Pay As You Go Internet & Data Tariffs – The Good, Bad and Ugly

July 13th, 2009

Creative Commons License photo: barnoid

I’ve previously written articles about how to get free calls and free texts on your existing Pay As You Go mobile. Since, I’ve recieved dozens of messages asking me how to get free data and internet access on PAYG. Unfortunately, it isn’t so clear cut for data. There are some great networks, some bad ones and then some really bad ones.

Find your network and see what it costs. You might be able to save a lot of money by switching tariff. If you’re on one of the “ugly” networks, you might save a lot by switching network.

The Good: Free internet access

Three: 3Pay

Three’s 3Pay tariff offers 150MB of free mobile internet access which lasts from 90 days from top-up (you can top-up from just £5). Best of all, you can top-up again as soon as you run out. Three have a fantastic high speed 3G data network too.

Cost: 150MB for 3 months free with a top-up; then 30p/MB

Virgin: Addict

Virgin’s Addict tariff offers 1GB of free mobile internet access which lasts for 30 days from top-up. But you have to top-up £20 to get it. If you top-up less than that, it’s 30p/MB.

Cost: 1GB for 1 month is free with a £20 top-up; otherwise 30p/MB

Pie in the sky
Creative Commons License photo: kevindooley

The Bad: It’ll cost you

T-Mobile: Mates Rates

T-Mobile caps the cost of mobile internet at £1 per day. You’re charged at 0.73p per KB until you reach the £1 cap. So if you use more than 137KB per day, it’ll cost you just a quid.

Cost: £1 per day

Vodafone: Simply

Vodafone’s Simply tariff charges a flat rate of £1 for the first 15MB of data every day. After that it costs £2 per MB.

You can get free mobile internet access for one month though. Text webpack to 97613.

Cost: £1 for 15MB/day; then £2/MB

Hawaii #16 - Baby wolphin
Creative Commons License photo: Mark Interrante (aka pinhole)

The Ugly

Orange: Various Animal PAYG Tariffs

Orange cap data at £2 per day. It’s not exactly cheap but it’ll prevent you from running up any huge bills. The one redeeming point is that access to Facebook, Bebo and MySpace are charged differently at Orange. When you top up, you can access these social networking sites for free.

Cost: £2 per day; but selected social networking sites free for 30 days after top-up

O2: Various PAYG Tariff

“Urgh” is the most apt way to describe O2 for accessing data and mobile internet. It costs £3 per MB and there are no caps. You even have to pay to access O2′s own mobile site, O2 Active. If you want the internet on the move, stay well clear of O2 PAYG.

Cost: £3 per MB

Tehran Sky
Creative Commons License photo: Hamed Saber

Going Abroad

Don’t forget these charges are for accessing data in the UK. Don’t assume the same charges apply abroad: they usually don’t. You could end up paying between £4 to £6 per megabyte. Check out my guide of 10 things to know before using your phone abroad and don’t make the same mistake as the lawyer who ran up a bill of £4,900 downloading an episode of The Apprentice whilst on holiday.

Other considerations

It’s worth considering that most PAYG data plans don’t allow you to tether your phone to a computer (e.g. use your phone as a modem on your laptop). Also, you might not be allowed to use instant messaging and VoIP. The exception to the latter rule is Three who actively encourage you to use MSN Messenger and Skype on their network. In fact, Three don’t charge for Skype data at all.


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

  1. UK Texan said:

    Hi Ken, for a Tenner a month on pay as you go, giff gaff runs on the o2 network and gives you 250 uk mins, unlimited uk texts and unlimited internet. I watch my slingbox in the USA check email and surf the web on my iphone and use a ton of data each month.

  2. nina said:

    can you still get the 3Pay tariff ?
    i really hate the add-ons the old one was sooooo much better :(

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      I'm afraid not; new customers can only get the add-on tariff.
      See this article for full details.


  3. Peter Smithson said:

    Regarding 3
    >So you can top up as soon as you run out but can only have 150MB free in a 90 day period?
    It sounds like that from their terms but it's not right. You can use up your 150MB and then top up whenever – you don't have to wait 90 days. You then use your next chunk of 150Mb immediately until you use it up or until it expires after 90 days.

    Those plans that are offering 500Mb or 750Mb a month presumably charge you for that. The 150Mb is free with a top up. Ideal for me – I'm not paying for data or texts and only spend about £10 every 2 months. Can't beat that! (for such a low usage)

    The other thing about 3 is the cheap roaming charges. £1.25/Mb in Europe. I don't think there's a cheaper option and most are at least twice as expensive. Otherwise I might consider GiffGaff – very cheap!

  4. Jon said:

    I'm on O2 PAYG Text and Web and don't make ANY voice calls on that phone (5 inch screen is ideal for browsing). Every time I top up I get 300 texts and 500MB for 30 days. After I've topped up 6 months in a row, I buy the Web Bolt for £7.50, which seems to give me 500MB again (not had a warning from O2 yet), and run the credit down. If I use than 25 texts per month during this period (which I do) I can last another 6 months, so it works out at £3.75 per month overall.

  5. Lisa said:

    I'm on 3Pay PAYG so I get all the free stuff when I top-up, text, internet, etc but I seem to get charged for using Snaptu which I don't understand as I have free data to use. I topping up so often for snaptu I've got about 5000 free texts to use!! I'm I doing something wrong is it right that I pay for using Snaptu?

  6. John said:

    I’ve got 02 Web bolt-on on payg for £7.50/month browsing use, less 10% if you ask for it (no personal details needed – you just phone a freephone number and press the appropriate menu number when asked if you want 10% off). You get c200MB ‘fair usage’, which suits me fine for browsing and email.

  7. Anthony Cartmell said:

    Orange PAYG offers £1 for “unlimited” internet access until the following midnight, or £5 for “unlimited” access until midnight on the seventh day. You have to remember to buy the “extra” but it’s reasonably competitive, especially if you need lots of data.

  8. Andrew H said:

    “Three’s 3Pay tariff offers 150MB of free mobile internet access which lasts from 90 days from top-up (you can top-up from just £5). Best of all, you can top-up again as soon as you run out.”

    Standard Pay As You Go Terms and Conditions, Free Internet Use

    “…Subject to an allowance of 150MB for 90 days. Internet use charged at 30p per MB once inclusive allowance is used up…”

    So you can top up as soon as you run out but can only have 150MB free in a 90 day period? This may be enough free for most people (i.e. 1.2GB per year) but some plans are now offering 500MB or 750MB per month. 3Pay’s offer is not quite the same as topping up once you have run out

  9. John D said:

    ASDA Mobile at 20p per MB on a simple PAYG SIM-only takes some beating

  10. Lol said:

    O2 PAYG data is free for the 1st year.

  11. Mark Hawkins said:

    The Vodafone deal is now 50p for 25GB on PAYG.

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