Pay As You Go Networks: Compare Minimum Call Charges, Per-Minute & Per-Second Billing

December 5th, 2014

Pay As You Go mobile networks differ in the method they use to charge customers for a call. Techniques such a minimum call charge and per-minute billing can add substantially to the cost of your service.

Top Up LogoIn the UK, it’s estimated that half of all phone calls last for under one minute. With most Pay As You Go networks now imposing a minimum call charge, you could be stung up to 35p when your phone call connects and when you hang up immediately (e.g. after reaching someone’s voicemail). Many mobile networks have also switched to using per-minute billing where the length of all phone calls is rounded up to a full minute before your account gets charged. These two techniques can add fairly substantially to the overall cost of your Pay As You Go service.

In this article, we’ll compare the UK’s Pay As You Go mobile networks and how much they charge for outgoing calls on their network. We’ll look at minimum call charges and which billing method is employed on each network (per-minute billing or per-second billing).

Table: Minimum Call Charge & Billing Method on UK Mobile Networks

The table below shows you the per-minute rate and the minimum call charge on UK Pay As You Go networks. We’ve also listed how each network is charging for their calls: whether it’s on a per-minute or on a per-second basis. You can use this table along with the guidance below it when choosing your next Pay As You Go network. You can also refer to our other useful guides before choosing a new network.

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

NetworkCalls (per min)Minimum Call ChargeCharging Type
ASDA Mobile8p/min8p per call per-minute billingReview
EE30p/min30p per call per-minute billingReview
giffgaff15p/min15p per call per-second billingReview
O2 Big Bundles35p/min35p per call per-minute billingReview
O2 Big Talker30p/min30p per call per-minute billing
Three3p/min3p per call per-minute billingReview
Vodafone30p/min30p per call per-minute billingReview
Co-operative Mobile8p/min1p per call per-second billing
Lebara Mobile15p/min
(9p/min to landline)
15p per call per-minute billingReview
Orange Dolphin30p/min30p per call per-minute billingReview
Orange Racoon14p/min14p per call per-minute billingReview
T-Mobile35p/min35p per call per-minute billingReview
Talkmobile Happy Hour8p/min10p per call per-minute billingReview
Talkmobile Rewards25p/min25p per call per-second billingReview
Tesco Mobile Lite8p/min8p per call per-second billingReview
Tesco Mobile Triple Credit25p/min10p per call per-second billingReview
TPO Mobile4p/min4p per call per-second billingReview
Virgin Mobile35p/min35p per call per-second billing

Sources:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Last updated on 23rd September 2016.

Minimum Call Charges

In the UK, our mobile networks don’t charge a separate connection fee for setting up your call (this is in contrast to landline providers who will typically charge a separate call connection fee).

Mobile Network Logos

Almost all UK networks have a minimum charge for outgoing phone calls. The Co-operative Mobile has the lowest in the UK: 1p for calls lasting up to 7 seconds.

Rather than having a separate call connection fee, UK mobile networks will typically have a minimum call charge for every outgoing phone call. On most mobile networks, this is equivalent to the cost of a one-minute phone call. You’ll still be charged for a full minute of calling even when you hang up the phone in under a minute. It’s a rather frustrating experience especially when around 50% of phone calls last for less than one minute. It also makes it costly when you reach someone else’s voicemail (you could be charged up to 35p for the privilege even when you hang up immediately).

If you regularly make phone calls lasting for less than one minute, it could be worth choosing a network with a lower minimum call charge. The Co-Operative Mobile stands out with the lowest minimum call charge of any UK network. They’ll charge only a minimum of 1p for every outgoing phone call (you’ll pay this whenever your phone call lasts for less than 7 seconds). Three is another strong and worthwhile contender: they charge a minimum of only 3p per call (you’ll pay this whenever your phone call lasts for less than 60 seconds).

The following UK networks have the lowest minimum charge when making a short call:

NetworkMinimum Charge for Outgoing Calls
Co-operative Mobile1p per call (up to 7 seconds in length)
Three3p per call (up to 1 minute in length)
TPO Mobile4p per call (up to 1 minute in length)
Tesco Mobile Lite8p per call (up to 1 minute in length)
ASDA Mobile8p per call (up to 1 minute in length)
Talkmobile Happy Hour10p per call (up to 75 seconds in length)
Tesco Mobile Triple Credit10p per call (up to 24 seconds in length)

Per-Second VS Per-Minute Billing

Phone CallIn the UK, mobile phone networks broadly split up into two separate camps: those that charge on a per-second basis and those that charge on a per-minute basis. Per-second billing is the cheaper option but many networks have recently moved towards per-minute billing. Switching to per-minute billing is a way to stealthily increase prices through the back door.

On mobile phone networks that charge on a per-second basis, you’ll always be charged for the exact length of your call. For instance, imagine a network using per-second billing and charging a rate of 30p/minute. If you were to make a phone call lasting for 1 minute and 30 seconds, you’d be charged 45p for the call (that’s 1.5 minutes x 30p per minute = 45p in total).

On mobile networks that use per-minute billing, the length of all phone calls is rounded up to a full minute. For instance, a phone call lasting for 1 minute and 30 seconds would be rounded up by your network to a full two minutes. You would then be charged 60p for the call (that’s 2 minutes x 30p per minute = 60p in total). On average, you would pay 15p extra for every outgoing call under per-minute billing at 30p/minute.

To illustrate this, the following table compares the cost of an outgoing phone call under per-second billing and per-minute billing. It assumes a rate of 30p/minute:

Length of Phone Call Cost with per-second billing* Cost with per-minute billing*
1 minute 30p 30p
1 minute, 15 seconds 38p 60p (22p more expensive)
1 minute, 30 seconds 45p 60p (15p more expensive)
1 minute, 45 seconds 53p 60p (7p more expensive)
2 minutes 60p 60p

* Calculations assume a rate of 30p/minute. The average cost saving is 15p per call using the network with per-second billing.
The actual impact on how much you’d save will depend on your mobile network’s per-minute rate. For instance, if your network charged 8p/minute then the average cost saving under per-second billing would be 4p per call.

In general, we would recommend choosing a network that uses per-second billing.

The following table shows how UK mobile networks split up across the two billing methods:

Networks with Per-Second Billing Networks with Per-Minute Billing

You’ll be charged for the exact length of your phone calls.

  • giffgaff
  • Co-operative Mobile
  • Talkmobile
  • Tesco Mobile
  • TPO Mobile
  • Virgin Mobile
  • The length of all phone calls will be rounded up to a full minute.

  • ASDA Mobile
  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone
  • Lebara Mobile
  • Orange
  • T-Mobile
  • Talkmobile
  • More Information

    For more information on how to choose a Pay As You Go network, see our in-depth articles with a Pay As You Go price comparison, a list of Pay As You Go bundles and our guide to inactivity and credit expiry on UK networks.

    You can also order a free Pay As You Go SIM card.

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    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 5 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

    1. Gill said:

      Dear Ken,
      When I came across your site, it provided answers to mobile-related queries. The presentation and organisation is seamless, and I would like to express my thanks and appreciation. As a very low usage Pay As You Go-er, no bundles were suitable, and I was resigned to paying 15p/text and 30p+/minute. No more. With the help of your “How to keep your old number” guide, and oodles of hard fact tabulated information, I have switched to Co-operative Mobile (which uses the same network as my old provider). Getting the code and porting the number across turned out to be a simple process, and I am still in disbelief at the savings… over two-thirds! Thank you.

      1. Ken Lo
        Ken replied:

        Hi Gill,
        Thank you for the kind words – really glad you found the website useful and really happy that it’s helped to save you some money 🙂

    2. Naseer Malik said:

      Hi Ken:
      Just a note to express my deepest appreciation for your nicely presented, very very useful informative stuff on this mad and ever changing market, which is confusing the ordinary consumer all the time. With your crystal clear comparison tables, has and would go a very long way towards getting everybody interested in this riddle solving problem, see a clear light, which way to go for, and which one is the right choice as per one’s needs and requirements. I admire and appreciate your time and effort to present, ALL, to help people to get out of this mind boggling riddle.
      Many thanks and may God bless you.

    3. Ian Besch said:

      Very informative blog, Ken. I’ve just found it and you’ve been bookmarked!
      I’m in Canada and am interested in bringing my phone when I travel in Scotland. It is an older Motorola MB501 but new to me – my first, yes thankyou very much. I purchased it because the specs tell me it will work as a so-called world phone. Do you have any advice for a Canadian visitor wanting to purchase a SIM card for a month’s worth of minimal voice/data use while in the U.K.?

      1. Ken Lo
        Ken replied:

        Hi Ian,
        Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve taken a look and the Motorola MB501 will indeed work in the UK (though please double check to make sure your handset is unlocked before you arrive in the UK). Your handset should work on any 2G or 3G network available in Scotland (you can see a full list of UK Pay As You Go networks on the list provided here).
        In general, you’ll be needing to top up around £10 regardless of which network you choose to join (this is approximately 18 Canadian dollars). Most mobile networks offer a fairly similar 30-day bundle in exchange for £10 (approx 150 minutes, unlimited UK texts and 500MB of internet). So my personal recommendation is simply to go to your nearest phone store and see what they’re offering! O2 and Vodafone will probably be best for coverage up in Scotland so maybe go for those if they’re easily available. You can read more about UK mobile coverage here.
        Hope this helps,

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