How can I pick the best mobile phone plan?

To find the best mobile phone contract and SIM deals for you, we've partnered with Uswitch.

With recent increases in the cost of living, one of the easiest ways to cut down on your spending is by reducing your monthly expenses, and if there’s one thing almost everyone pays for monthly, it’s a mobile phone plan.

But where do you start? How do you pick the best plan, which provider has the best deals, and should you buy a phone contract, a SIM only option, or pay as you go? Read on for our in-depth guide, where we compare providers, deals and help you to find the best value deals.

Table of Contents

The Best Mobile Phone Deals Right Now

Cheapest Mobile Phone Deals

Both of our picks for best lifetime deal are currently available from Tesco Mobile, with their Galaxy A13 64GB available either for no up-front cost and £20.97 per month, or for an up-font fee of £60 followed by 12 months at £15.97 per month contract. Either way you only pay £251.64 over the entire lifetime of the deal.

Tesco Mobile customers also benefit from clubcard points on top-ups, 15.06Mbps average data speeds, roaming across 48 countries (read more about data roaming here) and early upgrades. In fact, Uswitch has named Tesco Mobile their 'Uswitch best Pay Monthly Value For Money' choice.

Sky Mobile also offers some of the lowest monthly handset costs at £5 for either the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE with 5G functionality, and the iPhone 13 128GB, although both of these phones require a hefty up-front payment of £780 and £819, respectively.

Sky Mobile customers also benefit from unlimited data rollover and additional incentives if they are Sky TV customers, such as free access to Sky TV on their phones and access to Sky Apps.

ProviderCallsTextsDataUp-front costMonthly CostLifetime CostContract length
Lifetime Phone Deals
Samsung Galaxy A13 64GBTesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimited1GB£60£15.97£251.6412 Months
Samsung Galaxy A13 64GBTesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimited1GBFree£20.97£251.6412 Months
Monthly Phone Deals
Apple iPhone 13 128GBSky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£801£5£86112 Months
Galaxy S21 FE 5G 128gbSky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£840£5£90012 Months

Best SIM Only Deals

We think that SMARTY offers the best value for money in terms of SIM only deals - Unlimited calls, text and data from £16 per month is a great 'fire and forget' contract for an existing handset, with no credit checks carried out for SMARTY customers. The next best deal is from iD Mobile their Wi-Fi calling means that your phone is able to make use of Wi-Fi networks to boost signal. What's more, you can roam to over 50 locations worldwide for no additional charge. Both sims are protected from price rises in 2023.

Pay As You Go deals available from Lebara and Lyca Mobile hold the top spot for absolute rock-bottom pricing at £3.96 and £4.50 per month, respectively. Both benefit from introductory offers of £1.58 or £1.50 per month for the first 3 months, whilst Lebara Mobile comes with a usage cap and a guarantee of no annual price rise, plus no credit checks for their customers (to learn more about this, read our articles What can I do if I'm refused a mobile phone contract and Do I need a credit check for a mobile phone). For £0.54 more expensive, Lyca Mobile offers unlimited texts (vs. Lyca's 200 minute monthly cap) and 3x the data at 3GB.

Best Unlimited Data
ProviderMinutesTextsDataUp-front costMonthly CostLifetime CostContract length
Unlimited Data
SMARTY SIM cardSMARTYUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedFree£16.00N/ANo Contract
iD Mobile SIM cardiD MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedFree£16.00£19212 Month
Lebara mobile SIMLebara Mobile200Unlimited1GBFree£3.95N/ANo Contract
Lyca Mobile SIMLyca MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GBFree£4.50N/ANo Contract

Sky Mobile Deals

Sky Mobile customers benefit from unlimited data rollover and additional incentives if they are Sky TV customers, such as free access to Sky TV on their phones and access to Sky Apps. Sky contracts often have price reductions mid-contract - our best sky handset here will reduce from £27 per month to only £13 per month after the first year.

For their free up-front phones they also reduce monthly payments after the first year, presumably once the bulk of the handset has been paid for.

ProviderMinutesTextsDataUp-front costMonthly CostLifetime CostContract length
Samsung Galaxy A34 128GBSky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GBFree£27/£13£48024 Months
Samsung Galaxy A34 128GBSky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£396£7.00£48012 Months

Tesco Mobile Deals

Uswitch awards these Tesco Mobile deals their 'Best pay Monthly Value For Money' accolade, and it's easy to see how Tesco shoppers can benefit from Tesco Mobile's Clubcard points for every £1 spent on topping up or mobile bills. Tesco Mobile also lets you cap your bills to keep monthly spending down.

ProviderMinutesTextsDataUp-front costMonthly CostLifetime CostContract length
Samsung Galaxy A13 64GBTesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimited1GB£60£15.97£251.6412 Months
Samsung Galaxy A13 64GBTesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimited1GBFree£20.97£251.6412 Months

The Four Major UK Mobile Networks

It might surprise you to learn that there are only 4 ‘real’ mobile network providers in the UK: EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three.

All other mobile providers work by using one of these 4 main networks or some combination of them. So when you pay your Sky Mobile contract, some of that money goes towards paying O2 for network usage.

That’s not to say that these ‘virtual network’ providers can’t compete with the ‘Big 4’—in fact some of the best deals out there can be found with networks such as Giffgaff, who cut costs by having no physical stores, or Sky Mobile, who can handle mobile customer enquiries using their existing customer service centres.

At the end of the day there’s a provider out there for everyone—providers like EE bundle tablets, laptops, and home security systems with their contracts. O2 even allows customers to purchase consoles and VR headsets on a contract basis, alongside their phones, tablets and laptops.

As a rule of thumb you can expect more handsets, features and products with Big 4 providers, whilst virtual network providers compete more on price or niche services. Tesco Mobile, for example, has clubcard tie-ins, whilst Giffgaff crowd-source their customer service, helping them to cut costs and pass the savings on in their plan pricing.

When not to switch: If, for example, you have experienced poor signal in your area with Vodaphone, it might not make sense to switch to Asda Mobile, who use the same network, since any signal issues may persist.

We therefore recommend that you look up which providers run on each network before making any decision to change network provider, just in case.

BrandHost networkWireless technologyVoice over LTEWiFi calling
Anywhere SIMEE, O2, Three, VodafoneYesYesNoNoNoNo
Asda MobileVodafoneYesYesYesYesYesYes
BT MobileEEYesYesYesYesYesYes
Extreme ConnectO2YesYesYesNo??
iD MobileThreeNoYesYesYesYesYes
KC MobileO2YesYesYes?NoNo
Now PAYGEEYesYesYes?NoNo
Plusnet MobileEEYesYesYes?NoNo
Popit MobileEEYesYesYesYesYesYes
Sky MobileO2YesYesYesYesYesYes
Superdrug MobileThreeNoYesYesNoNoNo
Tesco MobileO2YesYesYesYesNoNo
The Phone Co-opEEYesYesYesNoNoNo
TruphoneO2, EE from Autumn 2022YesYesYesNoNoNo
Utility Warehouse / Telecom PlusEEYesYesYesNoYesYes
Vectone Mobile[10]EEYesYesNoNoNoNo
Virgin MobileVodafone, O2YesYesYesYesYesYes


What Types of Phone Contracts Are There?

When buying mobile phone services, you need to be aware of the options: phone contracts, SIM only contracts and Pay As You Go. So which of these options is best when looking to cut costs on a mobile phone plan, and what are the pros and cons of each? Let's find out.

Phone Contracts

Phone contracts include the handset you will use to make calls, in addition to some combination of data, minutes and texts. With these contracts you are given a phone up front, which you then pay off through monthly payments for the duration of the contract, (usually over 12, 24, or 36 months).


  • Improve your credit rating
  • Fixed monthly expense
  • Handset included
  • Handset insurance often available (for an additional fee)


  • Often requires a good credit score to qualify
  • Can be the most expensive over the lifetime of the contract compared to other options
  • Inflexible contracts & exit fees
  • If you break your phone you must continue to pay for the duration of the contract

The reason phone contracts improve your credit score is that they are a form of credit; you effectively take out a loan in the form of a handset, and your monthly fees go towards paying this off as well as paying for your data, calls and texts.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing- many people appreciate the fixed (and predictable) monthly costs, free calls and texts and (sometimes) cheap data that comes as part of most packages. The problem with contract phones is that if you lose or break your phone, or even if you don’t like it, you’re often locked into a contract for the duration, which can be as long as 36 months (3 years!).

It’s usually possible to insure your handset as part of your monthly payments, but in the long run this kind of contract usually costs the most. Let’s look at this example:

Real-Life Example

You want the Samsung Galaxy S22+ 128GB, a phone which, at the time of writing retails for £949. EE offers the phone on a 24 month plan with unlimited texts, calls and 5GB data for £60 per month after a £100 upfront payment. This means that over the lifetime of the phone you will pay £1,540, £591 more than the cost of the handset alone. If you can find a SIM only deal for less than £24.63 a month it is cheaper to buy the handset outright and stick with SIM only.

If you added on EE’s insurance for the above handset (theft, loss and damage), you would pay a further £14 per month. Over 24 months your total payments to EE would reach £1876—very nearly double the cost of a standalone handset.

Buying SIM Only Contracts

A 'Sim Only' contract will still have a fixed term, often 12 months but it can be longer. The difference between this and a phone contract is that you have to buy your handset separately or use a compatible one that you already have; you're only given a SIM card and your payments go towards an allowance of minutes, data, and texts.


  • Cheaper than a contract phone
  • Flexible middle ground between a full phone contract and Pay As You Go
  • Credit score requirements are looser than handset contracts
  • Fixed monthly expense


  • Only benefits credit score (in a minor way) if you pay by Direct Debit
  • You still need to buy or find a handset
  • Handset insurance must be purchased separately
  • Can still end up locked in to contracts

SIM only deals are certainly cheaper than a full on phone contract including handset—you can buy your handset outright or use an older one and save a significant chunk of change. (Read more about whether or not it's better to buy a mobile phone outright here.)

SIM only deals offer a great deal of flexibility and can result in some great savings if you’re willing to break out a calculator and do the math. Of course, you still need to insure that handset somewhere—companies like Uswitch provide standalone handset insurance and you can get a quote here.

It’s also often possible to add a high value portable device to your home insurance, (just make sure it’s covered away from the home).

Buying Pay As You Go (PAYG)

Pay as you go used to be relatively straightforward - you get a SIM card for free and you have a set balance on it, which goes down as you make calls, texts and use data. Now, it's more common to have a set monthly payment amount which allows you to make a certain number of calls, texts, or use a certain amount of data at a competitive rate. If you run out mid-month you then have to top-up by paying more. The main difference between these SIM cards and SIM card contracts is that with a PAYG SIM you can usually exit the arrangement with the provider at any time, you are not tied in to a 12 month or longer contract.


  • If you don’t use your phone you don’t pay a thing
  • Ultimate flexibility with no exit fees or monthly set charges
  • Multi-network SIMs are available that use more than one network for excellent signal coverage


  • You still need to buy or find a handset
  • Costs more if you use it more (costs are potentially unlimited)
  • Emergency calls to friends or family are impossible if you run out of credit.

How to buy and use a SIM card: Typically available anywhere from petrol stations to supermarkets and a host of retailers in between, Pay As You Go SIM cards are pretty straightforward—you purchase the SIM, pop it in a handset and make calls using credit you add by buying fixed value cards or making payments directly to the network operator.

It’s still possible to get better deals from different providers—this time based on per-minute call, text and data rates. For example the provider ‘1p Mobile’ aptly offers 1p rates on calls, texts and per Mb of data on a PAYG basis.

It’s also possible to buy ‘Pay as you go bundles’—where a fixed monthly top up will unlock deals such as unlimited texts or calls. These bundles tread a fine line between true PAYG and a SIM contract, but crucially they do not tie you into an agreement with the provider—you can stop paying any time you like.

Finally, the aptly named ’Anywhere SIM offers a prepaid SIM that can automatically switch between all UK networks to always find the best signal. This is a great item to carry in your wallet or purse and forget about–in an emergency or no-signal situation you then have a backup SIM with the best chance of connecting a call, just make sure your handset isn’t ‘locked’ to one provider before doing this.

*If you are a bit more savvy and your phone supports it (dual SIM and not locked to one network), you could even stick your anywhere SIM into your dual SIM slot.

Saving Money

With all of these options, how do you make sure you are getting the best deal for you?

The first step is figuring out what kind of plan best suits your needs. If you have a handset and you rarely use it, Pay As You Go is probably your most economical option.*

For those of us with working handsets and low data usage, the best value option is usually a SIM only contract, but this could be the case if you’re looking to purchase a new handset too:

Real-Life Example

I recently helped a family member find the right deal for them – they had a great existing SIM only deal of just over £10 per month and rather than change that to a 36 month handset plan which would cost over £2,400 in total we were able to find the same ‘Category A’ quality handset at CeX for significantly less than a brand new phone. The handset arrived in-box with all accessories neatly packaged – it looked like it had never been touched, and we saved over £1,000 up front. Despite being technically ‘second hand’, the handset came with a 24 month warranty for peace of mind. We stuck with the original, great value SIM only contract and popped the old SIM into the new handset, but there’s nothing stopping anyone doing this with a brand new contract SIM too.

Consider other forms of credit

For some, it’s not feasible to buy a phone up front. If you need a handset and you haven’t enough to purchase it outright, consider directly purchasing from phone manufacturers. For example, Samsung allow you to pay using PayPal and a range of other options, several of which can include interest free credit options that, when coupled with a competitive SIM only contract, work out much cheaper than a handset contract with a network (whose handset contracts often include interest).

Find competitive deals

Sites such as Uswitch are great for comparing multiple network providers’ best deals. You can choose Mobile Contract or SIM Only offers and sort the results by the factors that are most important to you. Once you have found your top 3 deals there are still ways to save more:

Ask for help

There’s nothing wrong with contacting a provider and telling them ‘I want ‘x’ feature and I have a budget of ‘y’. Often, sales staff have detailed knowledge of the handsets and plans they provide, and can recommend a solution that meets your feature and budget needs. Being nice, even if they aren’t able to help, is also a great tip – it may be that they can’t meet you halfway but they can offer advice or alternatives that you haven’t thought of.


Phone plan prices are not set in stone; network providers set rates to cover their costs and make a profit, but often their agents are empowered to discount or modify existing deals. It’s absolutely worth your time speaking to providers and, for want of a better term, ‘haggling’ for the best deal. On that note, you can always contact your existing provider to tell them you’re considering switching to a better deal. It may be that they can match or even beat the competing offer. Cancellations departments often have more power than front line sales staff to discount and add on, so do give them a chance to retain you as a customer.

Leverage multiple plans

Some providers offer family discounts, and others, such as EE allow you to gift data from one plan member to another. Combined, this allows you to benefit from a discounted rate across multiple contracts with the ability to unlock even greater savings

Real-Life Example

I pay £25 for one handset contract with unlimited texts and minutes, but not much data. At my wife’s contract renewal I add her to my family plan for £42 per month that gets immediately discounted to £33.60 with the 20% family discount. My wife’s new contract has unlimited data and data gifting, meaning that each month if I run out of data she can send me as much as I need—I’ve saved her £8.40 every month (£201.60 over a 24 month contract) and I’ve saved myself the cost of increasing my data allowance.

Do the maths

Above all, keep an eye on the total amount you will need to spend for whatever deal you are considering, be that over 12, 24, or 36 months. By totting up your monthly costs you can put any deals into context against buying outright, or whatever combination works for you.

There really are almost unlimited possibilities out there, but levelling the playing field by understanding the costs is the only way to compare apples with apples and get the best savings in the end.

Read more: Mobile phone bills to rise by 14.4% from April 2023 – here are some more tips to save money


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