A SIM only deal can provide you with generous call, text and data allowances for a low monthly price. While SIM only deals, unlike Pay As You Go deals, require a contract, you have a choice of flexible contract lengths.
Last update: October 2021
Perhaps you’ve paid off your contract on your existing handset, and you’re thinking twice about jumping on the upgrade wagon. Or maybe you’ve just bought a swanky new handset SIM-free. In either case, a SIM only deal can be a great way to save money without skimping on minutes, texts or data.
Let’s take a closer look.
What are the best SIM only deals in the UK?
At Broadband Plans, we understand that everyone’s looking for something different in a SIM only deal. Therefore, everyone has a slightly different definition of which deal and network is the best. Some will be thinking exclusively in terms of saving money, while others will be happy to pay a little extra for the most generous data call and text allowances. Most are looking for something in between.
But before we look into the best SIM only deals using the criteria that matter the most to you, we need to ask…
What is a SIM only deal?
A SIM only deal is a mobile phone contract where you pay a monthly charge for a set allocation of minutes, texts and data. Most SIM only deals today offer unlimited minutes and texts (or at least more than most will realistically use) while the allocation of data is the main differential between plans.
These differ from the kinds of contracts that you take out with a new phone. When you take out a contract with a new phone, you’re also financing your new handset with your monthly charge, which inevitably also means that you’re paying interest on financing the handset. A SIM only deal combined with a SIM free handset is much cheaper in the long run (although you will have to pay for the handset outright).
Best 4G / 5G SIM only deals
As we’ve established, most SIM only deals offer unlimited minutes and texts. As such, the main variables at play are data and monthly cost. We’ll look at the cheapest SIM only deals later. In the meantime however, here is a range of some of the best deals that combine generous data allowances with a range of contract lengths. Some of them also include 5G at no extra cost. Keep in mind, however, that you will need a 5G ready handset to access this.
Connecting to the 5G network requires a larger battery and more processing power, which is why not all smartphones are able to access it.
|Network||Data allowance||Minutes and texts||Contract length||Monthly cost|
|O2||250GB (5G)||Unlimited||12 months||£28|
|EE||200GB (5G)||Unlimited||24 months||£23|
|Vodafone||100GB (5G)||Unlimited||12 months||£16|
|3||100GB (4G)||Unlimited||12 month||£16|
|GiffGaff||80GB (4G)||Unlimited||1 month||£20|
Best unlimited SIM only deals
If you want to be able to browse, scroll and stream without limitations, you’re best suited to an unlimited SIM only deal. These combine unlimited minutes and texts with an unlimited data allowance.
You can see some of the best value unlimited SIM only deals in the table below.
|Smarty (via Three)||Unlimited||Unlimited||No contract||£16|
|ID Mobile (via Three)||Unlimited||Unlimited||12 months (first 3 months half price)||£10|
|Virgin Mobile (via EE)||Unlimited||Unlimited||12 months||£28|
What are the cheapest SIM only deals?
If you’re just looking for a SIM only deal that will save you money, and not particularly concerned about using a lot of data, you can drastically reduce your monthly mobile spend with these cheap SIM only deals. These combine low costs with a flexible 30 day contract.
|Network||Data allowance||Minutes and texts||Contract length||Monthly cost|
|Lebara||1GB (4G)||Unlimited texts & 250 mins||1 month||£3.99|
|Talk Mobile||2GB (4G)||Unlimited||1 month||£4.95|
|Smarty||5GB (4G)||Unlimited||1 month||£5|
|ID Mobile||1GB (4G)||Unlimited||1 month||£5|
|Virgin Mobile||5GB (4G)||Unlimited||1 month||£6|
These are a good fit for people who work from home or have easy access to Wi-Fi hotspots. Why pay more for data that you won’t use? What’s more, some providers like Virgin Mobile will allow you to roll unused data over from one month to the next.
Cheapest 5G SIM only deals
If you’re looking for the fastest mobile broadband there is, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t have to pay through the nose for it. If you have a 5G ready handset, you can achieve real-world speeds up to twice as fast as 4G’s highest theoretical speeds with these cheap 5G SIM only deals.
|Network||Data allowance||Minutes and texts||Contract length||Monthly cost|
|3||1GB (5G)||Unlimited||12 months||£5|
|Virgin Mobile||5GB (5G)||Unlimited||12 months||£6|
|O2||8GB (5G)||Unlimited||12 months||£8|
|Tesco Mobile||12GB (5G)||5000 texts & mins||18 months||£12|
As great as they are, the speeds of 5G can be beguiling when you have a low data allowance. Be careful not to burn through your data allowance too quickly, as any additional data you use will be subject to surcharges. If you spend too much on these surcharges, choosing a cheap SIM only deal with a low data allowance may be a false economy.
Cheapest Pay As You Go SIM only deals
If the idea of being tied to any sort of contract raises your hackles, you may benefit from a Pay As You Go SIM only deal. With a PAYG SIM card you are more in charge of your spending, topping up your account as and when necessary.
Minutes, texts and data are typically charged at a higher rate, which is why PAYG deals aren’t for everyone. However, if your usage is generally low and you value your freedom from fixed monthly expenses, this may be the best option for you.
|Network||Data Cost||Minutes Cost||Texts Cost||Important Info|
|1p Mobile via EE||1p/MB||1p/min||1p||You'll need to top up at least £10 every four months or risk getting disconnected.|
|Asda Mobile via Vodafone||4p/MB||4p/min||4p||It costs 4p/min to access voicemail|
|Three||5p/MB||10p/min||10p||Won't work on pre-3G handsets|
Cheapest Pay As You Go bundles
While PAYG SIM only deals are great for keeping costs low and manageable, they come with the caveat that you constantly have to keep an eye on your credit.
Pay As You Go bundles are a happy medium between PAYG proper and a SIM only contract. They offer the affordability and flexibility of PAYG with a generous allocation of minutes, texts and data.
While you’ll need to top up once a month to use these bundles, you’re completely free of the obligation that comes with a contract,
|Asda Mobile (via Vodafone)||10GB||Unlimited||Unlimited||£10|
|Voxi (via Vodafone)||6GB||Unlimited||Unlimited||£10|
|Giffgaff (via O2)||6GB||Unlimited||Unlimited||£10|
Which networks offer the best SIM only deals?
While consumers have a wealth of mobile to choose from, you may be surprised to learn that there are only four networks. These are EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone. These are known as Mobile Network Operators. These own, operate and maintain the cellular networks powered by mobile base stations. There are many Virtual Mobile Network Operators that “piggyback” on these networks to provide their own services.
At Broadband Plans, we understand that every network and virtual network has something to offer consumers. Here we’ll look at some of the SIM only deals provided by the 4 main networks and provide an overview of the virtual networks that use them.
EE SIM only deals
EE has the largest overall network and one of the largest 5G networks, available in over 50 major towns and cities. With 5G, EE customers can experience average download speeds of 135 Mbps.
EE’s SIM only deals range from £12 per month for 1GB to £37 per month for unlimited data.
As the UK’s largest network (covering over 99% of the UK population), EE has a great many virtual networks piggybacking on it. These include:
- Asda Mobile
- Axis Telecom
- C4C Mobile
- Call & Give
- i3 Mobile
- Now PAYG
- Plusnet Mobile
- Talk Home Mobile
- Virgin Mobile
- White Mobile
Three SIM only deals
Three is the UK’s fastest growing network, with a 5G presence that has recently surpassed EE’s. It is also the fastest 5G network in the UK with speeds exceeding 200 Mbps.
Three offers a good combination of network coverage and affordability. Its SIM only deals start at as little as £5 per month with 1 Gb of data, unlimited texts and unlimited minutes. Its most expensive offering is an eminently reasonable £24 per month for unlimited data, minutes and texts with a flexible one month contract. Three also offers “Go Roam” which allows users to use roaming in 71 locations without charges.
Three’s virtual networks include:
- Ctrl Mobile
- iD Mobile
- Rok Mobile
- Superdrug Mobile
O2 SIM only deals
O2 has a sizeable network presence. Its 3G and 4G networks cover just shy of 99% of the UK population between them. Its SIM only deals also feature 5G at no extra cost. Perhaps O2’s biggest selling point, however, is its Priority app which gives customers exclusive discounts with selected retailers, cafes and restaurants, as well as priority access to tickets at O2 music venues.
SIM only deals start at £8 per month for 8 GB of data over a 24 month contract to £33 per month for unlimited calls, texts and data over a 12 month contract.
Virtual networks that use O2 include:
- Fonome Mobile
- KC Mobile
- Sky Mobile
- TalkTalk Mobile
- Tesco Mobile
- Toggle Mobile
- Torica Mobile
Vodafone SIM only deals
Finally, while Vodafone may be the smallest of the “big 4” networks, they offer a great selection of SIM only deals. The cheapest start at £6 per month with unlimited calls and texts as well as 4 Gb of data over a 12 month contract. The costliest offer unlimited minutes, texts and data with a flexible 1 month contract for £40 per month.
Virtual networks that use Vodafone include:
- Anywhere Care Ownfone (formerly Age UK)
- Lebara Mobile
- TalkXtra Mobile
Important things you should know about SIM only deals
SIM only deals may be cheaper and more flexible than contracts that come with a handset. But they can still require a sizeable commitment. Some SIM only contracts last as long as 24 months. So it’s essential to make sure you’re making an informed decision. So, are there any formalities that you need to know about when choosing a SIM only deal?
For starters, depending on the network you choose, you may be subject to a credit check. Providers need to know that you will be able to pay your bill for the duration of your contract. If your credit is poor, don’t worry. You may still be able to get a SIM only deal with some networks. Your best bet is to start with the virtual network operators. Lebara, VOXI, Smarty and GiffGaff all offer SIM only deals with no credit check.
There are some other things you may want to know in order to make a better informed decision about a SIM only deal that we’ll address here.
Can I keep the same number on a SIM only deal?
Yes, you can. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom has made it easier to keep the same mobile number after you have switched to a new SIM or network.
Just call your current network and ask for your PAC code. This stands for Porting Authorisation Code, and your network will be able to provide this for you instantly. Alternatively, you can text “PAC” to 65075. Your PAC code is 9 digits long and remains valid for 30 days. Simply provide the code to your new network and your number will be switched within 1 working day.
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How easy is it to switch networks?
If you are out of contract with your current network, switching couldn’t be easier. If you’re still under contract, however, things can get costly. Depending on your current network operator, you may need to pay off all or some of your contract before you will be allowed to switch. And if you’re only a few months into a 24 or 36 month contract, this could be prohibitively costly.
However, if you’re not tied to a contract, all you need to do is:
- Double check that you have no remaining time left on your contract (your provider will send you an End of Contract notification when your contract is coming to an end)
- Check your prospective new network’s coverage in your area (all the four networks have their own coverage checker tools)
- Cancel your existing rolling contract (or stop using your PAYG SIM)
- Sign up to your new SIM only deal
- Use your PAC to switch your number to port your number to your new SIM card
SIM only vs Pay As You Go SIM: What’s the difference?
All Pay As You Go deals are SIM only deals. But not all SIM only deals are Pay As You Go. SIM only deals are traditionally tethered to a contract. This contract provides you with a set allocation of minutes, texts and data. Contract lengths vary from 30 days to 24 months. The longer the contract, the lower your monthly charge is likely to be.
A Pay As You Go SIM, on the other hand is free for you to use as much or as little as you want with no obligation to spend on a monthly basis. You can top up as and when you need to, making it easier to control your spending.
How much data do I need on a SIM only deal?
That depends on what you tend to do online. If you only use mobile data when you’re out and about, you may not need a robust data allowance. However, if you tether other devices to your mobile phone at home, this will increase your data usage. Networks may also have a separate data limit for tethering, even if you’re on a plan with unlimited data.
In the table below, you can see a range of activities and the kind of data allowance that you need to support them.
|Online Activity||Typical data usage|
|Browsing 60 web pages||140-240 Mb|
|Streaming 1 hour of music||35-135 Mb|
|1 hour of video streaming in SD||300-700 Mb|
|1 hour of video streaming in HD||3 Gb|
|1 hour of video streaming in 4K UHD||7 Gb|
|1 hour online gaming||40 Mb-300 Mb|
|1 hour of video chat||350 Mb|
You can extrapolate these figures to determine how much data you’re likely to use over a month.
Let Broadband Plans find the perfect SIM only deal for you
Still not sure which network and SIM only deal is the best fit for your household? The Broadband Plans team is here to help. We can trawl through mobile network operators and virtual network operators of all shapes and sizes to match you with the perfect deal.
Call us today on 0330 054 0020 to find out more!
Available Monday to Friday from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm
Is SIM only cheaper than Pay As You Go?
That depends on your usage. Those who don’t make many calls or use a lot of mobile data may find Pay As You Go cheaper, as well as being easier to control how much they spend. However, those who tend to use a lot of data every month will likely find a SIM only deal cheaper.
What is an End of Contract Notification?
An End of Contract Notification is sent to customers when their contract is coming to an end. As of 2020, it is a legal requirement for networks to send one. After you have received this, you are free to switch without penalties. It may come in the form of a letter, an email or possibly even a text message.
Is there a credit check? What happens if I fail?
Most networks will carry out a credit check before offering you a SIM only deal. If you fail your credit check, however, you still have options. Networks like GiffGaff, Lebara and VOXI all have SIM only deals that require no credit checks. Alternatively, you could consider switching to a Pay As You Go SIM.
I’ve found a SIM only deal with another network. What do I do?
First of all, it’s important to check that you are no longer tied to your existing contract. If you are, you may have to pay this off before switching. Next, check how much notice you need to provide your current network before switching. Once you’ve done this, you can sign up to your preferred SIM only deal. Text “PAC” to 65075 and report this code to your new network to transfer your phone number to your new SIM.
Updated on 4 Aug, 2021
Consumer Broadband Expert