How To Choose The Right Sim-Only Deal In The UK

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Are you happy with your current phone and not keen to upgrade? You’re in the right place! Over the past few months, I’ve been testing several network providers here in the UK in an effort to find a network that matched my needs and I think I finally found one!

For those who live outside of the UK, your options may be different but here in the UK, we have pay monthly contracts that come with a phone, these usually last from 12 months to 3 years depending on the offer and the provider. We also have an option to go Sim-only and there are a few options.

In this article, I will explain what sim only is and how to go about choosing the right sim for you.

What Is Sim-Only and Why Is It Good?

As it sounds, with sim-only you only get a sim card. This could be a monthly contract lasting from 1-month to 24 months or more. We also have an option called Pay as you go, which isn’t a contract and you can top up call credit at most shops, online and in apps where available. Some Pay-as-you-go sims also offer a monthly option where you agree to spend a certain amount such as £10 per month until you cancel. This offers you packs such as 15 GB of data, 1000 call minutes and unlimited texts.

So you’re probably wondering about what the advantages are and the truth of the matter is that there are many! To start with if you decide to go the contract route, as you’re not getting a phone, the contract will usually be cheaper!

Depending on the deal you decide to go with, sim-free has the option of 1-month rolling contracts which you can cancel providing you with the option to move to another provider should you need to. This is a good option for when you see a better deal you like with another provider.

I wanted to start by talking about the factors that will help you pick the right provider. This is a very important part as just because the deal is good doesn’t mean the rest of the service will be suitable for your needs.


Here in the UK, we have four main providers, EE, 3, Vodafone and o2. Other providers do exist such as the supermarket network Tesco Mobile or Smarty, VOXI and GiffGaff, there are more but I didn’t want to make the list too long. These providers work by using the infrastructure of other mainstream networks. For example, at the time of writing this article, GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile use the o2 infrastructure, Smarty use the 3 infrastructure and VOXI use Vodafone. These smaller providers are where you would usually find the good deals, but not only, it’s always worth using price comparison sites to make sure you are getting a good deal.

Back to signal, every part of the UK is different, so you really need to do some research, especially before committing to a fixed-term contract. One way to test the signal is by looking at the provider’s signal map, this is usually available on their website.

If you want to go the extra mile, do what I did and get a pay-as-you-go sim and put it in your phone to see what the signal and speeds are like in your area and any other area you’re often at. The downside of doing this is that you may need to spend money on the top-up, this is usually £10 at the most basic price but at least it will give you the opportunity to test the provider.

Make Sure That Your Phone Is Unlocked If Planning To Switch!

In the past UK network providers used to lock phones to their phones so that only their sims can be used on the phone and unlocking the phone could prove to be costly. However, as of December 2021, Ofcom, the UK communications regulator has blocked providers from selling network-locked phones. You can read more about this great decision here.

This may mean that your phone is still locked to a provider, and it’s worth getting in touch to see if they will unlock it for free.

Checking whether your phone is locked is simple, just put in a sim from a different provider. Many providers such as EE offer a free sim option which they dispatch to your home for free so it’s worth checking that out. If the phone is locked, it will usually tell you that you won’t be able to use that sim or any of its services such as data, SMS and calling.

Data Speed

Other than a good signal strength, the next important thing you need to look at is the speed of the data as some networks limit the speed. This can particularly be annoying when watching videos or even browsing the internet in some cases.

Make Sure You Find A Suitable Deal To Match Your Needs!

I can’t stress this enough, make sure that the deal suits and service suit you. Just because the deal is cheap doesn’t necessarily mean you will receive the best possible service.

One of the biggest issues I found is that whilst providers do say they offer 5G, it will only be as good as their infrastructure will allow it to be. Now I’m not sure if it was just me or whether more people are facing this, I had full signal bars on 5G but the download speed was around 10MB, which is nowhere near a good enough speed for my needs.

Understand Your Usage

Just because you get 100GB of data per month in a deal, doesn’t automatically make it a good deal, especially if you are only using 4GB per month. One can argue, that it’s a good backup for when your home broadband goes down but at the end of the day this is where you can potentially save a lot of money!

To check your average usage, you should be able to log in to your current mobile provider and it should give you a rough overview of your usage.

The same can be said for your call minutes and texts, if you don’t use much, why overspend?

Check Out The Perks Offered By The Network!

Networks like to offer special perks simply for being with them. It could be additional services like WiFi Calling and visual voicemail or it could be outside perks like free coffee and who doesn’t want free coffee – it’s got to be good coffee though! You can also get exclusive discounts and more!


To summarise, it really is difficult to choose a new network provider and there are a number of things to think about. When I initially switched at the end of my contract, I wasn’t fully happy with the signal, so I switched to another provider, but whilst I was getting the signal, I was getting a very poor internet speed, so I switched again and I did this a total of 4 times before I was truly happy with my provider.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener On The Other Side!

It’s worth having in mind that switching can also have its disadvantages, I mean this happened to me when I switched from the provider I had my phone contract with as it turned out that the signal was a lot poorer than with my previous provider, hence the reason I ended up switching again.

Therefore, as a whole, one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to do your research and if you decide to go for a fixed contract, mark your calendar to show when your 14 days cancellation period is up so that you can cancel without any additional charges.