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The average mobile customer in the UK used 3 to 4GB of mobile data per month in 2019, and it’s safe to assume the amount of data usage used will only increase this year, given how 5G & streaming applications are becoming more popular.
However, this doesn’t mean all mobile users spend a ton of data every month or even as much as the average person. Some individuals don’t want to spend hours online & use their mobile devices fairly infrequently. In that case, it makes sense to pick a cheaper PAYG SIM as opposed to a long term pay-monthly deal.
Finding the best pay as you go deal for you might take some time, but in the long run it will save you a lot of money. When choosing a pay as you go SIM, you should always consider things like how much is the minimum top-up requirement, how often do I have to use my credits to keep my SIM card active, how good is the network coverage and how can I top-up my SIM Card?
In this article, we will cover some of the major benefits of choosing a pay as you go SIM only deal and what you should look out for when choosing a mobile network as a light mobile data user. We’ll also talk about a few mobile network operators, which offer some of the best PAYG deals in the UK.
Table of Contents
How to Choose The Right Mobile Network For Light Data Usage
First things first, you need to find out how much data you’re spending on a monthly basis. Since there are no pay weekly SIM only deals, going by how much data you usually spend in a month is the best way to calculate it. You can read our ‘How much data do I need?’ guide to find out exactly what you need. While pay as you go deals are great for light data users, you may come to realise that you might be better off with a no credit check, pay monthly deal from SMARTY, giffgaff or VOXI. However, if you’re sure about going for a PAYG deal, the likes of Tesco Mobile, 1p Mobile and ASDA Mobile offer some great bundles at competitive prices.
We’d normally say network coverage should be your top priority, but all the mobile networks offer somewhat decent 4G coverage across the country, and our main focus is low data usage. Just don’t forget to check the network coverage map before you make your final decision. In terms of 4G and 5G network coverage EE are still the best in the UK. You can read our EE Review to find out what makes them so unique. However, EE’s traditional pay as you go service is not the most wallet friendly, but thankfully you can go with MVNOs like 1p Mobile and ASDA Mobile, who are also powered by EE, meaning they offer the exact same network coverage and similar data speeds. Have a look at our 1p Mobile Review and ASDA Mobile Review to learn everything you need to know about each network.
Some other important factors when choosing a mobile network as a light data user are how often you’ll have to top-up as well as what the minimum usage and minimum top-up requirements are. If you don’t want to add credit to your balance every month it’s important to pick a mobile network where your pay as you go credit won’t expire.
When using a mobile network’s traditional pay as you go service, you’ll need to use your SIM at least every once in a while to keep it active. For instance, both Vodafone and its sub-brand VOXI offer a traditional PAYG service and your SIM Card remains active for 270 days from the last chargeable event. However, once deactivated you’ll lose all your PAYG credit and they will delete your phone number. We don’t recommend using VOXI as a traditional PAYG service as they only allow voice & text usage. Having said that, they offer some nice prepaid bundles which work like PAYG bundles.
Minimum top-up requirements also change from one network to another, but it’s usually around £10, but some MVNOs accept as little as £5. If you want to go as light as possible, we’d recommend picking a mobile network where your credit won’t expire as long as you keep your SIM active and you can top-up as little as £5 whenever you need to top-up.
Advantages of Pay As You Go SIM Cards
No Monthly Charges
Most light data users tend to avoid pay monthly deals for a good reason. They just don’t use much data & as a result having a bundle renewed each month doesn’t make much sense as you lose out on all that unused data.
If you identify yourself as a very light data user, always search for the most suitable traditional pay as you go deal. You should ignore pay monthly contracts, pay monthly SIM Only deals and even pay as you go bundles. Your one and only goal is to find a SIM plan, which doesn’t have any monthly charges and will let you use your credit for multiple months without requiring a top up. We’d recommend checking out giffgaff’s traditional pay as you go service, the network is powered by O2 and your giffgaff credits will not expire until you use them all. You can also mix and match the network’s pay as you go service with its monthly PAYG bundles, called Goodybags. Read our giffgaff Review to learn more about their deals!
Only Paying for What You Spend
This is probably the best part of picking a traditional pay as you go deal: You will only pay for what you spend, be it data, minutes or texts. Some mobile networks in the UK offer data rollover schemes to give their customers a second chance to use their data, but even then if you signed a long-term contract you might end up making the wrong choice with almost no way back and asking yourself ‘How can I cancel my mobile contract?‘.
On top of everything, there are no catches with traditional pay as you go deals. In most cases your mobile network provider will still let you roam freely in the EU and some other selected destinations and they will inform you about what surcharges may apply. Paying only for what you spend is especially great if you’re a student in the UK. Some of the best Student SIM deals are commitment-free pay as you go deals.
While this is great, if you’re using more than 2GB a month, we’d suggest checking out SMARTY’s data discount deals, as you can get money back for your unused data. Read our SMARTY Review to learn more about the network’s unique money back offer.
No Credit Checks
You don’t have to go through a credit check to get a free PAYG SIM. Even if you are under 18, have a poor credit record or have recently moved into the UK, you can just get a free SIM, no credit checks required.
This is also great for switching from one mobile network to another. You might be unhappy with the charges, your calls keep dropping or you found a more suitable deal. Just finish up your credit, or even leave it behind and join a new network straight away. Most MVNOs won’t ask for a credit check, but there are of course some exceptions. One example would be iD Mobile. Even though they only offer monthly SIM only deals, their plans are 30-day contracts. The network also offers a traditional PAYG service alongside PAYG bundles. You can read our iD Mobile Review to find out everything you need to know about their deals!
This feature isn’t available to traditional PAYG customers, but PAYG bundles usually include it, especially if you’re a customer to a major network provider, except Three. Vodafone’s roll over scheme is called ‘Total Rollover’ because it also includes UK minutes and texts.
If you don’t know what data rollover means, basically all your unused data at the end of the month is rolled over to the next month, so that you get a second chance to use it. Your rolled-over data will always be used first.
If you’re unsure about how much data you’ll be spending and regularly use PAYG bundles, we’d recommend checking out our Vodafone Review. You can mix and match Vodafone’s PAYG bundles with their traditional pay as you go service, plus the network also offers a rollover scheme for your unused minutes and texts. Plus your top-ups won’t expire as long as you keep your SIM active and all you need to do is use your phone once every 270 days.
Light data users want to avoid pay monthly deals. However, some pay as you go bundles (topping up once a month & getting a set of voice, texts & data to use) may offer great value and even come out cheaper in the end. We already mentioned SMARTY’s great data discount plans but there are some other amazing SIM only deals for light mobile data users. The average mobile network customer is using increasingly more data each year, especially with 4G data speeds becoming faster and 5G coverage becoming more available. This means webpages, applications and everything else is optimising for faster download speeds while increasing file sizes, therefore even a light data user will be spending more data on average, whilst doing the same things they do today. At this point it might be smart to opt for a PAYG bundle, if you find yourself only using between 1-2GB per month.
Pay as you go customers will always have the freedom to jump between deals and even mobile networks, so in terms of being commitment-free choosing a PAYG bundle will give you the same advantages as choosing a traditional PAYG service. You should also keep an eye out for Black Friday as it’s getting closer and closer. Many prepaid SIM only deals and pay as you go bundles get major discounts during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Bookmark our Black Friday SIM Only Deals page now to stay updated with the latest Black Friday discounts.
What Extra Features You’ll Be Missing (SIM Only & Contracts)
If you opt for a light mobile data plan, you’ll be missing out on a lot of great features and extras. Some of these features can be considered almost essential such as 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling, which improve your voice call quality and keep you connected even when you can’t get any regular phone signal.
There are also no inclusive free Wi-Fi Hotspots available to PAYG customers, however, they can use O2 WiFi and Sky Mobile’s The Cloud at no extra cost, but then again, these services are available to all mobile customers in the UK.
Most mobile network providers don’t offer 5G coverage to PAYG customers either, but major network operators like Three and Vodafone let you use their 5G services. Having said that, Vodafone’s 5G pay as you go plans are not suitable for light data users at all.
Unfortunately, you’ll be missing out on some great family mobile plans too, because mobile networks usually ask for a contract if you want to opt for a family SIM deal. However, some networks like SMARTY will still let you pick a competitive SIM only family deal so keep an eye out!
You will also miss out on freedom offered by unlimited data plans, but given how this is a guide for light data users, we don’t think they’re important.
Recommended PAYG Networks for Light Data Users
Powered by EE’s unrivalled network in the UK, 1p Mobile offers the lowest pay as you go rates combined with super fast 4G download speeds wherever available. 1p Mobile only charges 1p/MB, 1p/minute and 1p/text, plus your SIM will remain active for at least 120 days even if you don’t top-up. However, you’ll need to top-up for at least £10 once every three months. On the other hand the more credit you add to your balance in one go, the longer you can keep your SIM active without having to top-up again. Top-up £30 and you won’t have to add more credit to your account for a whole year.
Your 1p Mobile credit always rollover as long as you’re keeping your SIM card active, there is no credit expiry period. The network’s 1p rate also applies when travelling in 46 european destinations, plus if you find yourself spending more data than you initially expected, you can always get one of their data bundles which are valid for 30 days.
1p Mobile offers over 99% population coverage and over 90% UK landmass coverage using EE’s 4G/3G/2G network.
Another great traditional pay as you go network is ASDA Mobile and they’re also powered by EE. You can top-up starting from £1 by your phone or £5 in-store and your credit will never expire as long as you keep your SIM active. The network requires you to use your SIM card for a chargeable activity at least once every 9 months (270 days) if you want to keep it active. However, outgoing calls will be suspended after 6 months (180 days) of inactivity.
ASDA Mobile also lets you automatically top-up if you wish to. ASDA Mobile’s traditional pay as you go rates are 5p/MB, 8p/minute and 4/p text. The network offers over 99% 4G population coverage and over 90% 4G UK geographical coverage thanks to EE’s infrastructure.
Using O2’s network to provide 2G, 3G and 4G coverage, giffgaff offers some great options for light data users. The carrier offers both pay monthly data bundles with unlimited minutes & texts and a traditional pay as you go service. giffgaff’s pay as you go rates are 5p/MB, 25p/minute and 10p/text. You only have to use your SIM card for a chargeable activity at least once every 6 months (180 days) or your SIM will go inactive and your phone number will be deleted. Any credit you add to your account stays with you, provided your SIM card remains active.
You can also mix and match the network’s pay as you go service with flexible Goodybags. The best part about giffgaff’s pay as you go service is that it’s completely free to call and text other giffgaff members. The network uses O2 as its network provider and offers over 99% 2G, 3G and 4G coverage in the UK. However, O2 is significantly behind EE in terms of 4G network coverage.
Three is one of the four major mobile network providers in the UK, meaning they use their own network to provide a service to their customers. While the carrier offers 3G, 4G and 5G coverage, they don’t provide any 2G coverage in the UK.
Three’s 4G coverage is also considerably behind EE, but the carrier offers 5G at no extra cost, even to their traditional pay as you go customers. Three’s classic PAYG rates are 5p/MB, 10p/minute and 10p/text. The network will ask you to use your phone for a chargeable activity at least once every 6 months (180 days) or else you’ll lose your phone number. Just like the other recommended networks in the article, your credit won’t expire with Three either, just keep your SIM active and you’re good.
You’ll also benefit from features like 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling as well as Three’s amazing international roaming service Go Roam. You can also purchase a PAYG bundle, if you think you’ll burn more data than you usually do in the upcoming 30 days.
In the UK, Vodafone offers 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G network coverage to its pay as you go customers, but as we stated before, 5G data bundles are definitely not a good fit for light data users.
You can use Vodafone’s network as a traditional pay as you go service. The carrier’s rates are 5p/MB, 20p/minute and 20p/text, but there’s an extra option called Vodafone Pay As You Go 1. Just spend £1 in a day and Vodafone will unlock unlimited minutes and texts, plus 500MB of data to use until midnight for your SIM.
Vodafone offers over 99% population coverage, along with decent UK landmass coverage, being only behind EE. You can mix and match Vodafone’s PAYG bundles with traditional PAYG, but it might be costlier compared to some other networks.
You can also check out O2, Tesco Mobile, iD Mobile or VOXI and see their traditional pay as you go deals, but their PAYG deals aren’t the best, unless you have specific reasons to join one of these networks.
Make sure to have a look at our reviews before you make your final decision though!