We’re now heading straight into the part of the year where all the brand new smartphones are launched, and every big company (barring Samsung which jumped the gun a bit) will be showing off their latest telephonic devices for the first time. But we’re not here to talk about those phones, mainly because we don’t know anything about them yet. We’re here to talk about the thing your phone needs before it’s of any use: a network contract. You're looking at Gizmodo UK's in-depth guide to the very best UK mobile network deals.
How We Decided the Best UK Mobile Network Deals
Picking a SIM only deal is problematic, possibly more problematic than choosing the phone itself. There are a lot of different networks you can sign up with (and I mean a LOT), and they all have a number deals available. How in the hell are you supposed to sift through them all and find the one that’s right for you?
Well, I’ve done all the hard work for you, and searched through every single network to find the very best deals that are available. Since everyone has a different amount they’re willing to spend, I’ve picked out three deals at different price points: Less than £10, £10-£20, and £20 or more. I’ll be detailing how many minutes, texts, and MB/GB of data you get with each one, along with any perks that the network might have on offer.
I've stuck with the SIM only deals, rather than phone bundles, for a few reasons. Firstly there's a bit more flexibility involved, since since SIM only deals are available as either 12-month or rolling 30-day contracts. Which you pick is all up to you, but it does mean that you're not stuck on the same deal for two years.
Similarly, as I mentioned before, we're heading straight into phone launch season, so recommending phone bundle contracts would be pointless. If you prefer a phone bundle to a SIM only contract, then you're best to wait a couple of months. The annual IFA conference starts next week (which is bound to see more than a couple of new phones being launched), and it's only a couple of weeks until Apple launches the iPhone 6S. Even if the new phones aren't quite your style, waiting for them to be released means you might be able to get one of last year's phones for a little bit less.
There’s no winner here, since everyone has a different idea of what their phone needs. Maybe you're a data fiend. Maybe you just need unlimited texts. Perhaps you don't want the hassle of jumping to a new network, and just want to see what else is available from your current provider. So if your contract is due for renewal, or you need another one, have a read and decide which of our best UK mobile network phone deals is for you.
The Big Four
Vodafone has quite a lot of deals available, and all of the 12-month deals come with 4G and three months of unlimited data as standard. The cheapest deal currently offered by Vodafone is a £9.50-a-month contract. That price nets you 250MB of data, 300 minutes, and unlimited texts. That’s a little bit stingy on the data, but the unlimited texts means that you’re never out of reach.
At the mid-range level, £17 a month will grab you 2GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts. That pretty much covered all of your bases, and has more than enough data to keep you going without having to keep a close watch on how much you’re using.
At the higher tier there is the £27 a month contract that comes with 6GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts. As an added bonus it’s one of Vodafone’s ‘Red Value’ deals, which nets you a 12 month subscription to Spotify Premium, Now TV, or Sky Sports Mobile TV. Vodafone does have more expensive deals available, but those only increase your monthly data allowance. Unless you’re planning on streaming Netflix in HD during your commute, 6GB should be plenty.
Vodafone doesn't actively state how much of the UK its network covers, only mentioning that it provides "unbeatable 4G coverage, indoors and out." Apparently its 4G coverage currently covers 68% of the population, aiming to up that figure to 98% by the end of this year. If you want to check coverage where you live you can use Vodafone's own coverage checker, or if you want a more impartial view you can also use the coverage map over at Ofcom.
O2’s prices aren’t rounded up to even half pounds, which is a little bit strange, but there are plenty of deals to suit your needs. There are some nice perks here as well, and every deal comes with unlimited free access to O2 Wi-Fi hotspots, access to exclusive offers with Priority Moments, the option to purchase gig tickets early, and VIP treatment at O2-sponsored venues and events.
The cheapest deal on offer will cost you £8.92 a month, which nets you 300MB of 4G data, 300 minutes, and unlimited texts. That should be perfect for someone with very basic needs. The data allowance isn’t great, but at least you have O2 Wi-Fi to fall back on.
In the mid-range the best deal is the £15.30 contract that gives you 2GB of 4G data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts. That’ll make sure you’re always within reach, and has plenty of data to ensure you don’t need to worry.
At the very top end is the £27.20 a month deal, which comes with 10GB of 4G data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts. That should be more than enough for you, even if you like to use the more data-heavy apps.
O2 doesn't offer any figures about its coverage, but has made a promise that it won't strop improving its network until 98% of the UK population gets 4G. At the moment the actual number is apparently 70%, and you can expect to get standard 4G speeds. You can check coverage of your area on the O2 website, or over at Ofcom.
EE may have Kevin Bacon behind it, but when it comes to the perks of taking out a contract the network is severely lacking. Every EE customer gets access to the EE Film Club, which lets you stream one of Wukai.tv’s films once a week for the low price of £1. Customers also get access Power Bars, which can be used to top up your phone on the go and exchanged in an EE store if they run out of juice.
At the cheap end of the spectrum you get the £9.99 deal with 250 minutes, 250 MB of 4G data, and unlimited texts. It’s basic, but it should keep you going if you’re not heavy on the calls and data.
In the mid-range there’s the £16.99 deal that comes with 2GB of double-speed 4G data, 2,000 minutes, and unlimited texts. It’s not the most extensive deal on the planet, but it’s perfect for not having to keep track of every byte of data you use up.
The big spenders might want to check out the £28.99 deal. That comes with 10GB of double-speed 4G data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts.
EE claims to cover 80% of the UK population with its 4G network, though other sources claim its closer to 90%. Either way it's currently the top network when it comes to 4G coverage, and like the other's its aiming to get to 98% population coverage by the end of this year. It currently offers standard 4G, double-speed 4G, and 4G+ for compatible smartphones within Central London. You can check coverage over on the EE website, and on Ofcom.
Three likes to go big on the perks side of things, and every contract you take out with it comes with 4G at no extra cost, unlimited texts, and Three’s ‘Feel at Home’ service which lets you use your phone in select overseas countries without falling foul to any of those pesky roaming charges. Three also has the distinction of being the only major mobile network to offer unlimited data, without any sort of fair use limits, on select contracts.
The cheapest deal Three currently offers costs £8 a month and comes with unlimited texts, 200 minutes, and 500MB of data. If data is more important to you than making phone calls, that puts Three at a major advantage compared to the other members of ‘The Big 4’.
At mid-range there’s a nice £17 a month deal that nets you unlimited texts, unlimited data, and 200 minutes. The minutes may seem a little bit stingy, but when you have unlimited data you can easily manage with VoIP services.
If you’re looking to spend a bit more, for £22 you can up the number of minutes you get each month up to 600. That makes it the choice for those of you who need to make a lot of phone calls, but don’t want to rely on the internet to get them done.
Three has the lowest level of 4G population coverage, clocking in at 53%, and with no clear deadline on when it aims to reach the 98% gold standard. You can check coverage in your area with Three's own coverage tracker, or over on the Ofcom website.
Now some of you might be thinking, what the heck is an MVNO? In a nutshell, an MVNO, or Mobile Virtual Network Operator, is a network that doesn't have any physical infrastructure of its own. That means each one relies on the infrastructure put in place by one of the big four networks.
While the services offered by MVNOs are separate, and often completely different, from those of the 'host' network, they are reliant on that network's signal. That means to make a proper decision you have to know which network is being used, so I've added the host network in brackets.
Asda Mobile (EE)
Asda’s deals are a fairly no-nonsense affair, offering no perks whatsoever. Instead you just have the deals, which sadly are only available with 3G data. If you’re on a budget you’re best going for the £7 deal which comes with 300 minutes, 500MB of data, and unlimited texts. Paying £15 will get you 2GB of data, unlimited texts, and 1000 minutes. The most expensive deal Asda Mobile offers is £20 a month, which gets you 4GB of data, 2000 minutes, and unlimited texts.
As you can see, the fact that Asda does not offer 4G means that it can be a bit more generous with all the other bits. That makes it a great choice if you’re looking for great value and don’t care too much about super-fast mobile internet speeds.
BT has almost no perks for most people, but if you happen to be a BT Broadband customer then you get £5 off your monthly bill. Great if you already get your internet with them, not so great if you’re not into communications bundles. All three deals it offers do, however, come with unlimited use of BT Wi-Fi hotspots. Since every BT router also functions as a hotspot, there are bloody loads of them all over the country. You'll probably never go without a Wi-Fi connection.
£10 a month gets you 200 minutes, unlimited texts, and 500MB of 4G data. Paying £15 ups that to 2GB of data and 500 minutes, while choosing to pay £25 gets you 20GB of data and unlimited minutes. All in all those sound like pretty great value.
Carphone Warehouse iD (Three)
I’ll admit, iD’s deals seem a little bit backwards because the monthly contracts are actually cheaper/better value for money than signing up for 12 months. That’s no bad thing, though, because it means you get more flexibility. It doesn’t really offer any perks, but you can opt for your contract to be one of its ‘Shockproof’ plans that lets you set strict usage caps to make sure you don’t go over your allowance and end up getting charged.
If you’re not looking to spend a lot, you are best off going for one of the £7.50 a month deals. I’d go for the one with 100 minutes, 5000 texts, and 1GB of data. That might not be a lot of call time, but we're making fewer calls these days thanks to instant messaging, VoIP apps and social networks. You probably won't notice.
For the mid-range deal, go for the £15 deal with 500 minutes, 5000 texts, and 5GB of data. That’s a pretty great deal for that much data, especially since it’s 4G too. If you’re willing to pay a bit more and up your monthly bill to £20 you’ll end up with 2000 minutes, 5000 texts, and 10GB of data. There might not be any unlimited caps involved, but if you want a large amount of data without much cost then you can’t go wrong here.
Co-operative Mobile (EE)
Co-operative mobile doesn’t offer any perks to speak of, and it does have a fairly confusing pricing structure (going SIM free gets you a £10 discount on the ‘official’ price). They do emphasise the minutes and texts, rather than data, at the lower price levels.
£10 a month gets you 200 minutes, unlimited texts, and 500MB of data. Up your monthly bill to £15 and you get 1200 minutes, unlimited texts, and 500MB of data. £23 a month is the earliest you can up your data allowance (3GB), as well as granting unlimited minutes. They don’t sound like the best deals in the world, but if you’re more focussed on making a lot of calls for very little money then it’s worth considering.
The only real perk to joining Delight is that you get free calls and texts to other Delight numbers, and it's basically cancelled out by the fact that it only seems to offer 3G data. That said the prices are fairly reasonable.
If you're not looking to spend much, you're better off with the £5 a month deal that comes with 100 minutes, 100 texts, and 100MB of data. That's not a lot, so if you're happy spending £10 you get the much more reasonable 500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 2000MB of data. There's always more to be had, however, and £15 a month will get you unlimited everything.
Giffgaff doesn't really have deals, it has ‘goody bags’ that you pay for in exactly the same way as a regular phone contract. It’s not big on the perks, but it does have something called ‘extra minutes’. That means for every minute of call time you receive from a non Giffgaff number, you get an extra minute added to your own allowance. All calls to Giffgaff numbers are free, however, and won’t be deducted from your monthly allowance
At the cheap end you have the £7.50 goodybag that gets you 250 any network minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB of 3G data. Opting to pay £18 will get you 1000 any network minutes, unlimited texts, and 5GB of 4G data. That’s a fairly good deal, but if you’re willing to pay £20 a month, and are willing to ditch 4G, you can get 2000 any network minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited data.
GT Mobile (O2)
This is one for those of you who are big on making international calls, with calls to overseas countries costing 2p per minute as standard, as well free calls to other GT Mobiles in Europe, Australia, and right here in the UK. As an added bonus, all deals come with free calls to 0800, 0500, and 0808 numbers.
There are no premium-priced bundles here, with the most expensive coming in at £15 a month with 2000 minutes, unlimited texts, and 3GB of 4G data.
If you're not looking to spend that much you should give the £7.50 a month deal a go, with 150 minutes and texts, plus 500MB of 4G data. If that feels a little bit stingy for your liking, the £10 a month deal nets you 500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 1GB of data.
Life Mobile (EE)
Life doesn’t offer any perks, only has 3G data, but also doesn’t put up any crazily expensive deals. The most you can expect to pay is £15 a month, which nets you 6GB of data along with unlimited minutes and texts. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me, even if it’s only 3G data.
At the other end you have the £5 a month deal that comes with 500 minutes, texts, and MB of data. Out of the other two contracts left you’re probably better off taking the £12 a month deal that comes with 3GB of data, unlimited texts, and 3000 minutes.
Lyca Mobile (O2)
Lyca is a network all about making international calling as cheap as possible, and most of the perks are related to that. It offers zero roaming charges in 18 countries around the world, unlimited calls and texts to other Lyca mobiles, and low-cost international calls. If that sounds good to you, let’s take a look at its best deals.
For the frugal people out there, try the £10 a month deal with 500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 500MB of data. Upping the cost to £15 gets you 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, and 1GB of data. If you’re happy paying more, £30 gets you unlimited calls, unlimited texts, and 5GB of data. These deals only appear to be 3G data, since 4G plans are only available for deals that are only valid for 30 days.
The deals offered by The People’s Operator are a little bit nuts, because they’re incredibly generous with the data allowances -- even if it is only 3G data. There aren’t really any perks, but The People’s Operator ensures that 10 per cent of your monthly bill will go to the charity of your choice. That means you get the phone service you want while doing some good.
If you’re not up for spending a lot, £9.99 a month will get you 750 minutes, 750 texts, and 1.5GB of data. That’s nice on the data, but if you bump up your costs to £15 a month you get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and a whopping 6GB of data. It’s fair to say that’s more than reasonable.
The best deal, in my opinion, is the most expensive deal available on the network. For £19.99 a month you get unlimited calls and texts, along with 31GB of data. For those of you keeping count, that’s at least 1GB of usage per day. It’s not unlimited, but it’ll take some serious effort to burn through it all consistently.
Post Office Mobile (EE)
There’s not much to the Post Office’s mobile deals in terms of the extra bits and pieces, but the deals themselves are fairly reasonably priced. For the frugal amongst you, you can’t go wrong with the £5 month contract that gets you 500MB of 3G data, 250 minutes, and 3000 texts. Mid-range is the £15 a month deal that comes with 3GB of data, 1000 minutes, and 3000 texts. The most expensive deal is £20 a month and ups your data cap to 5GB a month.
Rok Mobile (Three)
This is possible the most specific network out there, and as such only offers a single contract for you to sign up for. You see, Rok Mobile is a network specifically tailored for listening to music from Rok’s streaming app. The service has 20 million tracks, the option to save up to 2,000 songs offline, and new releases arriving every Tuesday. The contract is a £24 a month rolling monthly deal, and comes with unlimited streaming from Rok’s app, 4GB of 4G data, along with unlimited minutes and texts. Obviously if you prefer other services like Spotify or Apple Music then it’ll eat into your monthly allowance, but you do get access to a pretty large catalogue.
There’s also a test drive package for you to try, which costs £10 for a month. In that month you get 250 minutes, 500MB of data, 500 texts, and two weeks of unlimited Rok music streaming.
Mobile by Sainsbury's (Vodafone)
Sainsbury’s Mobile isn’t the network for those of you who are looking to fork out a lot of cash, but those low prices mean there’s some decent value for money here. Sainsbury’s also allows you to link your account to your Nectar card and earn double points on the money you spend on your phone. That’s pretty great, but you can also link four numbers to a single card and each time the number of points you earn goes up by a multiple of one. Sadly, Sainsbury’s doesn’t offer 4G data.
There’s no premium deal here, so the highest base price you’ll pay is £12 a month. It’s a fairly good deal as well, since that money gets you 2GB of data, 5000 texts, and 800 minutes. Right in the middle is the £10 a month deal that comes with 1GB of data, 5000 texts, and 500 minutes. The cheapest deal available is a mere £8 a month, which comes with 300 minutes, 5000 texts, and 500MB of data.
For a network seemingly named after a Ricky Martin song, Shebang is a fairly no nonsense offering, with no extras complicating the value of your monthly payments. The allowances you see are all you're going to get. Decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing. At least it offers 4G without charging extra for it.
The best value cheap deal here is £9 a month and gets you 200 minutes, 2000 texts, and 1GB of data. Upping your payments to £12 a month nets you 300 minutes, 3000 texts, and 3GB of data. If that’s not got what you want, £25 a month will get you unlimited minutes, texts, and calls to landlines, along with 5GB of data. Nice and comprehensive, and should be enough for the majority of people.
TalkTalk Mobile (Vodafone)
TalkTalk is a bit of a mixed bag, since it offers a bunch of great deals but only for people who get their TV, landline, or broadband from TalkTalk. There are no other perks, and the network doesn’t offer 4G, so price is the only real incentive to sign up.
TalkTalk does have the distinction of offering Britain’s cheapest SIM only plan, and for £4 a month you can get a deal with 250 minutes, 600 texts, and 650MB of data. Mid-range is the £10.50 a month deal that comes with 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, and 3GB of data. Plus all the way at the top is the £24 a month rolling monthly contract that comes with unlimited everything.
Screw the perks those prices are pretty fucking great, even if the unlimited everything deal is a tad overpriced compared to what Three has on offer.
Tesco Mobile (O2)
Like Sainsbury’s, Tesco Mobile also lets you earn loyalty points on your mobile contract. For every £1 you spend on your contract, you get a single clubcard point added to your account. Tesco also offers you some bonuses if you have more than one contract on your account, and each extra number nets each person 150 any network minutes, 500 Tesco Mobile minutes, and 250MB of data. Unlike some MVNO’s, Tesco offers super-fast 4G as standard on every contract.
Tesco has a lot of different deals to choose from, but if you’re looking to go cheap you’re better off with the 12-month £7.50 a month deal that gets you 250 minutes, 5000 texts, and 500MB of data. Paying a little bit extra gets you a tidy upgrade, and for £15 a month you get a 12 month contract with 3000 minutes, 5000 texts, and 2GB of data. If that’s still not enough for you, £25 a month will earn you a 12 month contract with 5000 minutes, 5000 texts, and 8GB of data. That should be more than enough to see you through the month, even if you’re an avid texter.
No perks here, but that's not really a bad thing since there are no ultra-expensive plans here. Sadly, that also means there's no 4G.
The most you'll be paying is £15 a month with 3000 minutes, 5000 texts, and 3GB of data. That's a fairly decent deal, but if you want to pay a little bit less, £12.50 a month gets you the same number of minutes and texts, but reduced your data cap to 2GB.
If you still want to pay less than that, go for the £9.50 a month deal. That comes with 1000 minutes, 5000 texts, and 1GB of data.
Vectone Mobile (EE)
Vectone is another network focussed on international calling, with low-cost international calls, zero roaming charges when you use your phone in Poland (and only Poland), 1p-per-minute calls to over 30 countries worldwide, a landline number on your mobile, and Wi-Fi calling. Sadly the data is 3G-only.
The lowest cost deal seems like a bit of a joke, but for £1 a month you get 50 MB of data, and 50 minutes or texts. That’s not going to get you very far, so the best value budget deal would have to be the £9 a month deal that nets you 1000MB of data, unlimited texts, 500 minutes, and 5000 Vectone to Vectone minutes.
I would recommend the £15 a month deal, however. It gets you unlimited minutes texts and data, along with unlimited free calls to European landlines, the US, and Canada. Topping that is a little bit tricky, but the £25 a month manages by offering unlimited everything, but skips the international calling by throwing in 500 minutes to premium numbers. That’s a very niche perk, but if you know you’re going to have to ring them a lot then it might save you some money in the long run.
Virgin Mobile (EE)
Virgin has no real perks to speak of, unless you count free Virgin-to-Virgin calls for existing Virgin Media customers. It does, however, offer some great low-priced deals. For a mere £5 a month you can get 250 minutes, unlimited texts, and 250MB of data. Raise that price to £15 a month, and you get unlimited minutes and texts, along with 4GB of data. If that’s not enough data for you, paying £23 a month will raise your data cap to 8GB a month. A good value network all round then.