A simples guide

A guide to mobile phone tariffs

Choosing a mobile phone can be confusing – too much choice and info to choose from. We like things simples, so here’s our guide to mobile phone tariffs in plain, straightforward English.

What sort of phone tariffs are out there?

In short – there are lots of options and it can be bamboozling, so let’s start with the basics. Choosing a phone deal shouldn’t just be about the handset you get, whatever package you go for needs to complement your lifestyle – there’s no point getting something that limits you to 500 minutes of calls a month when you actually spend an hour everyday taking to family.

So rather than be blinded by the latest shiny new phone, think about the whole package – including the tariff that’s being offered. Your tariff is simply what you’ll be charged each month for the services your network operator has provided you with.

Tariffs come in the following options:

• Monthly: A monthly tariff typically means you’ll be tied into 18-24 month contract and usually includes the cost of a brand new phone. Useful if you want the latest phone.

• SIM only: A SIM only tariff is usually a 3, 6 or 12 month rolling contract that doesn’t include a brand new phone. Useful if you already have a phone but want a better price for data, texts and minutes.

• Pay as you go (PAYG). As it says, you only pay for what you use, useful if you want to manage your costs and don’t use your phone very often.

Click here for more information about tariff types.

What do I get in a tariff?

Mobile phone tariffs will vary according to which network operator you’re with, but as a general rule, they’ll include an element of inclusive minutes, texts and data access. Whether you’re on a PAYG, SIM only or monthly contract, you’ll be paying towards the cost of these services – how much you get will depend on how much you pay.

• Inclusive minutes – If you’re a business user and you’ve got colleagues on the same network, you can usually negotiate with your provider to give you free calls between you all. Regular folk using their phones for personal use will get to choose from a set number of inclusive minutes. This is where finding the right deal is really important – if you exceed your ‘free’ minutes then you might get a nasty surprise when your bill comes. Also note that not all calls will be inclusive.

• Inclusive texts – most packages will also come with a certain amount of inclusive texts so you can type away to your heart’s content, but again, like with the free minutes if you go overboard you could be charged more for the privilege.

• Data – this is the tricky one, most deals will come with a data allowance but knowing how much data access you’ll need can be confusing. Data allowances (or access to the internet) is measured in ‘MB’ (megabytes) and ‘GB’ (gigabytes) a GB is bigger than a MB.

To put it into context, 1 GB is about a million emails (without attachments) or around 2,000 emails with attachments. You could download around 200 songs or watch two hours’ worth of standard definition video. If you had 500 MB of data, then you’re looking at around half of those values.
If you’re unsure how much data you need, you can request your average monthly usage from your current provider as a benchmark.

• International calls – not necessarily all tariffs will offer this but if you like to do your own international roaming see if you can get a deal that gives you a decent call rate when you’re abroad. It’s also worth keeping an eye on changes to caps around the charges as some companies are free roaming.

What is PAYG?

A pay as you go phone (PAYG) is exactly as it says – you pay for your phone usage when you need it. You’ll ‘top up’ your phone credit whenever you need to and it means you never spend more than you have. There’s usually a minimum top up – typically about £5 or £10.

It’s useful for people who only use their mobiles occasionally or for emergencies, any more than light usage may see your credit run out pretty quickly. But the advantages are that you’re not tied to any monthly payments, there’s no need for a Direct Debit to be set up and there’s no contract. If your credit history isn’t that great either, then this could be a good option as there are no credit checks.

mobile phone

What is a SIM only tariff?

With this you’ll get the SIM card –– and that’s it, there’s no handset included which ultimately reduces the monthly cost as you’re only paying for your usage. With a SIM only deal you’ll get a monthly allowance of calls, texts and data access. It’s good if you’re happy with your old phone and aren’t interested in changing. It’s also worth doing this if you’re waiting for a certain phone to come out but don’t want to tie yourself into a long contract in the meantime.

One benefit of a SIM only package is that contracts with the network provider are usually very short – some of them could be as little as 30 days, so as long as you give any notice required then you’re free to move on to another provider. You’re also not paying back the cost of the handset so it tends to be a cheaper option in the long run. Plus, credit checks are less rigorous than for pay monthly deals, so like a PAYG it’s a good option if your credit history isn’t so brilliant. Find out more about the pros and cons of a SIM only deal.

phone and laptop

And a pay monthly contract deal?

With this, you’ll pay a monthly fee in return for a handset and a bundle of calls, texts and data access. You’ll be tied to a network provider by a contract that lasts usually a minimum of 12 months, but the typical duration is 18 or 24 months.

Advantages are that you’ll have access to some of the latest phones (but as contracts can tie you for up to two years they may not be the hot new gadget for long). A monthly contract is also pretty hassle free, there’s no need to worry about whether you’ve got credit on your phone, so it’s a good option if you use your phone a lot. Find out more about the benefits and disadvantages of a monthly contract.

Anything else?

The best way to search for deals is to use our mobile comparison service, where you can search from our huge range of networks, phones and tariffs. You can filter your results to really get to the core of what you need and the best thing of all – we do it all simply and clearly, so what are you waiting for?