By Dan Howdle | Monday, February 10th 2020
SMARTY is a SIM-only mobile network that promises to be simple, transparent and good value. It is owned directly by Three, and operates on the Three network. It is one of several mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the UK that use one of the ‘big four’ networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – to deliver their services.
But what does it bring to the UK market, how is it different from Three, and is it worth taking a look? Let's take a look at the details.
For an operator that trades on its simplicity, it’s no shock to learn that SMARTY has just three plans – 30GB, 50GB, and unlimited data. All three plans offer unlimited calls and texts under the usual conditions attached.
All plans are available on a rolling monthly (30-day) basis rather than typing you in for 12 months, so there’s no minimum term, and you can use your entire allowance for tethering if you so desire. This means you can connect a tablet or PC to your mobile data connection by creating a personal wi-fi hotspot on your smartphone. And because you pay in advance, SMARTY doesn’t require a credit check.
If you’re looking for a pay-as-you-go plan, SMARTY will charge you a small up-front amount for the SIM, then you'll pay £1 per gigabyte you use. It'll usually be better simply to buy a rolling 30-day bundle each month, though, provided you use enough data to justify it.
SMARTY doesn't offer any phones/handsets at all so you will need to have one already. If you want to keep your existing phone number, you can - you'll just need to get a PAC code from your current provider in order to do so.
SMARTY’s customer service team is available seven days a week from 8am to 8pm (except for Bank Holidays), but this is limited to online chat and email only as, ironically for a mobile phone network, there isn’t a telephone number to call. There’s also a database of frequently asked questions to consult, should you need something simple answered.
Being a new, and relatively minor, operator means SMARTY doesn’t feature in Ofcom’s complaints figures, nor in its customer satisfaction rankings (although host network Three does). As ever, online reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt as customers tend to report negative experiences more frequently than positive, but from the limited sample on TrustPilot, SMARTY has an average rating.
The main complaints tend to be about SIM delivery and getting cut off for using the SIM card for commercial reasons. SMARTY makes it clear that its SIMs are for personal use only and that anyone seeking a business arrangement should look elsewhere.
SMARTY’s price plans certainly compare favourably with the competition, especially when you take into account the absence of a minimum term contract. But in line with its no-frills approach, there are no added perks to speak of. What’s really unique about SMARTY is how it handles your data allowance. Several operators now offer ‘data rollover’, which means any unused gigabytes can be used the following month. SMARTY does things differently and actually gives you a discount on your next bill.
This is limited to just the data portion of your contract (you still pay a base rate for calls and texts outside of the terms of your unlimited allowances) so is a great way to make sure you’re not paying too much for data. If you have the opposite problem, you can actually add-on extra data, which never expires.
There’s also the possibility of getting a free month’s allowance. If you refer a friend, you’ll both get a free month. This can be done for multiple friends, so if you get 12 friends to sign up, you’ll get a whole year free.
Because SMARTY uses Three’s network, you should be in good hands. Its 4G (and soon 5G) network covers 99.8 per cent of the UK population and the operator has been rolling out new spectrum over the past few years to spread coverage even further, especially indoors.
According to the most recent tests from independent benchmark firm RootMetrics, Three ranks second in the UK behind EE for overall performance and second in the reliability, data and text categories. It is joint first in the call category, but its speeds trail behind both EE and Vodafone.
It’s worth pointing out that because Three doesn’t have a 2G network, there is no 2G coverage. So if you were planning on using a really old mobile phone, you can’t. And unlike Three, there’s no support for Voice over LTE (VoLTE), also known as HD Calling.
SMARTY’s pitch to be the first choice for consumers who just want a no-frills SIM card is a compelling one. Having just three plans without any minimum term really does simplify matters, and the ability to get a discount on your bill for unused data is unique.
Generous data allowances and unlimited calls and texts do separate SMARTY from the competition at the price points at which it competes. Plus, free roaming in the EU and a pay-as-you-go system for anyone travelling outside the EU will keep many customers happy. However, the absence of an actual phone number for customers to call as the first point of contact will be a dealbreaker for some.
iD Mobile operates on a similar ethos, but its overall package is much more developed and it can offer handsets too. But its cheap SIMs can’t compete with SMARTY’s allowances and prices. There are trade-offs, and ultimately you will need to decide whether or not they are worth it.
SMARTY could eventually become the operator to beat in the cheap SIM-only market, and if you're looking for something well-priced and straightforward, it's well worth a look.