By Adam Marshall
Here's all the best SIM-only deals to cut costs and increase your data
- Best 5 SIM-only deals
- How does a SIM work?
- Why get a SIM only deal?
- Choosing a SIM
You can make some really good savings with SIM-only deals if you are looking to cut down on your monthly phone expenditures. So we have pulled together lots of options in our SIM-only deals comparison below where you'll find offers from all major networks and on a variety of prices and data limits.
There has been a great broadening in variety of SIM-only deals, with lots of new networks entering the market and the introduction of 5G SIMs, as well as plenty of competition that drives costs down. No longer is it just the usual names of EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - there's a wide range of options to choose from.
Cheap SIM providers like iD Mobile, Smarty and Lebara can keep your costs low - perfect for cheap SIM-free phones. Three, EE and Vodafone SIMs can shower you in data. While Voxi and GiffGaff are among those that can supply you with 1-month rolling contracts allowing you to leave at any time. Along with value, flexibility is the name of the game when you go SIM-only.
If you already know you want a SIM plan and even know the data cap, network and more, then this should be easy! Simply use our SIM comparison chart above to find your perfect option.
Want to know what a SIM is and what it stores, or just not sure what you really need? That's where we step in with a complete guide below to get you started.
SIM only deals: top 5 offers this week
1. Best SIM-only deal overall
Three SIM: 24 months | 100GB data | Unlimited calls and texts | £16/month (£8/month first 6 months) (opens in new tab)
Three remains the undefeated king of the SIM-only deal and this fantastic offer is the pinnacle. Sign up for 24 months and you get 100GB of data each month for only £8 for the first 6 months and for £16 for the rest of the time.
2. Best 30-day SIM plan
Smarty SIM: 1 month |
30GB 50GB data | unlimited calls and texts | £10/pm (opens in new tab)
50GB is a generous whack of data for video streaming and social media scrolling. And for a mere tenner a month, this is a fantastic SIM-only deal from Smarty. And remember, you can leave at any time thanks to its flexible rolling monthly contracts.
3. Best EE SIM only deal
EE SIM: 24 months| 125GB data | Unlimited calls & texts | £23 a month (opens in new tab)
EE is going to be an obvious network for most people, offering the UK's fastest 4G speeds. With this plan, you'll be paying £23 a month for your SIM plan but that price will secure you a massive 125GB of data. That's absolutely plenty for the large majority of people.
4. Best Vodafone SIM
Vodafone SIM: 12 months | 100GB data | Unlimited texts and calls | £8 per month (after cashback) (opens in new tab)
Vodafone is a popular network and right now, this is one of the best SIM plans on the network. It only costs £15 a month while getting you 100GB of data. That alone is a strong offering but it gets even better with the addition of £96 in cashback hat you claim in five chunks across the year. That effectively brings your prices down to only £8 a month instead!
5. The best cheap SIM plan
Lebara SIM: 1 month | 3GB data | 1000 minutes and texts | £5 a month (opens in new tab)
If you find yourself on a tight budget, Lebara's 3GB of data SIM plan could be the perfect option for you. Right now, the network is only charging a fiver a month for the plan - so basically peanuts!
- Go back up to our SIM only deals comparison table
How does a SIM only deal work?
What does a SIM card do and what's stored on one?
A SIM card has a couple of purposes. Most importantly, it is used to identify the phone contract you've signed up for, fulfilling your data, calls and texts plan.
A SIM plan also provides two numbers with overly complicated names - the ICCID serial number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity number (IMSI) and the Mobile Subscriber Integrated Services Digital Network number (MSISDN), the later of which is the user's telephone number.
In other words, a SIM card identifies your phone number and the SIM plan that you've subscribed to. Read our full SIM card storage guide to find out more.
What does SIM stand for?
As is usual for popular pieces of tech, SIM stands for something that sounds complicated but is quite simple. SIM stands for 'Subscriber Identity Module' - another way of saying a device to identify your phone deal.
- Go back up to our SIM comparison table
Why get a SIM only deal?
There is a lot of benefits to choosing a SIM tariff over a phone contract. While it can be slightly more complicated especially if you need a new phone as well, its flexibility, affordability and other factors help make it an obvious choice. Flexibility:
When you break down the costs of a phone contract, you realise that you're paying a lot more than simply buying the phone and SIM separately. A SIM plan alone will be much cheaper, even if you're having to buy a new phone with it.
Flexibility:A phone contract will always tie you in for a minimum of two years so you can pay off your costs. However, a SIM plan can be anywhere from just 1 month long, allowing you to sell off your phone if it breaks or you decide you want something new.
With such a wide variety of prices, data caps and networks, choosing a SIM plan allows you to customise your plan to the exact factors you want. This is especially helpful if you have your eyes on a network that doesn't sell phone contracts.
Phone contracts end and if you decide your happy with your handset, why hand it in for something new? If you're more than happy with the handset you have, hold on to it and get a cheaper SIM, allowing you to enjoy that handset for longer.
Picking the right SIM:
There's a surprisingly large amount of factors to consider when choosing a SIM plan and while there aren't really any bad choices, it's about working out what factors suit your needs.
Do you want the fastest option with no concern for price? EE is the choice to go for. Need a rolling 1-month contract? Voxi, Smarty, GiffGaff and more are available. Or do you just want a cheap SIM?
How much should you be paying for a SIM only deal?
SIM prices vary massively between networks and data caps and knowing how much to pay will depend on this. If you're not too worried about the network you're with and need next to no data, you can keep your bills to around £5-£8 a month.
However, going for EE SIM only deals - the UK's fastest and most popular network - will mean paying a fair bit more than the competition, often exceeding £20 a month. Decide how much data you require and consult your options based around that, considering both price and your preferred network.
How much data do you need?
While almost every single SIM plan will automatically offer unlimited texts and calls, data caps can range massively from 500Mb all the way through to unlimited data SIM only deals.
There are plenty of options in excess of 30GB, but the large majority of people are unlikely to need this much, usually using under 10GB each month. The easiest way to decide how much data you need is simply to consider how much you'd previously used on older contracts.
First time you're getting a SIM? These are how the data caps line up with usage:
- 1GB:A limited option that won't be enough for most. If you rarely use the internet and occasionally need to use Google Maps or check the internet, this can be a cheap option.
- 5GB-10GB:This is the range most people will fit into. It allows for pretty intensive usage of social media, Maps and internet searches without fear of running over. While you can do a bit of streaming, don't push it and avoid HD!
- 10GB-50GB:If you like to stream when you're out and about, use maps on a daily basis and generally have a data intensive lifestyle, this will likely be a cap you should be looking in. Keeping under 50GB can keep your costs at a still affordable point.
- 50-100GB:At this point, you're going to have to be a real data drainer for this to be necessary. Downloading apps on the go, HD streaming, big downloads and working from home.
- 100GB-unlimited:Unlimited data plans have significantly come down in price over the years and can even be a legitimate alternative solution to having full broadband if you live somewhere with an excellent 4G/5G connection. However, for most people, it's not going to be necessary.
What contract lengths are available?
There are four types of contract lengths available with SIM only deals - 1-month rolling, 12 months, 18 and 24. Realistically, 18-month contracts are pretty rare so the other three are the ones you'll see more.
24-month contracts tend to be the cheapest per month on big data plans but you're tied in for a while. 1-month rolling plans from the likes of GiffGaff, Voxi and Smarty are surprisingly affordable but you won't find them with the four main networks.
12-month contracts are the tariffs that come up most often and for the majority of people, will be the best choice.
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|Header Cell - Column 0||EE||O2||Three||Vodafone||Voxi||Giffgaff||Smarty||BT||Lebara||Virgin||iD Mobile||Sky|
|Contract lengths:||12 or 24 months||1, 12 or 18 months||1, 12 or 24 months||1, 12 or 24 months||1-month rolling||1-month rolling||1-month rolling||12 or 24 months||1-month rolling||12 or 24 months||1-month rolling||12 months|
|Best price point:||60GB+||Up to 10GB||Unlimited data||60GB+||1-month rolling||1-month rolling||30-50GB||20GB||2GB||30-50GB||2-12GB||10GB|
|Unique features:||UK's fastest network||Free Disney Plus + O2 Priorities||Cheapest unlimited SIM||VeryMe rewards scheme||Unlimited social media||Payback + free texts to Giffgaff customers||Data rollover + money back on data||Existing customer discounts||International minutes||Data-free Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook messages||Data rollover||Data rollover|
|Unlimited calls and texts?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||On select plans||Yes||On select plans||Yes|
What incentives and special features do SIM only deals have?
Obviously factors like data caps, contract lengths and price are the key factors you should focus on, but each network has a number of interesting special features to make them stand out.
Voxi for example won't use up any of your data while you use social media apps like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram and more. EE offers free subscriptions to popular services, Vodafone and O2 have their reward schemes - VeryMe and O2 Priorities - and most other networks have similar options.
A lot of SIM only deals will also come packed with cashback, giving you money back with your plan. This can significantly reduce your overall costs. This can come in the form of automatic cashback or cashback by redemption.
While cashback by redemption is the option that will save you more money, it is more complicated to deal with. Automatic cashback is a lot simpler, giving you all of your money back in one easy payment.
Slightly more rare, SIM plans can occasionally come with a free gift. These could be smart tech like speakers, TVs or tablets. We've seen everything from headphones through to smartwatches.
Of course, these aren't all that common and you need to be wary of a SIM plan that is offering a gift...but has included the price of the gift in your monthly bills.
What SIM card size do I need?
SIM cards these days fall into three sizes and these are: Standard, Micro and Nano, descending in size. More on eSIMs below. If you're ordering your SIM only you'll likely find it arrives in a credit card sized piece of plastic out of which can you pop your microchip SIM.
A standard SIM measures 25 x 15mm and was used in phones before 2010 and a few after then.
The Micro SIM stands at 15 x 12 mm and was used in phones from 2010 and you'll still find some phones work with these now.
The Nano SIM, introduced in 2012, measures in at 12.3x 8.8mm and is the most commonly used SIM in phones.
The Combi SIM might be what you get sent by a SIM only provider as it contains all three sizes, and you push out the one that fits your phone. This is ideal as you don't need to know your size prior to this as you can hold it up to the SIM tray and see.
- Go back up to our SIM only deals comparison table
How to switch to a new SIM only deal:
How to switch SIM plans:
Switching phone plans has become a much easier process than it was in the past. Where before you had to go back and forth between your old and new provider, gathering details, now it's just a few steps.
Firstly, you need to know you're eligible to switch plans. If your contract still has a few months until it ends, you are likely to be charged for the remaining time meaning it is usually best to fully finish your contract first.
Switching and keeping your number:
Once you know when your contract is finishing and you've got your new deal, you need to decide if you want to keep your number. If so, you can request a PAC code (Porting Authorisation Code) from your old network. This can be done via the phone or through a text.
Then you simply get in touch with your new provider and give them your new code. Each phone number or text code to get a PAC code is different for each network - all of them list this information clearly on their websites.
Switching with a new number:
Don't want to keep your number - it's even easier! Simply get in contact with your new provider and tell them you want a new number and tell your old network your ending your contract.
This can also be done via a text to switch service. Simply text STAC to 75075.
Will my phone be locked to a network?
If you're looking to get a new SIM plan for an old phone - whether its yours or one you bought secondhand - you could find that it is locked to a network. This is where a phone has had a SIM in it and now can only use that network.
While that sounds permanent, it's actually easily fixed. First, try putting a SIM card from another provider into your phone. Make a call and if you can't then its locked. You can also get in contact with your network to find out if its still locked.
How to unlock a smartphone:
Unlocking a smartphone is either a breeze or a bit more complicated depending on the network its locked to:
- EEOnce six months have gone by on your contract, you can call EE on 0800 956 6000 and pay them £8.99 to unlock your phone. It says it will take around 10 days to complete. PAYG phones can be unlocked for free. Both iPhones and Google devices unlock for free after a certain time with EE.
- O2Whether you have an iPhone or Android device, pay as you go or on a contract, O2 can unlock it for free. You simply need to log into the O2 app, select unlock my phone and you're good to go.
- ThreeFear not, all phones on Three are unlocked as standard. Shove whatever SIM you like in there, it will work a treat.
- VodafoneThe red network doesn't quite get the same marks as Three, as your phone will be locked to them on arrival. But they have made unlocking handsets absolutely free within 10 days of your request.
SIM networks: MVNOS and main carriers:
Over the years, a massive range of networks have emerged now resulting in a lot of choice. However, there are four main networks that support all of these other options.
EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are the four main networks. The factor that makes them stand out is that they use their own service, coverage and reach across the UK, all of the rest of the networks 'piggyback' off of these four.
Piggybacking, while a strange term to use, simply means a network makes use of one of those four main network's coverage. Virgin and Voxi use Vodafone's coverage, iD Mobile and Smarty uses Three's and GiffGaff and Sky use O2s.
These networks are referred to as MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). Using one of these piggybacking networks doesn't mean you'll get a weaker connection or any worse coverage than the main options. It's exactly the same as being on the original network...just you won't get access to their additional features like reward schemes or EE's free subscriptions.
- Go back up to our SIM only deals comparison table
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Header Cell - Column 0||EE||O2||Three||Vodafone||Voxi||Smarty||BT||Lebara||Virgin||iD Mobile||Sky||Giffgaff|
|Does it have its own network?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|What network does it use?||EE||O2||Three||Vodafone||Vodafone||Three||EE||Vodafone||Vodafone||Three||O2||O2|
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Adam was formerly the Content Director of Subscriptions and Services at Future, meaning that he oversaw many of the articles TechRadar produces about antivirus software, VPN, TV streaming, broadband and mobile phone contracts - from buying guides and deals news, to industry interest pieces and reviews. Leading and developing a great team, Adam also dusted off his keyboard to write articles for the likes of TechRadar, T3 and Tom's Guide.