Compare Pay As You Go Networks: Prices & Coverage

November 12th, 2014

Looking for a Pay As You Go mobile network with which to use your handset? Our interactive comparison table allows you to compare by price and by coverage.

Top UpConsumers looking for a Pay As You Go mobile tariff are spoilt for choice here in the UK. With nearly 20 networks you’re able to choose from, the UK has one of the most competitive marketplaces in the world for mobile communication.

When choosing a Pay As You Go mobile network, there are two primary considerations: price and coverage. It’s vitally important to get the best deal and not to pay any more than is required. You’ll also want a mobile network that offers good and reliable coverage.

The table below is intended to help you with navigating the UK’s mobile market. For each Pay As You Go network, we’ve listed the charges for accessing the internet, for making a phone call and for sending a text message. We’ve also listed the coverage provider for each mobile network. You can use the table in conjunction with our other guides when choosing a new network.

To sort the table, please click on the relevant column heading.

NetworkInternet (per day)Calls (per min)Texts (per SMS)Picture Message (MMS)VoicemailCoverage Provider
EE-
(fixed, 500MB per month)
30p12p40p30p
per minute
EE Review
giffgaff20p
(fixed, 20MB per day)
10p6p16p8p
per call
O2 Review
O2 Big Bundles£1
(fixed, 50MB per day)
35p12p35p15p
per call
O2 Review
O2 Big Talker£1
(fixed, 50MB per day)
25p12p35p15p
per call
O2
Three~10p
(estimated from 1p/MB)
3p2p31p3p
per minute
Three Review
Vodafone Freedom Freebee£2
(fixed, 50MB per day)
35p14p36p35p
per minute
Vodafone Review
Vodafone Other Freebees£2
(fixed, 50MB per day)
30p14p36p30p
per minute
Vodafone
ASDA Mobile~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
8p4p25p8p
per minute
EE Review
Co-operative Mobile~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
8p4p25p4p
per minute
EE
Delight Mobile~90p
(estimated from 9p/MB)
10p
(5p to landline)
10p25p5p
per minute
EE
Family Mobile~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
8p4p23p8p
per minute
EE
Lebara Mobile~£1.90
(estimated from 19p/MB)
19p19p45p19p
per minute
Vodafone
Lycamobile~90p
(estimated from 9p/MB)
15p
(9p to landline)
15p-0p
per call
O2 Review
Mobile By Sainsbury's50p
(fixed, 25MB per day)
8p4p25p8p
per call
Vodafone Review
Orange Racoon~£6.50
(estimated from 65p/MB)
14p14p40p14p
per minute
EE Review
Orange Dolphin~£6.50
(estimated from 65p/MB)
30p12p40p30p
per minute
EE Review
T-Mobile£1
(fixed, 500MB per month)
35p14p30p35p
per minute
EE Review
Talkmobile25p
(fixed, 25MB per day)
8p4p30p8p
per minute
Vodafone
Tesco Mobile ~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
25p10p25p15p
per minute
O2 Review
Tesco Mobile Lite~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
8p4p25p8p
per minute
O2 Review
The People's Operator~10p
(estimated from 1p/MB)
5p3p30p5p
per minute
EE Review
Vectone Mobile~90p
(estimated from 9p/MB)
15p
(9p to landline)
15p25p10p
per minute
EE
Virgin Mobile£1
(fixed, 100MB per day)
35p12p30p26p
per call
EE

Sources: ee.co.uk, giffgaff.com, o2.co.uk, o2.co.uk, three.co.uk, freesim.vodafone.co.uk, freesim.vodafone.co.uk, mobile.asda.com, payg.thephone.coop, delightmobile.co.uk, yourfamilymobile.co.uk, lebara.co.uk, lycamobile.co.uk, phoneshopbysainsburys.co.uk, ee.co.uk, ee.co.uk, talkmobile.co.uk, tescomobile.com, tescomobile.com, thepeoplesoperator.com, vectonemobile.co.uk, store.virginmedia.com. Last updated on 14th April 2015.

We endeavour to keep the table above as up to date as possible. If you know of any changes to the pricing on each network, please contact us by leaving a blog comment below or by sending me an e-mail.

Background Information

Mobile Internet

data-binaryA Pay As You Go mobile network will charge for data in one of two ways: either on a “per megabyte” basis or on a fixed daily rate. Due to the differences in how data is charged, it can sometimes be difficult to compare across networks. To simplify the comparison, we’ve estimated a daily data cost for each mobile network.

On average, a typical smartphone user will consume around 10MB of data every day. This corresponds to approximately 20 web pages, 3000 instant messages, 2 music tracks, one minute of online video, 10 minutes of online radio or 0.7 smartphone applications (data transferred over wi-fi will not count towards your mobile internet usage).

In the table above, we have estimated the “cost per day” based on a user consuming 10MB of data. If you’d like to customise the comparison (e.g. if you’re a light or a heavy data user), please enter your estimated data usage here.

Phone Calls

Outgoing phone calls are charged by mobile networks on a “per minute” basis. The standard rate applies when you’re calling numbers beginning with 01, 02, 03 or 07. For the networks that offer discounted calls to a landline (01. 02 and 03 numbers), we’ve listed the landline prices separately. If you’re calling a special number (e.g. an 08 number or an 09 number), there will often be an additional charge for the call.

Please note: most mobile networks have a minimum charge for every outgoing call. The minimum charge is normally equivalent to the cost of a one minute call. For instance, if your mobile network charges 10p/minute then the minimum call charge will be 10p/call.

You’ll never be charged to receive a phone call in the UK.

Text Messages (SMS)

iMessage VS SMSA SMS text message is able to contain up to 160 characters. If you exceed the length limit, your message may be split up and sent as several individual messages. You’ll be billed individually for each message sent (e.g. you’ll be charged double if your text message is split up into 2 SMS).

In recent years, the cost of text messaging has become less important on mobile phone tariffs. Smartphone users can avoid paying for texts by using an application such as WhatsApp. WhatsApp is able to send messages using your smartphone’s data plan. It’s available as a free download on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone handsets.

Picture Messages (MMS) & Voicemail Charges

You can view MMS and voicemail charges by placing your mouse over the … column in the table above.

Picture Messages: On most 3G handsets, you can send a picture message over the mobile network using MMS (the Multimedia Messaging Service). Charges can range from 16p per MMS to 45p per MMS. Messages can be up to 300KB in size. If pictures are sent using an instant messaging app (e.g. WhatsApp), you won’t be charged by your network for sending a MMS.

Voicemail: Most mobile networks offer a Pay As You Go voicemail service. If you aren’t able to reach your phone for a call, the incoming call will be diverted to your mobile network’s voicemail service. You’ll normally be charged when callers leave a message and once again when you listen to the voicemail. Some mobile networks charge for each voicemail call whereas other mobile networks charge per voicemail minute. If you frequently use voicemail, you can view the voicemail charges by placing your mouse over the … column in the table above.

Coverage Provider

UK

All mobile networks provide at least 98% coverage. In certain locations, the quality of coverage might differ.

In the UK, only four companies hold a license to build their own mobile network: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Each of the four companies has licensed spectrum from the government and maintains their own network of mobile phone masts. Other companies offering a mobile phone service will lease spare capacity from one of the four network providers.

The level of coverage offered by a Pay As You Go network depends solely upon the provider they use. Click through to the coverage checker maps for each mobile provider: they’ll let you know whether coverage is available where you live. You can access the coverage maps for EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Based on the results of your comparison, you should eliminate the networks using a provider which gives poor coverage in your home.

For further details, see our guide on how to check and compare mobile coverage.

Handset Compatibility

If your phone is unlocked it should work on any of the mobile networks listed above. The only exception is for a 2G-only handset: 2G-only handsets will not work on the Three network (Three only provides 3G and 4G coverage).

For users of an unlocked mobile phone, most mobile networks should provide you with a free SIM card. The SIM card will slot into the back of your existing unlocked smartphone and will allow you to benefit from their advertised calling rates. Unlocked smartphones are often advertised as “SIM-free” and can be purchased from vendors such as Amazon.co.uk. When ordering a Pay As You Go SIM card, be sure to request a SIM card of the right size. Depending on your handset, you’ll either need a standard-sized SIM, a micro-sized SIM or a nano-sized SIM.

Bundles & Credit Expiry

For customers who use their smartphone fairly regularly, it’s normally better value to convert your credit into a Pay As You Go bundle. When buying a bundle, you’ll get a set amount of airtime for a fixed price every month. For instance, giffgaff would give you 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet for £10 per month. Other bundles at £10 per month include:

Network Monthly Price Bundle Name Minutes Texts Internet
EE £10/month £10 Everything Pack 150 Unlimited 500MB
EE £10/month £10 Talk & Text Pack 250 Unlimited
giffgaff £10/month £10 Goodybag 500 Unlimited 1GB
giffgaff £12/month £12 Goodybag 500 Unlimited 3GB
O2 £10/month £10 Big Bundle 100 1,000 500MB
Three £10/month All-in-One 10 100 3,000 500MB
Vodafone £10/month £10 Freedom Freebee 150 Unlimited 500MB

Order giffgaff SIM Card (Free) »
The £10 goodybag comes with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet (coverage from O2)

For customers who will rarely use their phone and want a SIM card mainly for emergencies, it’s important to use your SIM card occasionally to keep the account active (otherwise your account could be terminated or your credit could expire). See our article on PAYG inactivity policies for more information.

Keeping Your Phone Number

If you’re changing mobile network, it’s super easy to keep your existing phone number. Simply ask your old mobile network to provide you with a PAC Code and give this code to your new mobile network. The entire process should take no longer than 24 hours. For more information, see our guide on moving your phone number between networks.

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 32 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. J. Swindlehurst said:

    I have an old Nokia phone on pay as you go and I’ve had no network coverage from Orange forvtge last few days even though there is £11 still on the phone. I have purchased a new nokia phone with Virgin network which is linked to Orange and is now ee. Is there any way I can retrieve my £11 or get my old phone to work. I’m presuming it’s because the network doesn’t support old mobiles anymore.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi there,
      There shouldn’t have been any changes on the Orange side which would have caused your old handset to stop working on Orange (they still support 2G networks, just as before). Could it be possible they’ve disabled your account due to 6 months of inactivity on it?
      Ken

  2. G Davies said:

    I have a Samsung E1500 phone with a t-mobile payg sim. I only want it for occasional use to make a call or text. What is the cheapest plan to be on?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. Is your Samsung E1500 currently locked to T-Mobile? Or is it unlocked for use on any mobile network? As the E1500 is a 2G-only handset, you won’t be able to use Three’s 321 tariff (this requires you to have a 3G-ready handset). Hence, you’re probably looking for one of the other low-cost networks (e.g. the ones that charge 8p/minute and 4p/text). As a good all-round option, you should also consider giffgaff. They charge 10p/minute and 6p/text (but you get free calls & texts to other members on giffgaff). You also get coverage from O2.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  3. George said:

    Hello Ken

    Thanks very much for all the info on your site, it’s very helpful especially for a complete novice as i am.

    i rarely use a mobile phone but carry one in case of emergency but yesterday unfortunately lost the Samsung i had on a Tesco PAYG tariff.

    i can see basic handsets sold by Tesco/Argos/Asda etc for around £5 but would like to know if:

    a) i can get the unused credit on my old phone transferred to a new handset/provider

    b) choose a provider with a low cost tariff rate which doesn’t expire quickly (less than 6 months, though a year would be good!)

    c) get basic email access on any of these cheap (2G?) handsets

    Any simple recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks
    George

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi George,
      Thank you for the kind words regarding my website! To answer your questions in order:
      a) Which mobile network were you previously using? The credit is actually linked to your mobile phone SIM card rather than to the handset itself. Hence, you can contact your old network and report your SIM card as lost/stolen – they’ll be able to re-issue a new SIM card with your credit on it (EE and T-Mobile charge £10.21 for a replacement SIM card, most other networks will send you a replacement for free). Please be aware: if you have an unregistered Pay As You Go SIM card, it can sometimes be difficult to get the SIM card re-issued (you’ll need to pass a security check from the network).
      b) The table above shows rates for each mobile network. On most mobile networks, credit shouldn’t expire providing you use the phone at least once every six months (be sure not to buy a bundle which will require you top-up your phone every month).
      c) The vast majority of low-cost handsets won’t allow you to access your e-mail. If you want access to your e-mail, it might be worth having a look at some low-cost smartphones (e.g. the Lumia 435 is £65 unlocked). A low-cost smartphone will allow you to access your e-mail free of charge when connected to wi-fi.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  4. Bob Cook said:

    Family Mobile say on their website that their coverage is provided by T mobile… http://www.yourfamilymobile.co.uk/search?search=coverage

    1. Bob Cook replied:

      Ok. I’ve found that T mobile is EE. All very confusing!

      1. Ken Lo
        Ken replied:

        Hi Bob,
        Good find – it looks like their website needs a little bit of updating! Family Mobile did originally use signal from T-Mobile. However, T-Mobile completed a merger of their network with Orange sometime around 2012 (hence, customers now get access to the 2G & 3G networks originally provided by both Orange and T-Mobile). For simplicity, we consider this as just the EE network. The information on their official website is around 2 years out-of-date and needs updating! 😉
        Ken

  5. Gill said:

    We manly use our landline for both calls and internet Both my husband and I have mobiles. He is retired, in his 80s and uses his rarely (mainly to track me down) and has been with O2 forever. A £10 topup lasts him for 2 or 3 months. He has, however, now got an android smartphone and would like to be able to check his emails while out and about. I would imagine his data usage will be minimal and therefore a monthly inclusive package would be wasted.

    what would you suggest?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Gill,
      Thanks for your comment! As your husband now uses a smartphone, you’d be looking for a tariff with affordable mobile internet.
      On O2 Pay As You Go, it would normally cost £1/day to access mobile internet or you can buy one of the £10/month Big Bundle packages. Clearly, this is very expensive given a £10 top-up will normally last you 2 to 3 months. It’s also probably overkill as he won’t require a huge amount of data to check e-mail on the go (as you pointed out in your comment).
      My two suggested tariffs would probably be as follows:
      1. EE now have a Pay As You Go deal where it’s £1/week for 100MB of internet. This should be more than sufficient for e-mail on the go. You also get 10 minutes & 10 texts per week (perfect for finding each other when you’re out and about). You can order a free SIM card from EE via this link – you can also keep the existing phone number from O2.
      2. Three’s 321 tariff will only charge you 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB for accessing mobile internet. This is substantially cheaper than using O2 Pay As You Go (you’d probably spend less than 10p/day for accessing the mobile internet).
      Best wishes and hope this helps to answer your question!
      Ken

  6. Amir said:

    Hi I want a cheap pay as you go sim for my mum she doesn’t want top up on the internet so that rules giffgaff out even though you can use their vouchers.

    Doesn’t use a 3g phone or uses the internet on phone or at home.

    Looking at Asda Mobile as it has a shop and phone call presence.

    Uses the phone very rarely maybe 30 mins a month. Any ideas before i go with ASDA Mobile.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Amir,
      Thanks for your comment. It is possible to top-up your giffgaff SIM card without using the internet: you buy a voucher like you said in your comment then call 43430 and follow the voice-guided instructions. Alternatively, you could configure auto top-up using a debit or credit card (extra credit will automatically be added to your account every time your balance goes below £3).
      Aside from that, the option you mentioned (using ASDA Mobile), would also be a very good choice!
      Ken

      1. Amir replied:

        Sure i replied to this how come my message was deleted out.

        So are you going to update the 0845 and 0800 number what it costs to call from pay as you go. The one you have is hopelessly out of date written in 2009.

        No mention of what ASDA charge. Otherwise great site Ken keep up the good work

        1. Ken Lo
          Ken replied:

          Hi Amir,
          Thanks for the comment. I actually replied to your last message over on this thread – sorry for the confusion! The reply has the latest 0800, 0845 & 0870 rates for ASDA Mobile.
          With regards to our article on 08 number rates, it is on my list of things I want to do (sorry, things have been crazy over the last few months!). I do hope to re-visit the article in the future – in the mean time I hope you’ll find it helpful having the rates for ASDA Mobile.
          Ken

  7. Mark said:

    Hi Ken,

    I am looking for a PAYG 2G standard size SIM card to fit into a GPS/SMS/GPRS Tracker. I need to be able to top-up online too.

    What would you recommend?

    Thanks

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. As you’re looking for a data-only SIM card, this rules out a number of tariffs which can only be used within a handset (more specifically, you’re looking for a mobile broadband SIM card). Also, as your device is 2G, it puts Three out of the running (Three only has 3G and 4G coverage). Based on the criteria you’ve given, the best value deal would probably be giffgaff. You’d pay a flat rate of 20p per day when using data on the tracker device. You can order a free SIM card here.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  8. Karim said:

    Hello Ken/ everyone,

    I am new to the UK, and I got a new company phone ( unfortunately it’s a blackberry ).

    In parallel I own a iPhone 5, with no SIM card in it.

    So my question is: How can I get 3g or 4g on my Iphone without having to get a phone number on it ( as I will not use it).

    If this is not possible, what options do I have. I read somewhere about the PAYG system here in the UK.

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    Best Regards

    Karim

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Karim,
      Welcome to the UK! Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get 3G or 4G without having a SIM card in the phone. As part of getting a SIM card, you’ll be assigned with a phone number (of course, you don’t actually need to use the phone). As someone mainly using data, look out for the best data packages (e.g. giffgaff’s £12 goodybag gives you unlimited data on 3G).
      As an alternative, you can also tether from your BlackBerry. This allows you to browse on-the-go without having a separate SIM card/contract.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

      1. Karim replied:

        thank you Ken.

        This helped a lot.

  9. alan said:

    i cant find the voicemail charges i need a network p as you g that has free voice mail to listen to i have no calls but about 30 a week voice mails and it cost me to listen to them help

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Alan,
      Thanks for your comment! Place your mouse over the “…” for each network to see their voicemail charges. Unfortunately, no network offers free calls to voicemail (it is a service that costs them money to provide). However, Three charges just 3p/minute so is a fairly low-cost offering. If you buy a Pay As You Go bundle, you’ll normally get voicemail included in your minutes.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

      1. alan replied:

        yes ken thanks i just need to hear my voice mail then i will phone back on a house phone if its there house phone i get free calls house to house

        1. Ken Lo
          Ken replied:

          Hi Alan,
          On second thoughts, try making use of Ovivo Mobile’s Freedom 0 deal. It’s £0/month and you’ll get 250 minutes per month – the minutes can also be used for calling the voicemail service. There’s an upfront cost of £20 for the SIM, of which £15 is returned in the form of free credit. To keep your account active, be sure to use the service at least once every 60 days.
          Hope this helps!
          Ken

  10. Andru said:

    Hi Ken,
    thank you for great job.
    May be you know
    I use now sim from Three but my mobile displays Orange as my Network.
    That phone was never locked and allocated to any network.
    This is dual sim Nokia and the second sim is from Delight.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Andru,
      Thanks for your comment! The most likely explanation is that your dual-SIM handset only supports 2G on your Three SIM card (voice/text coverage). In certain areas, Three has a 2G service provided by Orange (though they began turning it off as early as 2011). As Orange is being displayed as your network, you’ll be using the 2G roaming service.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  11. Dawn Kay said:

    These are worth considering too:

    Simplecall Mobile (Orange)
    UK Landline 3p per min
    UK Mobile 4p per min
    UK Text 5p per msg
    UK Picture & Video Messages 30p per msg
    UK Internet 10p per Mb

    The new 3 payg 321
    3p calls 2p texts 1p mb data

    Victory Mobile (EE)
    UK mobiles 4p
    UK SMS 4p
    Landlines 4p
    Voicemail 4p
    0800 prefix 10p
    0845, 0870/1 etc 25p
    Data 4p/MB
    Victory to Victory calls FREE FREE
    Victory to Victory SMS FREE FREE

    White Mobile (EE/orange)
    White Mobile to White Mobile UK Calls FREE International Text Messages from 10p
    White Mobile to White Mobile UK Text FREE Voicemail FREE
    Calls to UK Landline 3p ’0800′ prefix numbers 10p
    Other UK Mobile 6p ’0845/0870′ prefix numbers 25p
    UK Text Messages 5p Data 2.5p/MB

  12. Michael Wilkinson said:

    For a one off payment of £20 you can get a Freedom sim from Ovivo which will give you

    150 mins + 250 texts + 500MB data per month.

    If you do not exceed that limit you will never pay another penny.
    I got mine 4 months ago and as a light user have no problem staying within the limit.
    Best deal Ive ever had.

    1. Bob replied:

      The table unfortunately does not appear in your email which is a shame (probably would not fit well anyway). Also can’t help feeling sorry for Ovivo as their free calls/texts/data (150mins/250texts/500mb) package although quite limited do not show in your comparison (not easy to fit everything in I realise).

    2. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Michael and Bob,

      Thank you both for your comments! You make a really good point about Ovivo’s Freedom Plan – I’ll have a look into how to display this information more clearly in the table. Also thanks for the heads up about the e-mail formatting… I’ll take a look into this.

      Ken

  13. Stew said:

    Is there such a thing as PAYG 4G?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Stew,

      Thanks for the comment! Funnily enough, EE launched the UK’s first 4G Pay As You Go tariff only this morning. Refer to the EE website for full details or see the review I posted earlier this month. EE charges 30p/minute and 12p/text. For mobile data, you’ll need to buy a bundle (e.g. £6/month for 500MB of data).

      Ken

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