The United Kingdom consists of the four countries England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This article covers only the UK and doesn't cover any British non-UK territories such as the Crown dependencies of Guernsey and Jersey (known as the Channel Islands) and the Isle of Man as well as British overseas territories, e.g. Gibraltar, St. Helena, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island or any other Commonwealth area.
The UK has 4 network operators:
- EE (for Everything Everywhere, by British Telecom)
- O2 (by Telefónica)
- 3 (= Three by Hutchison)
About 50 MVNOs operate on all four networks.
EU roaming regulations Edit
Following a referendum in favour of leaving the EU in 2016, the UK is planning to exit the EU and EEA by 2019. In the meantime UK providers have to obey the same EU regulations for roaming as shown in the European Union chapter. Note that some UK providers cap large data packages at 9-15 GB.
That's why UK providers adopt "Roam like at home" rules of the EU for roaming at domestic rates in all EU/EEA countries. This applies at least as long as Britain remains in the EU. Vodafone and Three UK have already implemented the new scheme while EE, O2 and all resellers follow by 15 June 2017.
2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz (except Three which has only 3G and 4G), 3G/UMTS is on 900 and 2100 MHz.
4G/LTE has started in 2013 on all networks. Frequencies on 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz bands are used. 4G is offered by all networks on prepaid, but only on some MVNOs so far.
Coverage is quite good on 2G and more than 90% of population on 3G, but there are still blackspots without any mobile coverage. So if you go to a remote area in the countryside, it's wise to check coverage beforehand.
On 4G/LTE, EE has the best nationwide coverage at about 95% of population, followed by Vodafone at 85% and 3 and O2 at around 65%.
In the Channel Tunnel coming from France to the UK, three of the four French networks provide coverage 100 metres below sea level. Coverage in the opposite direction of travel is available from three of the four UK networks.
Prepaid SIM cards are by default anonymous in the UK and unregistered, though some providers may encourage you to register with them. But this is only to link your SIM card to your online account. You don't have to specify any personal details, but your email address and set a password.
Prepaid is usually called "pay as you go" (in short "PAYG") in the UK, although there is usually a distinction between true PAYG incremental charges and prepaid monthly charges such as giffgaff's goodybags. This guide starts with all 4 physical network providers followed by their most significant resellers or MVNOs on the market.
Content Lock Edit
Prepaid SIM cards in the UK are delivered with a so-called "Content Lock" in place. This is to protect children from accessing adult content. The problem is that a white-listing approach is used for this, meaning that everything that has not been actively approved as non-adult will be treated as "adult".
This can seriously interfere with your internet accessibility, e.g. some users could not use their instant messaging services. Even emails and all "unguided" forums like Facebook or Twitter can be affected. However this can be bypassed using a VPN or proxy app/software to conceal your identity
The usual way to disable the content lock is to enter credit card data to prove your age; but this only works with UK-issued credit cards, and as a tourist you probably won't have one of those. Therefore when you buy a new SIM card in store insist that the lock will be removed right away (what takes one minute). For this you may need to provide some form of ID to prove your age, if you look young.
Topping-up your UK SIM can be done in three different ways, but only one of them remains accessible to most visitors.
To top-up via an ATM (often known for all UK banks by Lloyds Bank's registered trademark "Cashpoint") is widely accepted, but you need to have an UK-issued credit or debit card. Foreign cards are not accepted.
Unfortunately, the same is true to online top-ups on the websites of the providers. Generally only debit and credit cards given out in Britain are allowed for recharges, but there are sporadic exceptions. This very restrictive policy is supposedly to avoid fraud, but shuts out many customers. As long as you are in the country you can always buy scratch cards or top-up vouchers from vendors that are widely available in shops throughout the UK. These shops are marked by a green top-up sign and normally sell credit for all providers. Minimum top-up amount is usually £5, with a few providers £10.
This leaves visitors with the tricky task, how to refill from abroad while not having this domestic option or a UK-based bank card to keep a SIM card alive or just to add some credit abroad. There are few private online service providers like mobiletopup.co.uk or through Bitcoins Bitrefill that accept international cards and do it for a surcharge.
Sometimes, it's possible to buy scratch cards on eBay.co.uk. If you are EU-resident and don't mind to create a prepaid MasterCard to top-up another account, you can install the Revolut app to create a physical and/or virtual prepaid MasterCard and use it to recharge all UK SIM cards online. This card is confirmed to work as UK-issued. Also you can try to buy UK prepaid gift cards and use them for recharging. As all these procedures are troublesome, think them over, before you leave the UK.
For two weeks every December, American Express UK runs its Shop Small promotion, whereby a purchase of at least £10 at participating small merchants generates a £5 statement credit, once per registered Amex card per merchant per annum. Participating merchants include thousands of newsagents and convenience stores that sell mobile top-ups. By purchasing £10 top-up vouchers at multiple merchants with a UK-issued Amex card, your top-ups will be half price. This is a particularly cheap way of topping up on an annual basis if you maintain a UK SIM card in the long term. Although this top-up method is of limited practical benefit to non-UK residents, you can ask a UK-resident Amex customer to do this for you; they will be incentivised by Membership Rewards or airmiles.
SIM card validity Edit
The four network operators (Vodafone, EE, O2 and 3) and most MVNOs have an expiry policy of 6 months (or 180 days) since the last balance increase or decrease. It's usually sufficient to receive a call every 6 months, because this generates revenue, albeit small, for the network, but you can't rely on this as it's not official policy with most networks. Most networks also operate a grace period after expiry, during which they will reinstate an expired SIM card including credit if you contact them; Vodafone openly states that its grace period is 3 months.
The expiry policy is shorter with some MVNOs, but nevertheless any balance increase or decrease suffices. For example, Lycamobile is 90 days; Lebara is 84 days; Vectone and Delight are 120 days. Being a British company, Lycamobile applies its UK expiry policy in most of the countries in which it operates, which often gives an advantage over local networks' expiry policies.
If you want to keep your SIM alive for a future visit, remember that you may face problems topping up from abroad and compare validity periods in this guide.
EE (formerly Orange and T-Mobile)Edit
EE (originally called Everything Everywhere) was created in 2010 after the merger of Orange UK and T-Mobile UK to become the largest operator in the UK under the joint ownership of Orange and Telekom. BT (British Telecommunications plc) acquired EE in 2015/6. Some old devices show their network still as T-Mobile.
EE's 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G/UMTS on 2100 MHz with the best coverage in the UK at 98%. They were the first to start 4G/LTE on 1800 Mhz to be follwed by 800 and 2600 MHz too: EE coverage map. In 2017 they added 2100 MHz. They have the best 4G coverage reaching 95% of population in 2016. 4G+ or double speed LTE is available in about 20 major cities so far.
Most reviews agree that EE has the best network with the widest coverage and highet speeds in the country. In benchmark tests EE is frequently the top scorer in the UK. This comes at the highest prices on the market.
EE sells triple-size SIM cards with 4G/LTE included. They call them pack and they are sold for free offline in EE stores: (Store locator) or online to be sent to an UK postal address for free. They don't have any credit, but you can get starters with a first pack included for the price of the pack.
As you need an UK-issued credit card to top-up online, it's better to buy top-up vouchers available all over the country. To top-up by card, text ETU followed by the voucher PIN to 150. To check your balance, dial 150 or text BA or AL to 150.
If you don’t call, text or top-up for 180 days, you will be disconnected and you’ll lose any credit on your account.
Combo feature packsEdit
Their packs for voice, text and data SIMs all come with a combo of data, voice and text included valid for 30 days:
|£1 Data Pack (week)||100 MB||10 mins||10 SMS||£1||DP1|
|£10 Everything Pack||500 MB||150 mins||unlimited||£10||EP10|
|£10 Data Pack||1 GB||100 mins||1000 SMS||£10||DP10|
|£12.50 Everything Pack||1 GB||300 mins||unlimited||£12.50||EP12|
|£15 Everything Pack||2 GB||500 mins||unlimited||£15||EP15|
|£15 Data Pack #||4 GB||250 mins||unlimited||£15||DP15|
|£20 Everything Pack||3 GB||750 mins||unlimited||£20||EP20|
|£25 Everything Pack||4 GB||1000 mins||unlimited||£25||EP25|
To activate text code to 150, to stop or change packs, go online on your EE account. All packs auto-renew after 30 days, the £1 Data Pack after 7 days. Text 'STOP PACK' and 'YES' to 150 to disable auto-renew. # = the £15 Data Pack is only available to customers who have ordered the promotional data SIM online and existing customers cannot switch to this pack.
If you have used up any of your allowances, you can start a new pack early. Check if you have enough credit and then text 'NOW' to 150. They'll remove your current pack and replace it with a new one.
Still it might be a better idea to add extra data online as an add-on:
- 100 MB for 7 days: £1 - activation: 100 MB WEEK
- 500 MB for 7 days: £3 - activation: 500 MB WEEK
- 500 MB for 30 days: £5 - activation: 500 MB
- 1 GB for 30 days: £7.50 - activation: 1GB
- 3 GB for 30 days: £15 - activation: 3GB
These add-ons won't expire when the base package runs out, but can be used for the given period. For activation text code to 150.
Data-only SIM Edit
For data use only and SMS EE sells their '4GEE WiFi SIMs' as prepaid or PAYG offer too. It's a mobile broadband SIM without voice that can be used for tethering, hence the name 'WiFi SIM', not a WiFi pass. These starters are sold online or in their stores with preloaded data:
|2 GB||1 month||£15|
The total price for all of the validity must be paid in advance. For more data or months, one of these data add-ons all valid for one month can be activated online:
- 100 MB: £2
- 300 MB: £5
- 1 GB: £10
- 2 GB: £15
- 4 GB (on LTE+): £20
- 10 GB (on LTE+): £30
More info Edit
- Tethering and VoIP are allowed; peer-to-peer is not
- APN: everywhere
- Website: http://ee.co.uk/
VodafoneEditVodafone in the UK has a good coverage on 2G (900 and 1800 MHz) and 3G (900 and 2100 MHz) nationwide and is rolling out 4G/LTE on 800, 2100 and 2600 MHz now: Vodafone coverage map. It covers about 85% of population by LTE in 2016 making it the 2nd best LTE network in the country, but their 3G is behind O2's.
Their 4G/LTE network is now accessible for prepaid customers on all plans. In May 2017 Vodafone adopted Roam like home and all allowances can be used without surcharges for roaming in the EU/EEA.
Purchase a SIM card online to be sent to an UK postal adress or from any Vodafone store for free.
Recharge starting at £5 in their stores or many other kiosks or convenience stores throughout the country. Vodafone accepts PayPal for online top-ups. That's how you can bypass the UK bank card scheme. To check balance, enter *#1345# or dial 2345.
Vodafone has the longest validity of all network operators. They give you 180 days to show any activity plus an additional grace period of 90 days, before they'll shut you off.
This SIM needs to be activated by going online or calling 4354. Then you have to choose one of their Big Value Bundle schemes all valid for 30 days, which can be added by Data Freebees for more data.
Big Value BundlesEdit
These combo plans are offered for 30 days:
|£10||150 mins||unltd.||500 MB|
|£15||250 mins||unltd.||1 GB|
|£20||500 mins||unltd.||4 GB|
All allowances are valid in the UK and all EU/EEA countries for roaming.
Internet overuse in the UK is charged with £1 per day for 25 MB, up to a maximum of 125 MB per day, then charged at 4p per MB thereafter. Unused data rolls-over to the next month when it needs to be consumed.
Vodafone awards data allowances for top-ups. This means it's given out as a bonus and not debited from your top-up amount or allowance:
- £10 top-up: 500 MB reward
- £20 top-up: 1 GB reward
Data-only SIM cardEdit
You can convert your SIM to a data card too. Thus no calls or texts are possible anymore. These packs are sold valid for 30 days:
- £10: 1 GB
- £15: 3 GB
- £20: 10 GB
When used up, you can buy a new pack ahead of time
- APN: internet
- Website: http://www.vodafone.co.uk/
O2 UK by Spanish Telefónica has good coverage nationwide using 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz and has started 4G/LTE on 800 MHz only: O2 coverage map.. It has opened all of its prepaid products to 4G/LTE.
It covers about 60% of the population with 4G/LTE in 800 towns in 2016, but has an obligation to reach 97% by the end of 2017. As it only uses the 800 MHz band, it focuses rather on wide coverage than on high speeds. So it gives a rather mixed picture, its 2G for voice and 3G is rather good, while its 4G patchy and slow.
The SIM cards are for free ordered online to be sent to an UK postal address or bought at their stores and outlets all over the UK. Standard, micro SIMs and nano SIMs are all available online via the O2 website. However, if a nano SIM is needed then you can use online live-chat function to specify the required SIM type to the agent.
Cashcards for top-ups can be found all over the country in any O2 shop or anywhere where you see the green top-up logo. Then call 4444 free from your mobile, enter the number on your receipt and follow the instructions. Top-ups are between £10 and £50. To check balance press *#10#.
Your voucher will expire after 12 months. Validity of the SIM is 180 days from the last activity.
They offer three prepaid product lines with voice, text and data: Classic Pay as you go, Big Bundles and International. Take care that plans come with an horrendous default rate of £3 per MB (except Classic Pay as you go), but shut-off having reached £1 per day. So buy bundles or bolt-ons from the start.
- Classic Pay as you go: You need to top-up £10 or more per month to get the cheap default rate of 5p per MB or can add Bolt ons (for both see below)
- Big Bundles
You need to top-up and choose one of the combo bundles (shown below) for 30 days as base plan. This can be added by Bolt ons for extra data.
|£10||250 mins||1000 SMS||500 MB|
|£10||100 mins||100 SMS||1 GB|
|£15||750 mins||2000 SMS||2 GB|
|£20||1500 mins||4000 SMS||3 GB|
|£25||3000 mins||4000 SMS||5 GB|
|£30||3000 mins||4000 SMS||20 GB (10 GB in EU roaming)|
Activation is online on your account or by calling 2202. Take care that you surf outside of these bundles at an excessive default rate of £3 per MB.
They feature low IDD call rates. You will get free bonuses for top-ups of £10 or more and can add Bolt ons (for both see below):
- when you top up for £10 or more per month: 100 MB, 3000 O2 texts as bonus
- when you top up for £15 or more per month: 200 MB, 3000 O2 texts, 3000 O2 mins as bonus
To select or change plans go online or call 2202. For more data see bolt-ons.
These data add-ons for extra data can be added to all prepaid plans with voice and are valid for one month:
- 100 MB: £3
- 500 MB: £6
- 1 GB: £10
- 2 GB: £13
Bolt-ons don't auto-renew. Activation is online on your account or by calling 2202.
Data-only SIM (Tablet plans, iPad plans)Edit
O2 sells prepaid data-only SIMs with no voice that are called Tablet plans or iPad plans. They come in all three sizes and in 3 different starter packs:
- with 3 GB for 30 days: £16
- with 5 GB for 90 days: £25
- with 12 GB for 90 days: £48
For topping up these data SIMs the following top-ups are offered:
|300 MB||24 hours||£3|
|300 MB||30 days||£5|
|1 GB||30 days||£10|
|3 GB||30 days||£16|
|5 GB||30 days||£20|
|8 GB||30 days||£25|
|5 GB||90 days||£25|
|12 GB||12 months||£60|
You are allowed to change plans as often as you like. Data lasts for up to a day or month and renews automatically.
Possible on Android phones, but no official profile available for the iPhone.
- APN : payandgo.o2.co.uk
- User Name: payandgo
- Password : password
- Website: http://www.o2.co.uk/
3 (= Three) UKEdit
3 (Three) is the runner-up of all 4 UK providers. While it has the smallest market share, it gained many customers by the most agressive pricing. 3 is a 3G and 4G network-only with very limited voice/text fallback to EE 2G (at former Orange sites) in some low coverage areas.
3 coverage map. You need to have a 3G phone on 2100 MHz and for 4G a device that can carry 800 and 1800 MHz bands. 2G-only phones simply don't work on Three. Coverage can be worse in the countryside compared to the three other UK networks, unless you have a handset that supports Three's VoLTE. Coverage in urban areas can be better than prepaid with the other networks, because Three supports wifi calling on prepaid with many handsets (including iPhones), meaning that you get coverage in London Underground (Tube) stations for example.
Three launched 4G/LTE services in 2013. It covers about 60% of population with 4G in 2016, giving Three less coverage, but growing fast. Where you can find 3, it offers good speeds at quite low rates. In network tests, it frequently gets higher scores than O2 in spite of lacking 2G.
Three offers one of the most extensive coverages for roaming at domestic rates, not only in the EU but some other countries too, called 'feel at home' (see below).
Their SIM card is given out for free, either online or in their stores. It stays valid for 6 months without any activity. Take care, that they have different products which shoudn't be mixed:
- Pay-as-you-go SIMs for phones
- Mobile Broadband plans for tablets and modems
Pay as you go on ThreeEdit
This product is for smartphones only and doesn't include tethering. They sniff hotspot use by DPI and block it, if detected. For tablets and modems better choose the Mobile Broadband offer instead.
Free 150 MB with every top-up. Beyond very low 1p per MB (that's £10 per GB)
Data feature packsEdit
These daily or monthly add-ons are offered to the smartphone PAYG plans:
- internet daily pass: 120 MB for 24 hours: £0.50
- mobile internet pass: 500 MB for 30 days: £5
- all-in-one-10: 1 GB for 30 days at £10 (with 100 domestic mins and 3000 dom. texts)
- all-in-one-20: 12 GB for 30 days at £20 (with 300 domestic mins and 3000 dom. texts)
- all-in-one-25: all-you-can-eat data (1 TB FUP applies in the UK, 9 GB in roaming) for 30 days at £25 (with 500 domestic mins and 3000 dom. texts)
When data is used up, you are free to buy another pack without waiting until the end of the previously bought add-on pack. After data add-on is used up, charges revert to the £0.01 per MB default rate, if another add on is not bought.
Purchase from a Three store for £10 which includes £10 credit, also available online to be sent to an UK postal address.
Extra credit can be bought from anywhere displaying the green 'top up' logo. Vouchers are available for £10, £15, £20, £25, £30 and £50 and must be activated within 90 days of purchase online or by calling 444. Credit never expires on Three SIMs, but your SIM plan can be terminated, when there is no activity for more than 180 days.
Their Mobile Broadband prepaid SIM is a data-only SIM with text but no voice calls for tablets, modems or routers. You can use it in smartphones too, to circumvent their tethering restrictions (see below). They are often sold as ready-to-go kits with data volume pre-loaded:
- SIM card with 3 GB data valid for 3 months: £16
- SIM card with 12 GB data valid for 12 months: £30
You can top-up online on your My3account with these data packages:
- pay-per-day: 500 MB for up to midnight on the next night: £2.99
- 1 GB for a month: £10
- 3 GB for a month: £15
- 7 GB for a month: £25
Data Reward SIM Edit
In 2016 Three introduced their new "Data Reward SIM" to match the offer of FreedomPop (see below). It's aimed at tablet and modems, but contains voice and texts too. So there seem to be no restrictions where to use it whatsoever.
- SIM card with 1 GB valid for 30 days: £10
When registered, the "Data Reward SIM" gives 200 MB high-speed data every month for free. This volume doesn't roll over, but can be used on their "Feel at Home" (see below) roaming option too. The cycle depends on the day of activation. The "Data Reward SIM" can be added with these monthly bundles booked through your account:
- 2 GB: £15
- 5 GB: £20
- 10 GB (9 GB in roaming) : £25
All usage outside of these packages is at very low 1p per MB in the UK and 3.6-4.3p per MB in 'Feel at home countries'. You can register a maximum of 5 Data Reward SIM cards on your name.
Feel At Home option Edit
This roaming option is available to all Pay-as-you-go and Mobile Broadband SIMs of Three UK and is valid in Austria, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, New Zealand, Norway. Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and in the US (on both AT&T and T-Mobile networks!!). In 2016, they added 24 new destinations: Belgium, Bulgaria, Channel Islands (Jersey & Guernsey), Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Isle of Man, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. From June 2017 Singapore and Brazil are included too.
This option is enabled automatically when entering one of these countries above with a Three UK SIM on roaming and means that data is charged exactly the same like domestic data in the UK without roaming surcharges. More info about the pros and cons of their roaming offer in the European Union section of this Wiki at Euro3. Note, that Three doesn't offer 4G/LTE roaming so far.
Tethering is officially banned on any prepaid SIM card of Three. On their "Pay as you go" product, Three verifies if you use it on a smartphone by TTL detection; tablet and modem use is banned, as well as tethering to it. On their "Mobile Broadband" product, tethering is only officially banned, but not blocked. This means that you won't receive a profile to use it for tethering on an iPhone. Tethering from Android devices still works, on roaming too, no matter what Three sales reps. are telling you.
More info Edit
- APN: three.co.uk
- Website: http://www.three.co.uk/
Giffgaff is a wholly owned subsidiary of O2 UK, and operates as MVNO on O2 UK (for technical info check O2 above). 4G/LTE is provided at no additional cost.
Giffgaff SIM cards can be ordered in four ways. You will receive £5 free credit upon activation if you are introduced by an existing giffgaff member, and in some cases the introducing member also receives some free credit.
|Official order to UK address||Order||No||Delivery by 1st Class post usually within 2 to 3 days|
|Official order to UK address via an existing member||member 1||£5||You are introduced by any member of giffgaff and receive £5 free credit. The introducing member will also receive £5, but since June 2016 only for the first 15 referrals in a lifetime. The SIM is dispatched by giffgaff in the same way, not by the member, but giffgaff remembers that you were introduced by another member when you activate the SIM.|
|Official order to a non-UK address||Order||No||Giffgaff announced official delivery to non-UK addresses in November 2016. According to giffgaff, "your SIM will arrive within in 3-5 business days in Europe or from 5 business days for the rest of the world" [sic].|
|Unofficial order to a non-UK address||GG Sim Orders||£5||Some members can send a free SIM card (with the above £5 free credit deal) to a non-UK address so that you already have your SIM before you travel. In this case, the SIM is not dispatched by giffgaff, but by the member. The member uses some of his £5 credit to fund the international postage, and therefore makes a loss if you don't subsequently activate the SIM. This method might become unreliable following new limit of 15 referral credits of £5 in June 2016.|
To activate your SIM on their website, you ideally need a credit or debit card, otherwise you can credit your account with a top-up voucher from convenience stores, supermarkets and petrol stations. Since December 2016, giffgaff have officially supported non-UK credit and debit cards. Giffgaff or original O2 reload cards both work. As a last resort you can also buy top-up vouchers online at private facilitators like mobiletopup.co.uk for a surcharge.
Check your balance by dialling *100#.
Your SIM card stays valid for 6 months after any of these activities: an outgoing call (including to free 0800 numbers), SMS or MMS, at least 4 incoming calls (of >10 secs), a data connection, a top-up or receiving "payback" in early June or early December for introducing new members or posting in giffgaff's forums.
Data feature packsEdit
Default rate is 5p per MB. They offer two packages for data-only:
- £5: 500 MB for a month
- £7.50: 1 GB for a month
All these following bundles come with included calls, texts and a data volume, all valid for one month:
|£5||100 min||300||100 MB|
|£7.50||250 min||unlimited||500 MB|
|£10||500 min||unlimited||1 GB|
|£12||500 min||unlimited||2 GB|
|£15||1000 min||unlimited||4 GB|
|£18||2000 min||unlimited||6 GB|
(*) = all calls amongst giffgaff numbers are free.
(^) = first 6 GB each month at 4G speeds, then throttled at 256 kbps from 8am to midnight.
Check balance in packages by *100*7#. Packages must be activated online through your account.
Tethering is allowed on the bundle that has unlimited data included but is limited to 6 GB. It's allowed on the other bundles, and limited to the data plan of each particular bundle.
- APN: giffgaff.com
- Username: giffgaff
- Website: http://www.giffgaff.com
Virgin Mobile is a MVNO that operates on the EE network on 2G and 3G only (see above), no 4G/LTE so far.
Virgin mobile SIMs can be ordered online for free or in shops e.g. the Virgin megastores store locator. SIMs are also sent to hotel adresses in all three sizes.They stay valid for 180 days without any activity.
Default data rateEdit
The "starter tariff" has a data rate of £1 per 100 MB.
Data feature packsEdit
"Big data and texts" rewards (meaning doesn't debit) with:
- for a top up of £10: with 3000 texts and 1 GB of data
- for a top up of £15: with 3000 texts and 3 GB of data
Note: Reward texts and data are applied from the 1st of the calendar month following your top-up and last all month. So you can use it only in the following month of your top-up. Overuse rate is the default data rate (see above). To activate call 789 and press 3
Tethering (at least on Android phones) and VoIP are possible, but prohibited.
If you want to use the Virgin Mobile SIM in a 3G Wifi Router, be aware you'll need to call the company through the SIM you're about to use for data (to activate the Big Data Pack). This may cause problems since routers are not made to call someone. There is no other way to activate the option than calling Virgin through the SIM. You can't activate it via their website or SMS. In this case make sure you have an old phone available to activate the desired option. Virgin prohibits the use of their "Big data and texts" plan other than in smartphones.
- APN: goto.virginmobile.uk
- Website: http://store.virginmedia.com/virgin-media-mobile.html
Tesco MobileEditTesco Mobile is the MVNO of Britains leading retail chain operating on the O2 network. From 2014 Tesco Mobile has allowed all customers on the O2 4G/LTE network. From 2016 they now offer two different plans:
- Triple Credit and
- the new Rocket Packs.
Both tariff lines can't be mixed, but switched online or by calling customer support at 282. You will loose all credited allowances when changing plans.
You can top-up with e top-up cards or by voucher from any Tesco store available from £10 to £50. To top-up by voucher, call 4444 for free. Check balance by calling 282.
You need to use your SIM every 180 days to keep it alive.
Triple Credit planEdit
On the Triple Credit tariff you get free credit when you top-up. For a £10 top-up you get £30 credit, for £15 £45 and for £20 £60 worth of credit. Furthermore, you can book data-only packages from your main credit.
Default rate is £ 0.10 per MB. They offer these monthly packs for Triple Credit plans valid for 30 days:
|Data Volume||Price||Activation Code|
For activation, text code to 28948. Overuse is charged at the default rate (see above), all packages auto-renew after 30 days, to stop them from doing so, text STOPDATA to 28948. To check balance in packages, text BALANCE to 2112.
There are severe restrictions for the bonus credit given out for Triple Credit you should be aware of
- only the 1st top-up per month will be awarded triple credit
- you can't book data bundles for the bonus credit, only for the original credit. Data will be only on their default rate of £ 0.10 per MB for the bonus
- the bonus credit is only valid for 1 month, while general credit stays valid for 6 months
- if you top-up £15 or more in one go, you can choose a free 500 MB bonus pack
Rocket Packs Edit
Their new combo package plan has been introduced in 2016. This is a different plan or tariff line that can't be mixed with Triple Credit. You can only book these combo packages for 30 days:
|£5||100 mins||100 SMS||100 MB||ROCKET5|
|£7.50||250 mins||500 SMS||250 MB||ROCKET750|
|£10||500 mins||5000 SMS||500 MB||ROCKET10|
|£12.50||500 mins||5000 SMS||1 GB||ROCKET1250|
|£15||1000 mins||5000 SMS||2 GB||ROCKET15|
|£20||2000 mins||5000 SMS||4 GB||ROCKET20|
All call and text allowances are domestic except for the EU roaming promotion (see below). For activation go online or text code to 28948. All packs can be renewed ahead of time. Overuse fee is £0.10 per MB, but no data-only pack can be added. To check balance in packages, text BALANCE to 2112.
- Tethering is allowed
- T&Cs don't allow P2P, VoIP, continous streaming and tethering
- APN: prepay.tesco-mobile.com
- Username: tescowap
- Password: password
- Website: http://www.tescomobile.com/
ASDA Mobile Edit
ASDA Mobile is the MVNO of Tesco's biggest rival as retailer called ASDA. It used to operate on the Vodafone network. In 2014 they migrated to the EE network (see EE above). Compared with Tesco, it has the better coverage on 3G, but lacks 4G/LTE in the cities so far. For spring 2017 4G/LTE access has been announced for ASDA mobile due to a new wholesale agreement with EE.
You can top up at any ASDA store or anywhere you see their logo with a top-up voucher. To check your balance, text 'BAL' to 2732.
ASDA Mobile has the longest validity of any MVNO in Britain. You will need to use it within 270 days, but it can be revived by a top-up for up to a year.
Combo and Data BundlesEdit
Default data rate ouside of bundles is 5p per MB. These bundles can be added:
|£5||100 mins||2000 SMS||100 MB||5 to 2732|
|£7.5||300 mins||Unlimited||500 MB||7 to 2732|
|£10||600 mins||Unlimited||1.5 GB||10 to 2732|
|£15||1000 mins||Unlimited||3 GB||15 to 2732|
|£20||Unlimited||Unlimited||6 GB||20 to 2732|
|£5||-----------||-----------||500 MB||Data 5 to 2732|
|£7.5||-----------||-----------||1 GB||Data 7.50 to 2732|
|£12.5||-----------||-----------||2 GB||Data 12.50 to 2732|
|£15||-----------||-----------||4 GB||Data 15 to 2732|
All packages are valid for one month and will auto-renew after 30 days. To stop, text "STOP AUTO" to 2732. Overuse and out of bundle fee is at the default rate (see above).
- Tethering is allowed
- APN: everywhere
- Website: http://mobile.asda.com
Lebara mobile is one of UK's leading ethno market providers operating on the Vodafone network (see above) on 2G and 3G only, no 4G/LTE.
They give 50% free credit with your first top-up. Online you may use PayPal for top-ups starting at £5. Offline you can buy scratch cards. To top-up by voucher, enter *#1345*<voucher code>#. To check your balance, type *#1345#.
Lebara has very rigid deactivation rules. Without having used it for 84 days, it will be switched off and your credit and number will be lost.
Default Data RateEdit
15p per MB is charged, if no data bundle is booked or all data are used up.
Data feature packsEdit
Their data packages are valid for 30 days. For activation text code to 38885:
- 500 MB: £5, activation: 'WEB500'
- 1 GB: £7.50, activation: 'WEB1GB'
- 2 GB: £10, activation: 'WEB2GB'
- 3 GB: £12.50, activation: 'WEB3GB'
You may only have one data pass active at any time. If you consume all of your data allowance, you will be charged the default rate or can buy an add-on. Data passes auto-renew on expiry. If you don’t have sufficient credit, Lebara will try to auto-renew for seven days or until you cancel auto-renewal. To cancel auto-renew text WEB<size>*STOP to 38885 or opt out via your MyLebara account.
Lebara offers so-called "bolt ons" for extra data when the original package is used up:
- 200 MB: £3, activation: 'B200'
- 500 MB: £5, activation: 'B500'
- 1 GB: £7.50, activation: '1GB'
For activation text code to 38885. Be aware, that the bolt-ons are only valid for the rest of running time of the original package.
More infomation Edit
- Tethering is banned
- APN: uk.lebara.mobi
- Username and password: wap
- Website: http://www.lebara.co.uk/
LycamobileEditLycamobile is the main competitor of Lebara on the ethno market. In the UK it's a MVNO on the O2 UK network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE.
There and in many other stores, you'll find their top-up vouchers. To top-up by voucher, enter *131*<voucher PIN>#. Check balance by *131#.
Credit expires after 90 days and your SIM card will be suspended after 120 days only without a recharge.
Default Data RateEdit
9p per MB charged, if no data bundle is booked or used up
Data feature packs Edit
These packages are all valid for 30 days:
- 500 MB: £5, activation:*139*5001#
- 1 GB: £7.50, activation: *139*7001#
- 2 GB: £10, activation: *139*1001#
- 3 GB: £12.50, activation: *139*1201#
- 6 GB: £25, activation: *139*2501#
Lycamobile will automatically renew your bundle once it expires. Charge for the bundle will be deducted from your main balance at the time of auto-renewal of the bundle. To cancel the auto renewal dial *190# before the expiry date and follow the instructions or call customer service for free on 353 before the expiry date. For more data, these bolt-ons are offered, valid for the running time of the base package:
- 200 MB: £3, activation: *139*601#
- 500 MB: £5, activation: *139*602#
- 1 GB: £7.50, activation: *139*603#
- 3 GB: £12, activation: *139*604#
- 5 GB: £20, activation: *139*605#
More info Edit
- Tethering / mobile hotspot use is banned and blocked
- APN: data.lycamobile.co.uk
- Username: lmuk (that's lowcase L, not capital I)
- Password: plus
- Website: http://www.lycamobile.co.uk/
Vectone Mobile is a MVNO using the EE network on 2G and 3G only, no 4G/LTE so far (see above).
Their SIM can be purchased online or in many supermarkets, petrol stations and kiosks throughout the UK. Mini and micro SIMs are free, but nano SIMs need to be ordered online for £1.
Top-ups are in shops like Tesco and Sainsbury's, petrol stations like Esso and BP, post offices, Payzone and Epay using multifunction voucher. Topping up online, you can use Paysafecards that are sold in many countries. Only online you get data bonuses for recharges: top-up £5 - 1 GB for 7 days, top-up £10 - 3 GB for 15 days and top-up £20 - 10 GB for 30 days.
Check balance by *102#. Credit stays valid for 90 days and the SIM card will be suspended after not having used it for 120 days.
Default data rateEdit
- 9p per MB. A minimum balance of 50p is required to use data.
Data feature packsEdit
|£1||125 MB||24 hours||*125#|
|£3||250 MB||7 days||*250#|
|£5||500 MB||30 days||*500#|
Data pack will be auto-renewed once the validity expires. To opt out, call customer service enter *1122#. Overuse is charged by the default rate. Check allowances in packages by *1252#.
- APN: webuk.mundio.com
- data can't be used with Blackberry phones and tethering is banned
- there are lot of complaints on the internet about Vectone's poor customer service
- Website: http://www.vectonemobile.co.uk/
Delight Mobile Edit
Another very similiar MVNO from the same group is Delight Mobile operating on EE's good network in 2G and 3G only, no 4G/LTE.
You can get a Delight Mobile SIM card by ordering a starter pack online or from the many shops showing the Delight Mobile sign. The starter pack is free, but you will need to top-up to start making calls.
To top-up online you may try Paysafecards from abroad. Top-up vouchers can be bought in the UK at Esso or Total petrol stations, Sainsbury's and Spar, supermarkets, Costcutter, WHSmith, PCWorld, Dixons, Wilkinson. To top-up by voucher, enter *191*<voucher PIN>#. Check balance by *192#.
Data feature packs Edit
Standard rate outside of packs is a very low 1p per MB. These monthly packs are available:
To check the remaining bundle units in your internet bundle, dial *1102#. All packages auto-renew, to unsubscribe dial *1103#. If you exceed your units limit, you'll pay default rates. You can renew your bundle only after the end of your bundle validity period.
More information Edit
- APN: webuk.mundio.com
- Website: http://www.delightmobile.co.uk
Talkmobile operates on the Vodafone network in 2G and 3G, but not 4G/LTE. They started as the PAYG brand of Carphone Warehouse, but have been adopted by Vodafone as a subsidiary and are sold independently, mostly online.
Their PAYG SIM card is available for free when ordered online to be sent to an UK postal address. In a few shops like independent phone stores, on eBay.co.uk or in Argos outlets, you can find their starter for £1 without credit. It comes as triple cut SIM in all three formats.
You can top-up with vouchers sold everywhere where you can spot the UK green top-up sign (see Basics). Online top-ups require a UK credit card, but Talkmobile offers PayPal as a payment system that seems not to be restricted to UK users. Minimum top-up is £5. Credit and SIM last for 180 days without activity. Check balance by *#1345#.
PAYG plans Edit
Talkmobile offers two different tariff plans: Happy Hour and Pay As You Go Rewards. On Happy Hour which is their default plan, data stays on a default rate of 2p per MB forever. On Pay As You go Rewards data is charged at 25p per day up to 25 MB and 10p per MB thereafter. No bundles are offered for prepaid.
More info Edit
- Tethering is allowed
- APN (for prepaid): payg.talkmobile.co.uk
- Website: http://talkmobile.co.uk
iD Mobile Edit
iD Mobile is a MVNO using the Three network in 3G and 4G/LTE (for specifics see Three above). It's owned by Carphone Warehouse and was launched in 2015. First, they only sold contracts, but in 2016 PAYG was added and their SIM cards finally offered in Carphone Warehouse branches. Their rates are very similar to Three's.
An iD Mobile PAYG SIM can be bought through their website or over the phone using a UK-issued debit or credit card or you can go to any Carphone Warehouse store in the UK (locator). Their SIM is free for the price of the first included package. If you don't select a bundle, you'll need to top-up at least £5 for a start.
Top-ups can be made online on your account using a UK credit/debit card. If you don't have one, you need to top-up at any Carphone Warehouse branch starting from £5. This seems to be a major disadvantage to Three which has many more top-up locations in the country. Furthermore, iD mobile's top-ups are only valid for 90 days and the SIM card will be discountinued after 365 days of inactivity.
Default rate Edit
Their data PAYG rate outside of packages is a low 1p per MB. A rate that is only matched by Three right now.
Combo plans Edit
For bundles iD mobile only offers 3 combo plans with data, minutes and SMS for a month:
- £5: 100 MB, 125 mins, 500 SMS
- £10: 1 GB, 500 mins, unlimited SMS
- £15: 4 GB, 1000 mins, unlimited SMS
For overuse, their default rate applies. You can make the bundles once-off or recurring in your account.
More info Edit
- Tethering / mobile hotspot use is banned
- APN: id
- Website: http://www.idmobile.co.uk/
FreedomPop is a new US-based MVNO which started in 2015 on the Three network in 3G only (for coverage see Three). The UK was their first commercial launch outside of the US with their new business model called Freemium. They give out a small amount of data, calls and texts for free in hope that you buy more allowances later. FreedomPop plans to bring its service to other countries within the next years.
Their SIM card can only be ordered online to be delivered to an UK postal address only. There are plans to sell it in stores, but they have not turned up yet. This makes it inconvenient for travellers, but as an exception we list online-only operators when they give out data for free. The SIM card however is sold for a price: £6.99 for start-up and UK delivery.
They started commercial operations in the UK in September 2015 and need to work on their 250,000 customers on the waiting list. So you can also expect some waiting time.
Every SIM card is linked to a credit or debit card for payment and top-ups. Non-UK issued cards are accepted.
Free allowances Edit
In every month 200 MB data, 200 domestic SMS and 200 domestic minutes are given out for free. Data overuse is charged at 1.5p per MB on the free plan. You can also earn more free data by taking part in third-party offers like filling in a survey or downloading a coupon.
Combo packages for pay Edit
These additional monthly bundles can be added:
- £8.99: 1 GB data, 1000 SMS, 1000 minutes
- £11.99: 2 GB data, unlimited texts and minutes
Extra data as overuse for pay plans is 1p per MB, instead of the 1.5p/MB on the free plan.
You can roll over unused data to the next month for £1.49 per month. A maximum of 500 MB can be rolled over and a maximum of 20 GB can be stored.
Beware of a few catches. You should immediately turn off "auto top-up" on your online account, which is turned on by default. Here is why:
- They will automatically top-up your account by £10 of credit when you’re within 100 MB of your download allowance. This means you’re only able to use 100 MB without paying anything extra using auto top-up.
- As payment details are held on record and used automatically for when you incur additional charges, it’s very easy to accidentally run up a bill by surprise. If you’d like to receive a notification when your allowances have been used up, they charge an extra 99p per month for this service.
All calls are routed via VoIP. This means that you need to have a stable and pretty fast data connection to make calls. This is a service, that Three is not always renowned of and beta testers have been critical of the sound quality. For classical voice telephony you'll pay another £1.49 per month for their "premium voice add-on".
More info Edit
- APN: three.co.uk
- Website: http://uk.freedompop.com
CTExcel is the brand name used by China Telecom for its MVNOs operating outside China. Unlike Chinese SIM cards, there is no censorship on this SIM. While they target Chinese in particular, anyone can sign up for a CTExcel SIM. In the UK, they use the EE network.
As a rarity among EE MVNOs, they allow to use the 4G/LTE network too for a one-time surcharge.
Their primary way of distributing SIMs is by mail; they can be ordered online to be sent to any UK postal address with an initial top-up required. If you choose to purchase a SIM in this manner, you will receive an e-mailed activation code that you must type into the CTExcel website to activate the SIM once it has arrived.
They also have a network of sales partners that sell their SIMs (list of outlets). Note that some partners also carry their "Europe SIM", which is their product intended for EU roamers; prices are not particularly good for that product, so it won't be mentioned further. They are primarily Chinese supermarkets and travel agencies, with the exception of SIMLocal at Heathrow Terminal 3 Arrivals.
Top-ups can be done at any PayPoint or Payzone-supporting merchant while in the UK, as well as online with any international (not only UK-issued) Visa/Mastercard or PayPal from inside or outside of the UK.
CTExcel operates a 90-day expiry policy. If you don't use your SIM (topping up the SIM doesn't count) for 90 days, it will expire. As it roams in most countries, a roaming SMS at least every 90 days is recommended to keep it active. Alternatively, they offer a keep alive service at £1 per month
They will charge a one-time £2 fee for an LTE-capable SIM, or to upgrade a previous 3G SIM to an LTE SIM. All bundles ordered on that SIM will have LTE as long as the SIM remains valid. The free SIM option does not include LTE.
Data feature packages Edit
Default data rate is 5p per MB. They have three types of bundles, depending on what you need. All stand-alone bundles are valid for 30 days, while add-ons are valid until the end of the base bundle.
- Super Value combo
- £7.50: 300 UK minutes, unlimited text, 400 MB data, text UN75 to 888 to activate
- £11.90: 500 UK minutes, unlimited text, 2 GB data, text UN119 to 888 to activate
- £20: unlimited talk/text and 3 GB data, text UN20 to 888 to activate
- Call-Home combo
- £16.90: 1200 Greater China minutes, 1000 European minutes, unlimited text, 3 GB data, text UN169 to 888 to activate. Greater China is defined as mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
- Data-only pack
- £5: 600 MB data, text DA5 to 888 to activate
- £10: 3 GB data, text DA10 to 888 to activate
These add-ons can be applied to an existing bundle for extra data; they can't be purchased on their own:
- £5: 600 MB data, text AO5 to 888 to activate (only letter O)
- £8: 1024 MB data text AO10 to 888 to activate (first letter O, then number 0)
More infomation Edit
- APN: tslpaygnet
- Website: http://www.ctexcel.com
Discontinued offers Edit
Mobile by Sainsbury's Edit
The supermarket chain Sainsbury's suspended the Mobile by Sainsbury's service in January 2016.
Post Office Mobile Edit
The UK Post Office closed down a shortlived attempt to build a UK mobile phone network service as its offering was unable to compete in the crowded British mobile telecoms market.