Compare Pay As You Go Networks: Prices & Coverage

April 23rd, 2017

Looking for the cheapest Pay As You Go tariff in the UK? Our interactive comparison table allows you to compare Pay As You Go networks by price and by coverage.

Top Up LogoIf you’re looking for a Pay As You Go network in the UK, you’re spoilt for choice with nearly 20 different mobile networks to choose from.

With the UK having one of most competitive marketplaces in the world for mobile communication, it’s never been easier to switch networks to take advantage of a cheaper deal. Just order a free Pay As You Go SIM card and insert it into an unlocked smartphone to take advantage of lower rates.

When choosing a new Pay As You Go mobile network, there are two primary considerations you need to think about. Firstly, there’s the price: you’ll want to make sure you’re not paying more than you need to. Secondly, there’s the coverage: you’ll want a mobile network that gives you fast and reliable coverage.

Before choosing a new mobile network, it’s worth being aware there are actually two different types of Pay As You Go tariff:

Traditional Pay As You Go Pay As You Go Bundles
Best for light users who don’t have a smartphone. Best for regular users and smartphone users.
Pay on a per-minute, per-text and per-megabyte basis. Rates are typically higher compared to a bundle. Get a 30-day bundle with calls, texts & data included. Pay a fixed amount which is known in advance.
Typically, your credit doesn’t expire providing you keep your SIM card active. Unused allowances expire after 30 days, after which you’ll need to buy another bundle.
No credit check & no contracts to sign. No credit check & no contracts to sign.

In this article, we’ll mainly be comparing traditional Pay As You Go tariffs (these are tariffs where you pay for your usage on a per-minute, per-text and per-megabyte basis).

If you’re a regular mobile user or if you typically use a smartphone, you might be better off buying a 30-day bundle. For more information, see our guide to the UK’s best value Pay As You Go bundles.

Pay As You Go Prices and Coverage: Comparison Table

In the table below, we’ve listed the Pay As You Go prices on each UK mobile network. We’ve also listed the coverage provider for each network and provided a link where you’re able to check the coverage in your area for that network. You can use the table below in conjunction with our other guides when choosing a new Pay As You Go mobile network.

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

NetworkMobile Internet
(per day)
Calls
(per minute)
Texts
(per SMS)
Picture Message
(per MMS)
VoicemailSpecial Rate
(per minute)
Coverage Provider
1pMobile~10p
(estimated from 1p/MB)
1p1p30p1p
per minute
30p
+ service charge
EE Review
ASDA Mobile~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
8p4p25p8p
per minute
8p
+ service charge
EE Review
C4C Mobile~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
10p
(1p to landline)
10p-0p
per call
23p
+ service charge
O2
Co-Op Mobile~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
8p4p25p4p
per minute
21p
+ service charge
EE
EE-
(fixed, for 500MB/month)
30p12p40p30p
per minute
44p
+ service charge
EE Review
giffgaff~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
15p5p16p8p
per call
25p
+ service charge
O2 Review
iD Mobile~10p
(estimated from 1p/MB)
3p2p30p3p
per minute
30p
+ service charge
Three Review
Lebara Mobile~£1.90
(estimated from 19p/MB)
15p
(9p to landline)
19p45p15p
per minute
45p
+ service charge
Vodafone Review
Lycamobile~£1.20
(estimated from 12p/MB)
19p
(12p to landline)
19p-0p
per call
23p
+ service charge
O2 Review
O2
Big Bundles
£1
(fixed, for 50MB/day)
35p14p35p30p
per call
55p
+ service charge
O2 Review
O2
International
£1
(fixed, for 50MB/day)
30p14p35p20p
per call
55p
+ service charge
O2
O2
Classic PAYG
~50p
(estimated from 5p/MB)
5p5p35p5p
per call
55p
+ service charge
O2 Review
Orange
Dolphin
~£6.50
(estimated from 65p/MB)
40p15p40p40p
per minute
44p
+ service charge
EE Review
Orange
Racoon
~£6.50
(estimated from 65p/MB)
22p14p40p22p
per minute
44p
+ service charge
EE Review
T-Mobile£1
(fixed, for 500MB/month)
40p15p30p40p
per minute
44p
+ service charge
EE Review
Tesco Mobile
Triple Credit
~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
25p10p25p15p
per minute
25p
+ service charge
O2 Review
Tesco Mobile
Lite
~£1
(estimated from 10p/MB)
8p4p25p8p
per minute
25p
+ service charge
O2 Review
Three~10p
(estimated from 1p/MB)
3p2p17p3p
per minute
45p
+ service charge
Three Review
TPO Mobile~20p
(estimated from 2p/MB)
4p3p30p4p
per minute
5p
+ service charge
Three Review
Vectone Mobile~90p
(estimated from 9p/MB)
19p
(12p to landline)
19p25p10p
per minute
25p
+ service charge
EE
Virgin Mobile£2
(fixed, for 200MB/day)
35p12p30p26p
per call
36p
+ service charge
EE
Vodafone£2
(fixed, for 50MB/day)
30p14p45p30p
per minute
45p
+ service charge
Vodafone Review

Sources: 1pmobile.com, mobile.asda.com, c4cmobile.com, thephone.coop, ee.co.uk, giffgaff.com, idmobile.co.uk, mobile.lebara.com, lycamobile.co.uk, o2.co.uk, o2.co.uk, o2.co.uk, ee.co.uk, ee.co.uk, tescomobile.com, tescomobile.com, three.co.uk, thepeoplesoperator.com, vectonemobile.co.uk, store.virginmedia.com, freesim.vodafone.co.uk. Last updated on 12th May 2017.

If you’d like to compare charges for picture messaging, voicemail and special rate phone numbers, you can hover your mouse over the “…” column.

Remember: if you choose to buy a Pay As You Go bundle, you won’t actually pay the rates listed in the table above. Instead, your 30-day bundle will come with certain allowances for accessing the mobile internet, calling and texting. The rates listed in the table above are only for customers using traditional Pay As You Go.

For more information about each type of charge, please read on for a full explanation and comparison.

We endeavour to keep the information on this page as up-to-date as possible. However, prices can sometimes change without us being aware. If you know of any changes to the pricing listed above, please contact us by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article.

Background Information

Mobile Internet

data-binaryIf you’re a smartphone owner, the cheapest way to access the internet on-the-go is usually by buying a Pay As You Go bundle. For about £10/month, you’re normally able to get about 1GB to 2GB of inclusive mobile internet (1GB is equal to 1,000MB). You’ll also get inclusive minutes and inclusive texts with your bundle.

In contrast, even with the cheapest tariffs on traditional Pay As You Go, you’ll normally need to pay at least 1p/MB. This works out as £10 for 1GB of data, and that’s before you even consider the cost of phone calls and text messages.

The following table shows what you’re able to get at the moment with a £10/month Pay As You Go bundle:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
ASDA Mobile600Unlimited3.5GB£10.00
giffgaff500Unlimited2GB£10.00
Three1003,0001GB£10.00
O21001001GB£10.00
EE150Unlimited500MB£10.00
Vodafone150Unlimited500MB£10.00

Only if you’re a very light user, not using the internet every day, it could be economical using traditional Pay As You Go. For instance, for someone using 10MB of data per day, the cheapest tariffs on traditional Pay As You Go would be the following:

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Mobile Internet
Three 1p/MB (10p/day for 10MB)
1pMobile 1p/MB (10p/day for 10MB)
iD Mobile 1p/MB (10p/day for 10MB)
TPO Mobile 2p/MB (20p/day for 10MB)

On traditional Pay As You Go, there are two ways of paying for data: either on a ‘per megabyte’ or ‘per day’ basis. For ease of comparison, the table above assumes you’ll use 10MB of data per day. For a more accurate comparison, you may wish to enter your own estimates of how much data you use. You can do this by entering your estimated data usage here.

Phone Calls

Phone CallOn traditional Pay As You Go, you’ll be charged on a per-minute basis each time you make an outgoing phone call. The standard per-minute rate will apply for phone calls to a mobile or landline (these are phone numbers beginning with 01, 02, 03 or 07).

The following table shows the cheapest per-minute rates on UK Pay As You Go networks:

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Making A Phone Call
1pMobile 1p per minute
Three 3p per minute
iD Mobile 3p per minute
TPO Mobile 4p per minute
O2 Classic PAYG5p per minute
ASDA Mobile 8p per minute
Co-operative Mobile 8p per minute
Tesco Mobile Lite8p per minute

Different rates will apply when you’re calling special-rate phone numbers (see below for more information). Calls to voicemail and international phone calls are also charged at a different rate. You’ll never be charged to receive an incoming phone call in the UK.

Please note: most mobile networks have a minimum charge for outgoing phone calls. This is normally equivalent to the cost of a one-minute call. For instance, if your mobile network charges 35p/minute, the minimum call charge will normally be 35p per call. Some mobile networks will also round up the length of your phone calls to a complete minute before working out how much to charge (so for instance, a 61-second phone call might be charged as 2 minutes).

Text Messages (SMS)

iMessage VS SMSA SMS text message is able to contain up to 160 characters, and you’ll normally be charged for text messages on a per-SMS basis.

If the length of your text message exceeds 160 characters, your message will be split up and sent as multiple SMS. In this case, you’ll also be charged for every additional SMS sent (e.g. you’ll be charged double if your text message is split into 2 SMS messages).

The following Pay As You Go mobile networks have the lowest per-SMS charge:

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Texting
1pMobile 1p per message
Three 2p per message
iD Mobile 2p per message
TPO Mobile 3p per message
ASDA Mobile 4p per message
Co-operative Mobile 4p per message
Tesco Mobile Lite4p per message

In recent years, the cost of sending a SMS message has become much less important as many people have been moving over to smartphone messaging apps (e.g. iMessage, WhatsApp, Snapchat or Facebook Messenger). When you’re using an instant messaging app for your smartphone, you can send messages through the app at no additional charge (you just need to pay your normal charges for accessing the internet).

Picture Messages (MMS)

Galaxy S6 CameraOn most 3G and 4G handsets, you’re able to send a picture message over the mobile network using MMS functionality (Multimedia Messaging Service). The cost of sending a picture message can range from 16p to 45p per MMS and each MMS message can be up to 300KB in size.

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Sending A Picture Message
giffgaff 16p per picture minute
Three 17p per picture minute
ASDA Mobile 25p per picture minute
Co-operative Mobile 25p per picture minute
Tesco Mobile Triple Credit/Rocket Pack25p per picture minute
Tesco Mobile Lite25p per picture minute
Vectone Mobile 25p per picture minute

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

If you’d like to avoid paying for MMS, you can use a smartphone messaging app such as iMessage or WhatsApp. You won’t be charged for sending a picture message when using these applications – you’ll just need to pay your normal charges for accessing the internet.

Voicemail

Most mobile networks offer a voicemail service for when you can’t receive an incoming phone call. The voicemail service will activate automatically when your phone is switched off, or when you miss or reject an incoming phone call.

With voicemail, you’ll normally be charged twice for the service: once when an incoming caller leaves a message on your voicemail, and again when you later listen back to the voicemail contents.

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Accessing Your Voicemail
1pMobile 1p per minute
O2 Classic PAYG5p per call
Three 3p per minute
iD Mobile 3p per minute
giffgaff 8p per call
Co-operative Mobile 4p per minute
TPO Mobile 4p per minute

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

Voicemail will normally be included when you buy a Pay As You Go bundle.

Special Rate Phone Calls

UK Calling Logo

As of July 2015, the cost of calling special rate numbers is split into two parts: an access charge and a service charge.

If you’re calling a special rate phone number (phone numbers beginning with 084, 087, 09 or 118), you’ll be charged differently to when you’re making a normal phone call.

With special rate numbers, the charge is divided into two separate parts. Firstly, there’s a per-minute access charge from your mobile phone network (you can save money by choosing the network with the lowest per-minute access charge). Secondly, there’s a service charge from the company you’re calling (this will always be the same regardless of which network you’re calling from).

The following Pay As You Go networks currently have the lowest per-minute access charge:

At A Glance: The Cheapest Networks For Making A Special Rate Call
TPO Mobile 5p/minute access charge + service charge
ASDA Mobile 8p/minute access charge + service charge

You can see the charges for calling a special rate phone number in the table above by placing your mouse over the … column.

Coverage Provider

UK

All UK mobile networks provide at least 98% coverage. Many mobile networks piggyback on a coverage provider.

In the UK, only four companies hold a license to build and maintain their own mobile network infrastructure. These companies are EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. They each license spectrum from the Government and build their own network of mobile phone masts to cover the country.

All other companies offering a mobile phone service are known as mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs for short). They piggyback on infrastructure from one of the four coverage providers. You’ll therefore get identical coverage to on the host network when using one of these networks. To give an example, customers using ASDA Mobile get the exact same coverage as customers using EE.

The level of coverage offered by a Pay As You Go network depends solely upon which coverage provider they’re using. We’ve therefore listed the coverage provider for each network in the table above for ease of comparison.

If you’d like to quickly check the coverage in your area on each of the four coverage providers, please select a logo to see the relevant online coverage map:

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone

For more information, please see our in-depth guide on how to check and compare mobile network coverage.

Handset Compatibility

Providing your handset is unlocked, it should work on any mobile network in the table above. The only exception is for 2G-only handsets which will not work on any network using coverage from Three (this is because Three doesn’t have any 2G coverage).

If you already have a handset that’s unlocked, you can order a free SIM card from most of the mobile networks above. The SIM card will slot inside your existing unlocked smartphone and you’ll be able to transfer your existing phone number onto it.

If your smartphone is currently locked to a mobile network, please see our step-by-step guides on unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy. Alternatively, see our in-depth guide to handset unlocking.

Bundles & Credit Expiry

On most traditional Pay As You Go services, your credit won’t expire providing your SIM card remains active. This makes it perfect for people who rarely use their handset (e.g. traditional Pay As You Go is perfect if your mobile phone is mainly used for emergencies). Typically, you’ll need to use your SIM card at least once every 6 months to keep it active. However, this can vary depending on your mobile network between 84 days and 270 days.

On certain mobile networks (which include at the time of writing: Delight Mobile, iD Mobile, Lebara Mobile, Lycamobile and Vectone Mobile), your Pay As You Go credit will expire a certain amount of time after top-up.

For customers who convert their credit into a Pay As You Go bundle, the allowances included on the bundle will normally expire after 30 days. For instance, the following Pay As You Go bundles are currently available for £10 per month:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
ASDA Mobile600Unlimited3.5GB£10.00
giffgaff500Unlimited2GB£10.00
Three1003,0001GB£10.00
O21001001GB£10.00
EE150Unlimited500MB£10.00
Vodafone150Unlimited500MB£10.00

For more information, please see our in-depth guide to Pay As You Go bundles. You can also read our review of the bundles from ASDA Mobile, EE, giffgaff, O2, Three and Vodafone.

Order ASDA Mobile SIM Card (Free) »
ASDA Mobile’s £10 bundle comes with 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 3.5GB internet (coverage from EE)

Keeping Your Phone Number

If you’re changing mobile networks, it’s super easy to keep your existing phone number. Simply ask your old mobile network to provide you with a PAC Code and then give this code to your new mobile network. The transfer process normally takes about one working day. For more information, see our guide on moving your phone number between networks.

More Information

For more information, please see our full guide to the UK’s best Pay As You Go deals. You can also read our in-depth reviews of each mobile network.

Like this tip? Get the most from your mobile phone...

  • Discover brand new ways to use your mobile phone
  • Techniques to get more out of your mobile phone for less
  • Be the first to learn about new mobile technology

Enter your email to receive free regular Ken's Tech Tips:

About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 127 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Sally Jackson said:

    Good to see 1pMobile on the charts, still very pleased with my SIM

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi David,
      Thanks for your comment. I think the help docs aren’t totally clear on the TPO website. According to the TPO Pay As You Go rates page, the access charge for special numbers is 5p/minute. The higher rate of 35p/minute only applies to customers on TPO Pay Monthly (this is also split out in my guide to special rate phone numbers).
      It might be worth popping TPO a very quick email to clarify the contents on that page as they don’t currently reference the PAYG rate.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  2. Huldah said:

    I’m interested in the way providers communicate with customers, especially about expiries of minutes, data etc. Giff Gaff text customers when credit needs topping up, and they take credit automatically from the bank account – very easy for customers.

    But not ASDA. Instead you only find out that credit’s expired when it refuses to make calls. And it doesn’t tell you when bundles have been used up. All info is thrown on the customer. Very primitive.

    What experience have people had with notification services from other providers?

Load more comments (123)

Leave a Reply

E-Mail Notifications: By default, I'll drop you an e-mail when there's a reply to your comment. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above.