mobile is currently running a superb deal with this offer. Get 40GB for just £23 per month on a 12-month contract. Although not unlimited, 40GB is a generous amount of data that you'd be hard-pressed to get through. Plus, with Virgin Mobile running on the EE network, you are guaranteed excellent coverage and speeds across the UK.
Alternatively, if you are a pre-existing Virgin Media customer, you can get unlimited data, minutes and texts for just £25 per month.
When it comes to using your phone abroad, Virgin Mobile's Roam Like Home allows free roaming in the EU. You can use the full amount of data for tethering to another device in the UK, but only up to 7GB in Europe.
With a 50GB limit, this deal isn’t unlimited, but it's still a hefty wodge of data that is likely to be ample for anyone. This is the biggest amount of data on offer from O2.
When you're out and about you can make use O2's wi-fi hotspots for free, saving your data for when you really need it. Plus, the O2 Priority app offers some excellent discounts and perks for everything from tickets to free coffees.
BT Mobile offers excellent value to anyone who already has BT broadband at home. The automatic £5 discount brings the price of this 40GB plan down to just £25 per month, plus you will receive a BT Reward Card to spend how you like. BT Mobile runs on the EE network which has the widest 4G coverage across the UK and the fastest speeds. You can use your BT Mobile data througout the EU at no extra cost, and take advantage of the millions of free BT wi-fi hotpots across the UK.
Sports fans will appreciate the free access to BT Sport that comes with this SIM-only deal, or if you want more than one SIM deal you can save money with the BT Family SIM, whereby you receive a discount for each additional BT SIM you buy.
EE boasts the widest and fastest 4G network in the UK. With this 40GB deal, you can get online anywhere in the UK or in the EU. With unlimited texts and minutes thrown in for good measure, this should keep you going from month to month. Tethering is also permitted so if you want to use some of this data to get online on your laptop, you can.
EE also offers some excellent extras in the form of either six months' free Apple Music or three months' free BT Sport – simply choose your preferred option at checkout.
You need to provide your own handset. SIM-only deals are best suited for people who aren’t bothered about upgrading their handset every five minutes. But saying that, you might want to pay for a fancy handset outright then pair it with a cheap SIM deal – you can sometimes save money this way compared to buying a handset + airtime contract. Either way, your handset needs to be unlocked to work with a SIM-only deal.
To be honest, probably not unless you’re literally permanently glued to your phone. According to giffgaff, the average UK mobile user will use 2.32GB a month in 2018. To be on the safe side, check your bills and see how much data you use. There’s no point paying for data you’ll never use, and the same goes for calls and texts.
You need to find the right deal for you. In general, deals which require a 12-month commitment are cheaper each month than those on 30-day rolling terms. Your data allowance is probably the most important as you can use wi-fi calling instead of call minutes, and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger instead of texts. To keep your data use down, set up your phone so it automatically logs on to wi-fi at home, work and other places you regularly go.
EU rules mean you no longer have to pay roaming charges in the 28 EU member states, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. But if you take regular trips further afield, then Three is undoubtedly the best option as Feel At Home Around The World means you can use your monthly allowances in 71 destinations worldwide. It’s not designed for people who live abroad though. If you’re permanently overseas, it's worth getting a local SIM. If you have a dual-SIM phone you can use both SIMs in the same handset at the same time.
A MVNO is a mobile virtual network operator. This means the mobile company doesn’t own its own network but piggybacks on another network. For example, giffgaff uses O2, Virgin Mobile uses EE, and Smarty piggybacks on Three. MVNOs will often, but not always, offer cheaper SIM-only deals than the main networks (O2, EE, Vodafone and Three).
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