What are the Best Value Mobile Networks?

Find out which mobile networks offer the cheapest contracts, SIM-only options & pay-as-you-go plans and save on your monthly mobile bills.

A bunch of people standing in a circle holding out their smartphones
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many of us would be lost without our mobile phones, but our handsets are nothing without the data & minutes in our mobile phone plans. Whether you opt for a contract, SIM only deal or pay-as-you-go, there are plenty of options on the market to choose from, and picking between different providers can be a tricky affair. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the different mobile networks available in the UK, diving into their cheapest contracts, SIM-only plans & pay-as-you-go options to find out which are the best value. We’ll also give you some tips on how to get the cheapest plans & save on monthly costs so you can get your money’s worth from your mobile.

Which networks can I choose from?

There are four main mobile networks in the UK - EE, O2, Three & Vodafone. These four companies own most of the infrastructure that provides signal to customers across the country, and are sometimes known as Mobile Network Operators, or MNOs. To provide a signal to their customers, all other mobile phone providers need to partner with one of these larger brands in a process sometimes referred to as “Piggybacking”. 

Let’s look at an example. Giffgaff piggybacks off of O2, meaning that O2 has agreed to provide signal to all Giffgaff customers. All information transmitted to & from Giffgaff customers travels through O2’s networking infrastructure - signal on Giffgaff relies on O2 masts, and so Giffgaff customers get the same coverage as O2 customers would. 

Companies that need to piggyback off of one of the big four networking companies are sometimes referred to as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (or MVNOs for short). When choosing an MVNO, it’s important to know which networks they use to provide signal. 

For example, if you’re changing networks because you’re on EE and you experience signal issues in your area, you’ll need to make sure you choose a new network that doesn’t partner with EE if you want to improve your signal. Some examples of MNOs and which networks they piggyback off can be found below:

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Main Mobile Network/MVOPiggybacking Networks/MVNOs
EEBT mobile, Co-op, Plusnet
O2Giffgaff, Virgin, Tesco, Sky
ThreeiD Mobile, Smarty
VodafoneVOXI, ASDA

What types of plans can I get?

Whichever provider you decide to pick, you’ll have a number of different types of plans to choose from. How each type of plan works varies, and which is better value for money will depend on how often you use your phone, how much data, texts & minutes you need each month, and whether or not you already own the handset you’ll be using. We’ve broken each type down below.

Contracts

Contracts are the most structured phone plans. They last for a predetermined period, usually between 12 and 36 months, and are paid monthly. Contracts cover a handset and a plan, meaning you’re effectively buying a phone over the course of a year or longer. As such, monthly costs are usually higher than SIM Only or Pay As You Go alternatives. Some contracts may also include some upfront costs.

Although they are usually more expensive than buying a new handset outright, contracts will save you on the cost of paying everything upfront, making them worth considering if you need a new device. Many contracts also offer generous amounts of calls, texts & data, and can often cover the latest handsets. Once your contract is paid off, you’ll own your phone, and you’ll be free to choose a new monthly plan from here if you like. 

However, contracts aren’t the best option if you want flexibility. Leaving a contract before it’s finished tends to be difficult, and if you want to quit early, you’ll more than likely need to pay the remainder of what you would have paid plus an additional fee. Traditionally, contracts would leave you stuck with the handset you’ve chosen until everything has been paid off, but some networks now offer upgrade plans that let you switch to a newer handset before your contract ends. Be wary - these can add extra costs in the long run.

Contracts are technically a credit agreement, meaning you’ll need to pass a credit check to sign up for one. It also means that missing payments will negatively affect your credit rating, so you should make sure you can keep on top of payments before you sign up.  Although you won’t pay interest, you should expect to pay a little more for your phone over the course of your contract than you would buying it outright in exchange for the option to spread the costs over time.

By signing a contract, you also usually agree to accept price changes at any point before the contract is up, and mid-contract price hikes are a common practice across most major networks. Prices tend to change around April each year regardless of when your contract started, meaning you should expect costs to jump in spring, no matter when you signed up. In 2023, the largest price hikes added 17% to monthly contract costs. When shopping for contracts, budgeting for 20% more than what you signed up will help you avoid being unable to afford your contract further down the line.

SIM Only

SIM Only deals are much simpler than contracts - they just cover the cost of a SIM card, meaning you only pay for your plan. You’ll be charged monthly like you would on a contract, but you aren’t locked in for a set amount of time, meaning you can change plans whenever you like without incurring any additional fees.

The biggest pro of SIM Only deals is their flexibility - if a certain plan doesn’t work for you, you can just change it the following month. You aren’t locked in to a commitment, and you won’t usually pay any upfront costs. Find yourself using a lot of data each month? You’ll have plenty of options with generous allowances to choose from, letting you find a plan to suit your needs. You also won’t be paying for a phone, keeping your costs lower. 

SIM Only deals also tend to be cheaper per month than contracts, with many networks offering plans from £5 a month. The only drawback with SIM Only plans is that you’ll need to own a handset compatible with your SIM card. As such, if you don’t already have an old device you want to use, you’ll likely have to pay for a new one upfront. SIM Only deals are a great choice if you buy a refurbished device.

Pay As You Go

Pay As You Go plans are technically another kind of SIM-only deal in that you’re only paying for the SIM card and not a handset. However, instead of paying on a monthly rolling basis, you’ll buy one-off plans or top up a credit balance. Your credit or allowance don’t auto renew each month - instead, you’ll only pay when you choose.

Sometimes called “SIM-Free deals”, Pay As You Go plans are the most flexible kind, and are well-suited for people who barely use minutes, texts or data. Your credit or allowance will last until it runs out, whether that’s a week or 12 months - it entirely depends on your usage. As long as you own a handset that’s compatible with your SIM, you’re good to go, and you could feasibly make one or two top-ups last 6 months or more.

The downside of Pay As You Go plans is that they tend to be more expensive for regular use than alternatives. If you find that you’re topping up monthly or even bimonthly, you might be better off considering a SIM Only deal instead. Pay As You Go options are also becoming less common with most networks. Old-school credit balance plans have largely been phased out in favour of one-off plan purchases or bundles, and many price comparison sites don’t offer options to check for these kinds of plans given how few are still on the market.

A woman in a colourful jumper looking at her smartphone with a shocked expression

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How much is the average phone bill in the UK?

Nowadays, phone bills are highly customisable, and customers can pick between data-heavy packages, plans tailored to travel, and options for serial callers. As such, the cost of your phone bill will depend heavily on what kind of plan you choose. In February 2023, Nous.co, which runs an online bills analysis tool, found that the average phone bill in the UK costs £25.62 a month

There was also an influx of mid-contract price hikes in April 2023, which caused this figure to rise by as much as 17% for some customers, taking monthly costs up to as much as £29.98. Across the year, these top-rate mid-plan price changes meant a massive £210 a year extra added to people’s phone bills. 

What are the best value mobile networks?

To help you work out which mobile networks are the best value for money, we’ve taken a look at how much different networks are currently charging for a range of different plans. Which is best for you will differ depending on what you want from your plan, so we’ve broken it down into several categories to help you choose.

Using leading price comparison sites like Go.Compare and Compare the Market we’ve searched for the deals that offer the lowest monthly cost at the time of writing. You’ll find contracts, SIM Only deals, and Pay As You Go options to choose from, and we’ve also looked into the cost of some leading handsets and top-tier data allowances.

When it comes to contracts, we’ve kept upfront costs at £200 or less. However, as paying more upfront can save you on costs in the long run, we’ve also looked at what you’ll gain from paying the most money upfront in our contract comparison. If you aren’t keen on paying any upfront costs, we’ve got that covered too. So without further ado, let’s look at the best offers we found.

Cheapest Overall Contract

iD Mobile takes the top spot for cheapest contract overall. A 24-month contract on a Motorola Moto E13 (with 64GB storage), which includes1GB of 5G data, unlimited minutes & texts each month and no upfront costs will cost £9.99 per month. iD Mobile also offers  the same price on the same contract with Samsung Galaxy A04 handsets (32GB), giving fans of Android brands plenty of choice.

Cheapest iPhone 14 Contract

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Contract Length (Months)Device ConditionNetworkData AllowanceMonthly CostUpfront CostsTotal Cost
12NewO21GB (5GB)£77.83£30£963.96
24NewVodafone100GB (4G)£29£199£895
24RefurbishedO280GB (4G)£25£199£799
24NewiD Mobile100GB (5G)£37.99£0£911.76
24NewVodafone33GB (4G)£13£539.99£851.99

If you're looking for an iPhone 14 contract, for a handset with 128GB of internal storage, Vodafone is the cheapest network in terms of total and monthly costs. O2 is the only network that provides 12-month contracts, so you'll need to opt for 24-month plans for better savings. You can opt for refurbished iPhones for a marginal saving, but these aren't available on 12-month contracts. If you're able to pay more upfront costs, you'll save in the long run, but at the cost of your data allowance - however, avoiding upfront costs entirely will slightly increase your total costs across the course of your plan.

Cheapest Samsung Galaxy S23 Contract

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Contract Length (Months)Device ConditionNetworkData AllowanceMonthly CostUpfront CostsTotal Costs
12NewO21GB (5G)£90.08£30£1110.96
24NewThree100GB (5G)£21£199£703
24RefurbishedThree100GB (5G)£21£179£683
24NewVodafone100GB (5G)£32£0£768
24NewVodafone33GB (5G)£13£419.99£731.99

For anyone after a Samsung Galaxy S23 contract, Three is the cheapest network overall, whilst Vodafone offer the lowest monthly rate with the highest upfront cost. Three follow close behind with the second-lowest monthly rate if you choose to keep upfront costs below £200. As with the iPhone 14, O2 is the only network that provides 12-month contracts, and you'll see more savings on 24-month plans. You can also pick up refurbished models, but these still don't offer much in the way of savings, and aren't available on 12-month contracts. 24-month contracts on the Samsung Galaxy S23 will save you more than double what they would on the iPhone 14, and paying more upfront costs can also save you money in the long run, but your data allowance will take a hit. Likewise, avoiding upfront costs entirely will slightly increase your total costs across the course of your plan.

Cheapest Google Pixel 7 Contract

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Contract Length (Months)Device ConditionNetworkData AllowanceMonthly CostsUpfront CostsTotal Costs
12NewO21GB (5G)£66.42£30£827.04
24NewO210GB (5G)£17£179£587
24NewiD Mobile100GB (5G)£23.99£0£575.76
24NewTalkMobile15GB (5G)£11.95£335£621.80

If you're an Android fan who prefers the look of the latest Google handset, you've got a few less options, but plenty of chances to save. iD Mobile is the cheapest network overall, whilst TalkMobile is the cheapest each month with the highest upfront costs. If you want to keep upfront costs down, O2 could be a better choice, offering the lowest monthly rate with upfront costs under £200. Once again, only O2 offers 12-month contracts, and 24-month contracts are cheaper across the board. 

Unlike the iPhone 14 or Samsung Galaxy S23, no networks are offering refurbished Google Pixel 7s at the time of writing. As with Samsung's leading model, 24-month plans save you significantly more than 12-month plans, letting you take home double the amount of saving you would for comparable plans for the iPhone 14. As usual, paying more upfront means a cheaper deal in the long term at the cost of data, whilst avoiding upfront costs moves the price up overall.

A man and woman look at an iPhone whilst standing in front of an office window

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cheapest SIM Only Plans

The cheapest SIM Only deal we found on Go.Compare was from Lebara - for £4.50 per month, you can get 5GB data & unlimited minutes & texts. The first 3 months are also 50% off, taking the price down to £2.25. However, we also found a better deal that was exclusive to Compare the Meerkat - Smarty offers a SIM Only plan for £3.50 per month that comes with 8GB of 5G data & unlimited minutes & texts. The first 3 months are also 50% off, taking the price down to £1.75.

Cheapest Pay As You Go

As mentioned above, Pay As You Go options are cheapest when they are used infrequently, with savings usually coming from less frequent purchases. However, Pay As You Go options are much less common in the modern day than they used to, and major price comparison sites don’t include them as an option when surveying the market.

According to research by Money Saving Expert, the cheapest network for Pay As You Go is 1pMobile, whose USP is their low rates for data, texts and minutes. Customers will only pay 1p for each Mb on data, text or minute they use - that’s 500 units for every £5 credit. You’ll also benefit from EE’s signal coverage. Make sure to top up £10 at least every four months to keep your account active, which adds up to £30 a year - not bad for an annual phone bill.

Best value for data allowance

Looking for the cheapest way to use as much data as your heart desires? Unlimited data is arguably the best allowance you can get, so we looked for the cheapest contract or SIM Only plan that included this perk. The winner was iD Mobile - a 24-month contract on a new black Samsung Galaxy A04s with 32GB internal storage and no upfront costs was £14.99 per month, or £359.76 over two years. 

In short, which mobile network is the best value for money depends on what you want from your phone plan. The main factors that play into monthly costs are type of plan (contract, Pay As You Go or SIM Only), with contract length, what kind of phone you choose and the condition of that device having the most effect on contract prices. However, the cheapest monthly cost at the time of writing was iD Mobile’s 24-month contracts on selected Motorola or Samsung handsets. 

Harry Bowden-Ford


I’m Harry, the tech editor, and I started working at MyVoucherCodes in March 2022. When I’m not writing about retailers, I spend my time listening to music and podcasts, playing guitar in a band and writing music reviews. I’m also a fan of long walks, reading new books, kicking back in front of the Xbox and discovering new places.