The UK has 4 network operators:
- EE (for Everything Everywhere)
- O2 (by Telefónica)
- 3 (= Three by Hutchison)
About 50 MVNOs operate on EE, Vodafone and O2. 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 been started in 2013 on all networks. Frequencies on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz bands were granted. 4G is offered by all networks on prepaid now, but only on some MVNOs. In 2015 EE has the best 4G/LTE coverage at about 80% of population, while Vodafone, O2 and 3 have all around 50% coverage.
Prepaid is often called "pay as you go (PAYG)" in the UK. The list starts with the network providers according to size followed by the most significant MVNOs on the market.
Nearly all networks have an expiry policy of six months since the last balance increase or decrease. Although this is official policy, it is usually sufficient to receive a call every six months because this generates revenue, albeit small, for the network. The most notable exception is Lycamobile which operates a 90-day expiry policy since the last balance increase or decrease in all of the markets in which it operates. For visitors, the easiest way to maintain validity while outside the UK, in order to keep both credit and the mobile number for future visits to the UK, is to send a roaming SMS every 6 months.
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 whitelisting 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 (takes 1 minute). For this you may need to provide some form of ID to prove your age, when you look young.
Topping up your SIM online in many cases requires a UK-issued credit or debit card, but this is variable, even from one card to another with the same network. There are some private service providers on the net like mobiletopup.co.uk or Top Up UK who accept international cards and do it for a surcharge. Mobiletopup charges a flat per-order surcharge, no matter how many vouchers you buy. If you don't have a UK credit or debit card, you need to buy top-up vouchers which are widely available in shops throughout the UK, but refills from abroad not having one of these is tricky. Topping up via cash machines (ATMs) is also widely accepted but again you may only do this if you have a UK-based credit or debit card.
EE (formerly 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 (formerly France Télécom) and Deutsche Telekom. BT announced in February 2015 that it had agreed to acquire EE, subject to regulatory approval expected by March 2016. EE's 2G is on 1800MHz, UMTS on 2100MHz and they were the first to start 4G/LTE on 1800Mhz and later on 800 and 2600MHz in 2013: EE coverage map. They cover about 80% of population with 4G in 2015.
EE now only sells SIM cards with 4G/LTE included with no surcharge. Their prepaid SIM is called "4GEE" including 4G/LTE. 4G+ is "double speed" LTE with average download rates of 24-30 Mbps instead of 12-15 Mbps.
Data feature packsEdit
Their new packs all come with data, domestic voice and text included:
|Price||Data||Dom. Voice||Dom. text||Time||Activation|
|1 GBP||100 MB||10 mins||10||7 days||DP1|
|10 GBP||1 GB||50 mins||50||30 days||DP10|
|10 GBP||500 MB||150 mins||unltd.||30 days||EP10|
|15 GBP||2 GB||500 mins||unltd.||30 days||EP15|
|25 GBP||4 GB||1000 mins||unltd.||30 days||EP25|
To activate, go online on your EE account, use the EE app or text code to 14. 4G+ is double 4G speed through carrier aggregation topped at 24-30 Mbps. No data outside these packs.
- Offline in EE stores: Store locator, sold for free
- SIM card can be purchased online to be sent to an UK postal address for free too
Both combi micro/regular and nano SIMs.
- VoIP is allowed
- APN: everywhere
- T&Cs and further rates: EE
T-Mobile and Orange Edit
T-Mobile UK and Orange UK were merged to EE (see above) in 2010. Existing prepaid customers can still use 2G/3G of EE network, but not 4G/LTE.
Effective of Feb. 2015 EE has discountinued all new plans for T-Mobile and Orange through direct sales at EE stores, from March 2015 through indirect channels. Existing customers have grandfathering and can stay on the old brands.
You might still get old starter packs on Ebay or other platforms for a while. But officially, they have been withdrawn from the market. So we don't list them anymore.
- last T-Mobile prepaid price list, still valid only for existing customers: online in PDF
- last Orange prepaid price list, still valid only for existing customers: online in PDF
- APN for Orange: orangeinternet
- APN for T-Mobile: general.t-mobile.uk
VodafoneEditVodafone UK has a good coverage on 2G and 3G nationwide, and are rolling out 4G/LTE on 800 and 2600 MHz now: Vodafone coverage map. They cover about 50% of population by LTE in 2015.
Their 4G/LTE network is now accessible for prepaid customers on the new Freedom Freebee packs (GBP 20 and up) as listed below. When spending GBP 30 and up, they also come with Spotify Premium or Sky Sports (Music/Sport Streaming) for the full 30 days included free.
You can purchase a SIM card online or from any Vodafone store for free. You can recharge it at their stores or many other kiosks or convenience stores throughout the country. This SIM needs to be activated by gonig online or calling 4354. Then you have to choose one of their Big Value Bundle schemes all valid for one month, which can be added by Data Freebies for more data
Big Value BundlesEdit
|price||dom. calls||dom. texts||data||speed|
|GBP 10||150 min||unltd||500 MB||3G|
|GBP 20||500 min||unltd||2 GB||4G|
|GBP 30||unltd||unltd||4 GB||4G|
|GBP 40||unltd||unltd||6 GB||4G|
- Internet overuse 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.
- An extra data add-on is offered for another 250 MB for 5 GBP by calling 34441
- Spotify/Sky Sports are included from GBP 30 and up for free, lasting the 30 days alongside the minutes, texts, and data included.
- a £10 top up gives you 500 MB data "reward" thus not debited on the top up
- a £20 top up gives you 1 GB data reward
- overuse is charged like on Freedom Freebee (see above)
- extra data add-on like Freedom Freebee (see above)
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 and are all on 4G/LTE too:
- £10 data pack for 1 GB in 30 days
- £16 data pack for 3 GB in 30 days
- £21 data pack for 6 GB in 30 days
- £28 data pack for 8 GB in 30 days
When used up, you can buy a new pack ahead of time
Standard SIMs are freely available and can easily be trimmed down with scissors to fit the iPhone.
- APN: internet
- further infos: Vodafone
O2 UK has good coverage nationwide using 2G GSM on 900 and 1800 Mhz, 3G UMTS on 2100 Mhz and has started LTE on 800 Mhz. O2 coverage map.. It has opened some of its prepaid products to 4G/LTE with a surcharge. It covers about 45% of the population with 4G/LTE in 2014. This gives a great variety of prepaid products on offer.
The SIM cards are for free ordered online or bought at their stores. Cashcards for top-ups can be found all over the country.
3G Data SIMEdit
It's called 3G iPad or Tablet SIM and is data-only on 2G and 3G:
- GBP 2 for a daily (= 24 hrs) rate and 200 MB
- GBP 10 for monthly 1 GB
- GBP 13 for monthly 2 GB
4G Data SIMEdit
It's called 4G iPad or Tablet SIM and is data-only on 2G, 3G or 4G
- GBP 15 for monthly 3 GB
- GBP 25 for monthly 5 GB
Pay & Go bundlesEdit
These monthly bundles with data, domestic text and voice are available:
- £10: 500 MB up to 3G speed, 500 dom. texts and 100 dom. mins
- £15: 1 GB up to 4G speed, 2000 dom. text and 200 dom. mins
- £20: 2 GB up to 4G speed, 4000 dom. text and 400 dom. mins
You can upsize data by "bolt-ons": 100 MB for GBP 3, 500 MB for GBP 6 and 1 GB for GBP 10 by calling 2202 or online on your account. Be aware that outside of the bundles you surf on a ridiculous default rate of GBP3/MB!
Standard, Micro SIMs and Nano SIMs are all available online via 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.
Possible on Android phones, but no official profile available for the iPhone.
- APN : payandgo.o2.co.uk
- User Name: payandgo
- Password : password
3 (= Three) UKEdit
3 (Three) has the smallest network of all operators in the UK but the most agressive pricing. Three is a 3G and 4G network only with only a voice/text fallback to Orange 2G in low coverage areas. The text and call coverage can be much worse in the countryside compared to the three big ones.
3 coverage map You need to have a 3G UMTS phone on 2100 Mhz and for 4G a device which can transmit on 800 and 1800 Mhz. 2G phones don't work on Three.
Three has launched 4G services in late 2013 charging the same for 4G as it does for 3G, unlike the other three primary networks which all surcharge for 4G. It covers about 48% of population with 4G by the end of 2014.
The SIM card is given out for free. They have different products for phones and computers.
Pay as you go on ThreeEdit
This product is for smartphones only and does not include tethering. It will be blocked if detected. For tablets and modems see the Mobile Broadband offer.
1p per MB
Data feature packsEdit
- daily rate: 120MB valid for 1 day for £0.5
- monthly rate: 500MB valid for 30 days for £5
- free internet with every top up: 150 MB are added
- all-you-can-eat data (no limit or fair use policy applies) in 30 days for £15 (with 300 mins and 3000 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 £0.30 per MB if another add on is not bought.
Purchase from a Three store for £10 which includes £10 credit, also available online. 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 doesn't expire on Three SIMs.
Their Mobile Broadband pay-as-you-go SIM is a data-only SIM with text but no voice calls for tablets, modems or routers. They are often sold as ready-to-go kits with data volume preloaded:
- SIM card with 1 GB data valid for 1 month: £10.49
- SIM card with 3 GB data valid for 3 months: £20.49
- SIM card with 12 GB data valid for 12 months: £70.49
You can top up online on your My3account with these data packages:
- daily rate: pay-per-day: 500 MB until midnight GMT on the following day: £2.99
- 1 GB in a month: £10
- 3 GB in a month: £15
- 7 GB in a month: £25
"Feel At Home" Option Edit
This roaming option is available to all pay-as-you-go 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!!). It is enabled automatically when entering one of these countries above with a Three UK SIM on roaming and means that data is charged the same like in the UK with no roaming surcharges at all. More info in the European Union section of this WIKI at Euro3.
Tethering is officially not allowed 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 will not receive a profile to use it for tethering on an iPhone. Tethering from Android devices still works, on roaming too, verified 26/4/15, no matter what Three sales reps. are telling you.
As Three sells a combination of a Huawei E5330 Mobile WiFi (MiFI) with a preloaded 3GB/3 months SIM (http://store.three.co.uk/view/plan/MBBD02072014T090233) use in a MiFi seems to be permitted.
- SIM sizes; mini SIMs as standard. micro and nano SIMs may be available on request
- APN: three.co.uk
- Three price list: 3
Giffgaff is a wholly owned subsidiary of Telefónica, who also own O2, and operates as MVNO on O2 UK (for technical info see O2). 4G/LTE is available for a higher monthly price, but once 4G/LTE is activated by buying a 4G goodybag, it remains active on the SIM card until a 3G goodybag is purchased.
GiffGaff SIMs can be ordered online to a UK address for free with delivery by 1st Class post usually within 2 to 3 days. Or you can be introduced by any member of giffgaff and get £5 free credit on activation. The member him/herself also receives 500 points worth £5 of balance on activation of the new SIM. The SIM is despatched 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. If you would like to be introduced by an existing member with UK delivery, here are some member links to choose from:
There are also a couple of members who can send a free SIM card (with the above £5 free credit deal) to an address outside the UK so that you already have your SIM before you travel. In this case, the SIM is not despatched by giffgaff but by the member. The member uses some of the £5 free credit to fund the international postage, and therefore makes a loss if you do not subsequently activate the SIM. Here are the links for the order pages:
To activate your SIM on their website, you need a UK-issued credit card or will need to credit your account with a top-up voucher. You can buy credit from many UK convenience stores and almost all supermarkets and fuel stations (ask for giffgaff or O2 cards) and can also buy top up vouchers online at private facilitators like mobiletopup.co.uk or Top Up UK for a surcharge. Mobiletopup charges a flat per-order surcharge, no matter how many vouchers you buy.
- 20p for the first 20 MB, then 20p / MB for further usage that day.
Data feature packsEdit
- £5 for 500 MB per month
- £7.50 for 1 GB per month
These data-only packages are on 3G only, overuse is charged at 2p per MB
Combined bundles ("goodybags")Edit
All these bundles come with included UK calls, texts and a data volume in up to 3G or 4G/LTE:
|Price||UK calls*||UK texts||Data||max. Speed|
|£5||100 min||300||100 MB||3G|
|£7.50||250 min||unlimited||500 MB||3G|
|£10||500 min||unlimited||1 GB||3G|
|£12||500 min||unlimited||1 GB||4G|
|£12||500 min||unlimited||3 GB||3G|
|£15||500 min||unlimited||3 GB||4G|
|£15||500 min||unlimited||5 GB||3G|
|£18||500 min||unlimited||5 GB||4G|
- All bundles are valid for one month.
- (*) = Calls amongst giffgaff numbers are free.
- No "fair use policy" applies meaning unlimited data are really unlimited.
Giffgaff now issues trio-SIMs, i.e. a mini-SIM, micro-SIM and nano-SIM all in one.
Tethering is not allowed on the bundle that has unlimited data included but is allowed on the other bundles.
- APN: giffgaff.com
- Username: giffgaff
- Password: [blank]
Email email@example.com for enquiries and further information.
ASDA MobileEditASDA Mobile is a MVNO which used to operate on the Vodafone network. In April 2014 they have migrated to the EE net (see above, no 4G/LTE on ASDA mobile).
|price||UK calls||domestic texts||data||activation SMS|
|GBP 5||100 min||2000 SMS||100 MB||5 to 2732|
|GBP 10||250 min||2000 SMS||250 MB||10 to 2732|
|GBP 15||500 min||2000 SMS||500 MB||15 to 2732|
|GBP 20||1000 min||2000 SMS||1 GB||20 to 2732|
|GBP 5||-----------||--------------||500 MB||DATA to 2732|
All packages are valid for one month.
Overuse and out of bundle fees are: 8p per min for domestic calls, 4p per SMS for domestic texts and 5p per MB for data.
Stock standard SIMs.
- APN: everywhere
Virgin Mobile is a MVNO that operates on the EE network on 2G and 3G only (see above)
Default data rateEdit
The "starter tariff" has a data rate of GBP 1 per 100 MB
Data feature packsEdit
"Big data and texts" rewards (meaning doesn't debit) you with
- for a top up of GBP 10 with 3000 texts and 1 GB of data
- for a top up of GBP 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
Stock standard SIMs & Micro SIM
Tethering (at least on Android phones) and VoIP possible
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 (duh!) Furthermore, if your 3G Router needs another SIM format than your phone, you might also encounter problems to activate the tariff.
There is no other way to activate the option than calling Virgin through the SIM. You cannot activate it via their website or SMS. In this case make sure you have an old phone available to activate the desired option.
- APN: goto.virginmobile.uk
Tesco MobileEditTesco Mobile is the MVNO of Britains leading cash'n'carry supermarket chain operating on the O2 network. From 2014 Tesco Mobile allows all customers on the O2 4G/LTE network for free.
Default Data RateEdit
10p per MB
Data feature packsEdit
- 500 MB in 30 days for GBP 5, activation: text 500MB to 28948
- 1 GB in 30 days for GBP 7.50, activation: text 1GB to 28948
- 2 GB in 30 days for GBP 10, activation: text 2GB to 28948
- 3 GB in 30 days for GBP 12.50, activation: text 3GB to 28948
- 4 GB in 30 days for GBP 15, activation: text 4GB to 28948
- 6 GB in 30 days for GBP 17.50, activation: text 6GB to 28948
- 8 GB in 30 days for GBP 20, activation: text 8GB 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.
The T&C don't allow P2P, VoIP, continuos streaming and tethering
APN: prepay.tesco-mobile.com Username: tescowap Password: password
Lebara mobileEditLebara mobile is Britains leading ethno market provider operating on the Vodafone network (see above) on 2G and 3G only.
Default Data RateEdit
15p per MB charged if no data bundle is booked or used up
Data feature packsEdit
- 500 MB in 30 days for GBP 5, activation: text WEB500 to 38885
- 1 GB in 30 days for GBP 7.50, activation: text WEB1GB to 38885
- 2 GB in 30 days for GBP 10, activation: text WEB2GB to 38885
- 3 GB in 30 days for GBP 12.50, activation: text WEB3GB to 38885
You may only have 1 Data Pass active at any time. If you consume all of your Data Pass allowance, you will be charged the default rate. Data Passes auto-renew on expiry. If you don’t have sufficient credit, Lebara will try to auto-renew for 7 days or until you cancel auto-renewal. To cancel auto renew text WEB500*STOP or WEB1GB*STOP to 65088 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: GBP 3, activation: text B200 to 38885
- 500 MB: GBP 5, activation: text B500 to 38885
- 1 GB: GBP 7.50, activation: text 1GB to 38885
Be aware, that the bolt-ons are only valid for the rest of running time of the original package.
- APN: uk.lebara.mobi Username: wap Password: wap
- Lebara mobile UK SIMs are distributed abroad by Travelers Mobile
LycamobileEditLycamobile is the main competitor of Lebara on the ethno market. It is a MVNO on the O2 UK network in 2G and 3G and one plan on 4G/LTE too. The SIM is sold online or offline at stores for free.
Default Data RateEdit
9p per MB charged if no data bundle is booked or used up
Data feature packs (2G/3G)Edit
- 500 MB in 30 days for GBP 5, activation: text 5001 to 3535
- 1 GB in 30 days for GBP 7.50, activation: text 7001 to 3535
- 2 GB in 30 days for GBP 10, activation: text 1001 to 3535
- 3 GB in 30 days for GBP 12, activation: text 1201 to 3535
- 7 GB in 30 days for GBP 25, activation: text 2501 to 3535
These plans above are on 2G and 3G only,
4G/LTE plan Edit
Lycamobile is one of the first MNVOs which makes 4G/LTE accessible for prepaid on the "UK 15 Plan". For 15 GBP per month you get 3 GB 4G/LTE data, unlimited domestic texts and 1000 minutes domestic calls. Activation is by texting 11244 to 3535.
Further info Edit
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 Services for free on 353 before the expiry date.
- APN: data.lycamobile.co.uk
- Username: lmuk (that's lowcase L, not capital I)
- Password: plus
Vectone MobileEditVectone Mobile is a MVNO using the EE network on 2G and 3G only (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 GBP 1.
- 9p per MB. A minimum balance of 50p is required to use data.
Data feature packsEdit
|Price||Volume||Valid for||Dial to activate|
|£1||125 MB||24 hours||*125#|
|£2.50||250 MB||7 days||*250#|
|£5||1 GB||30 days||*8811#|
|£12||3 GB||30 day||*8812#|
Data pack will be auto-renewed once the validity expires. To opt out, call Customer Service on 322 or 020 7179 0134. Overuse is charged by the default rate.
- APN: webuk.mundio.com
- Internet cannot be used with Blackberry phones
- There are lot of complaints on the internet about Vectone's poor customer service
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.
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.
Top-ups vouchers can be bought at Esso or Total petrol stations, Sainsbury's and Spar, supermarkets, Costcutter, WHSmith, PCWorld, Dixons, Wilkinson. For every top-up, you get data bonus:
- for £5 top-up, 10 MB per day for 7 days
- for £10 top-up, 10 MB per day for 15 days
- for £20 top-up, 10 MB per day for 30 days
Data feature packs Edit
Standard rate outside of packs is a very low 1p per MB. These monthly packs are available:
|500 MB||£ 3||*1106#|
|1 GB||£ 5||*1107#|
|2 GB||£ 10||*1108#|
|3 GB||£ 12||*1109#|
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 pay standard prepaid rates. You can renew your bundle only after the end of your bundle validity period.
Technical details Edit
- APN: webuk.mundio.com