Unlimited 4G and 3G mobile data plans

ByDuncan Heaney
Unlimited mobile data

If you stream songs or watch lots of video on the go, you’ll probably want unlimited data – or at least a generous allowance, otherwise you could be looking at a nasty shock with your mobile phone bill. This guide gives advice on the best mobile data deals from all networks and handy tips on using mobile internet.

We've got all you need to know on mobile data plans from the different networks, so you can find what tariff is best for you, whether you're looking to use your mobile for watching videos on Facebook whilst out and about (which eats up a lot of data) or just want to ensure you can browse the web (using much less data).

SIM Only unlimited data plans

If you're after unlimited data but don't want a new handset, then a SIM Only plan is for you. Below is a table of the mobile networks' best data plans on SIM only.

Three (www.Three.co.uk) is the standout network for unlimited SIM deals - its 'all-you-can-eat' plans come with a variety of minutes and text allowances, as well as the option of monthly or annual plans, to help you choose the right package for you. Why not try a 30 day plan and see if Three is for you?

 

Best SIM Only data plans

Compare all deals

Three iD Mobile EE O2 Vodafone
Unlimited data Unlimited data 4GB data 10GB data 20GB data
4G included 4G included 4G included 4G included 4G included
12 month contract 1 month term 12 month contract 12 month contract 12 month contract
£17.00 a month £20.00 a month £19.99 a month  £32.00 a month  £30.00 a month
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Mobile phones with unlimited data plans

Let's take a look at some smartphones that are popular for using large amounts of mobile data. After all, if you have the latest smartphone you're going to want to use it to it's full potential without restrictions - exactly what an unlimited data plan is for.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Galaxy S5

Fast quad-core processor |  Beautiful display |  16-megapixel camera

 

Three

EE

O2

Vodafone

Monthly data allowance

Unlimited

5GB

5GB

1GB

4G included?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Contract (months)

24

24

24

24

Monthly cost

£33.00

£31.99

£34.00

£29.00

 

See deal

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You can get a Samsung Galaxy S5 with unlimited data from Three mobile. For £33 a month, you're getting one of the latest Android phones with as much data as you like - a great deal. Three offers the unlimited tariff with a FREE Samsung Galaxy S5 cheaper than any other network provider… who don't even give you unlimited data. Other networks only give you around 5GB - double win for Three. 

Compare all Samsung Galaxy S5 deals

 

LG G3

LG G3

Ultra high resolution display | Great camera |  Long battery life

 

Three

EE

O2

Vodafone

Monthly data allowance

Unlimited

5GB

5GB

2GB

4G included?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Contract (months)

24

24

24

24

Monthly cost

£33.00

£31.99

£34.00

£30.00

 

See deal

See deal

See deal

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The LG G3 is great value with unlimited data for only £29 a month on Three mobile. The G3 is an amazing handset, boasting a large high-resolution display and impressive 13 mega-pixel camera. With unlimited data you can enjoy watching Netflix, Sky Sports, and all your favourite shows on your LG G3, that's for sure. 

Compare all LG G3 deals

 

iPhone 6

High resolution display | Large screen | Fast and easy to use

 

Three

EE

O2

Vodafone

Monthly data allowance

Unlimited

10GB

5GB

6GB

4G included?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fair usage policy

No*

Yes

Yes

Yes

Contract (months)

24

24

24

24

Monthly cost

£44.00

£44.99

£39.00

£45.00

 

Get deal

Get deal

Get deal

Get deal

Of course, no round up of handsets would be complete without looking at an iPhone 6 on an unlimited data plan, and at £44 a month it's a fair bit more expensive than the rest if you want it free. So long as you think your data allowance won't break the 5GB threshold, you could go with O2 5GB data tariff and get it for £38 a month - saving you £6. Over a 24 month contract it's a decent £144 saving, but bear in mind that you may gradually spend more time online as your contract goes on… so in a few months time that 5GB could become too little. Always make sure you plan ahead when getting locked into such a long term contract.

Compare all iPhone 6 deals

 

Compare mobile data plans of popular networks

Each of the main mobile networks in the UK (Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE) has its own approach to data. Some plans clearly state a set download allowance, while others described as 'unlimited' may still carry a fair usage policy.

The amount of data included in a monthly plan can vary depending on whether you're buying a phone and tariff plan together, or just buying a SIM only deal (no phone, just a tariff plan).

Here's our table to compare the networks' biggest data allowances, and the prices with phone contracts and SIM only deals.

A summary of each mobile network's large data allowances for mobile phones and their policies can be found below. 

  Three EE O2 Vodafone iD Mobile
Data allowance Unlimited 5GB 4GB 20GB Unlimited
Fair usage policy No [1] Yes Yes Yes Yes 
4G included [2] Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Use data abroad at no extra cost Yes [3] No No No Yes[3]
Tethering [4] Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Monthly cost from [5] £17.00 £27.99 £23.00 £30.00 £20.00
  See more See more See more See more See more

[1]Three doesn't have a fair usage policy in the UK (unless you use 1,000GB which even heavy users wouldn't reach), but it does have one for abroad.  [2]Subject to network coverage and you'll need a 4G phone.  [3]You can use data abroad in 16 countries at no extra cost, up to 25GB per month. You can use your monthly allowance for not just data but also minutes and texts in 16 countries. Those countries include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and United States. Two further countries, Spain and New Zealand are available from April 2015.  [4]Three offer tethering of 2GB usage on unlimited plans with a handset and 4GB usage on SIM only unlimited data plans. Outside of that allowance you will be charged the regular rate per MB of usage for your plan. For other networks, tethering uses up your data allowance.  [5]We have selected a range of available tariffs with large data allowances. Networks could offer higher data allowances for tariff + phone contracts (pay monthly). Terms apply and prices can change or be withdrawn at any time without notice. Please refer to individual supplier's sites for full details.

 

Who is best for mobile data?

If you've got your heart set on an unlimited data plan then Three is the network for you. Not only do you get the peace of mind that you won't go over your limit, you can also use your data plan abroad in about 16 countries - fantastic for keeping in touch with loved ones when you're on holiday and telling everyone how great a time you're having... or not.

EE, Vodafone and O2 all have fair usage policies, which means that they might restrict the amount of data you can consume if you're burning through megabytes at a rate of knots. Most customers probably won't feel any effect of a fair usage policy.

If you're specifically looking for a 4G data plan then you might want to consider EE. As the biggest and fastest network in the UK, you're likely to get better speeds and a more reliable internet connection with EE than any other - although Three isn't far behind EE on this and costs less.

O2 and Giffgaff are the only networks that don't include 4G internet for no extra cost, which means you'll need to fork out extra if you want one of their data plans with faster internet speeds.

When it comes to price, you don't need to look further than Three. At the moment, Three's unlimited data plans offer the best value for money in our eyes. If you want a second option, we'd say iD Mobile is a good shout, because it also offers unlimited data, running as a virtual network off the Three network infrastructure. 

 

The best unlimited data deal if you already have a phone

Three

Unlimited data

200 minutes

Unlimited texts

£20 a month

30 day term

See deal

We recommend going for this 30 day plan with Three. You get 4G included at no extra cost and with the term being only 30 days, you can effectively test-drive the tariff and network to ensure it works for you. If you find that the coverage is great and you enjoy being on an unlimited data plan, then why not sign up to the 12 month plan, which will save you a few quid a month.

 

Three

Mobile data is what Three (Three.co.uk) has always prided itself on, especially with their all-you-can-eat mobile data plans. It provides "genuinely unlimited" mobile internet use with no danger of bill shock, which you may get with other more restricted data plans.

Three doesn't separate 3G and 4G services. This means if you sign up to a Three all-you-can-eat data plan then you'll get 4G at no extra charge - so long as you're in an area covered by Three 4G and have a 4G-compatible phone, of course.

The best value for unlimited data is Three - a standout winner with the cheapest prices and best range of plan features. It's the nearest to a truly unlimited data plan with 4G included, tethering up to 4GB, and the massive added bonus of being able to use your monthly allowance abroad in many countries. They are the stand out winner for anyone with high mobile data usage.

Three unlimited all you can eat data plan

Compare the prices of getting an unlimited data plans with one of the latest handsets or as a SIM Only deal.

Unlimited data | 600 minutes | Unlimited texts

SIM Only LG G3 Samsung Galaxy S5 iPhone 6
SIM      
No upfront cost £19.99 upfront cost No upfront cost No upfront cost 
12 month term  24 month term  24 month term  24 month term 
£22.00 a month  £32.00 a month  £33.00 a month £44.00 a month
Get deal Get deal Get deal  Get deal

Feel at Home

With Three's "Feel at Home", in certain countries, you can use up to 25GB of your all-you-can-eat data plan at no extra cost. If you're visiting a country that doesn't fit under your plan, or if you go outside your monthly allowance, you will have to pay standard roaming rates.

This should be a big bonus if you want to check work email (really?), keep in touch with WhatsApp while sunbathing, or make your friends jealous by uploading photos of the fun you're having to Facebook.

You don't just get this benefit on your data - it includes your minutes and text messages as well. Another win.

Tethering at no extra cost

On the Three All-you-can-eat plan you can tether your device and make it a personal hotspot at no extra charge. You are given 2GB on your phone plan and 4GB on SIM only plans, so while it's not unlimited, it's still a good allowance. Go outside this allowance and you will be charged based on data charges at the time on a per MB basis.

4G is included free

With Three, 4G is included on all tariffs where high speed coverage is available and you are using a compatible device. Where 4G is not available, you'll revert to 3G which is a slower speed.

Most relaxed fair usage policy

The All-you-can-eat data plan does not have a fair usage policy. Three puts a limit on the plan of 1,000GB - at which point they'd consider the plan being used for commercial purposes, something not permitted in the terms of service (since it's intended for customers only). Reaching 1,000GB is incredibly unlikely and even most heavy users would not get near consuming that much data. So in a nutshell, you can enjoy data on the go as much as you like without worrying about the bill.

Compare unlimited Three deals 

 

EE

EE 4G plans come with varying data limits, but none of them are unlimited. Plans range from 500MB to a massive 20GB of data a month. EE will let you know if you're close to hitting your limit, and if you are you can buy a data add-on to get more.

EE doesn't offer 3G directly, and with BT and EE closing down T-Mobile in March 2015, you won't be able to get T-Mobiles unlimited 3G plans any more.

There's no other network that is bigger and faster than EE. It has more customers than any other network, and is the award winner for the Rootmetrics overall UK network performance. But does that mean that EE is the right network for you? 

EE

4GB data

Unlimited minutes

Unlimited texts

£19.99 a month

12 month term

See deal

Biggest of the networks

The important thing to note here is that EE has the best coverage across the UK. You're more likely to get a better internet connection with EE than any other network. According to the Rootmetrics report published Feb 2015, it has 91.6% UK coverage reliability. Three is a close second with 91.1%.

Fastest mobile data speeds

EE regularly comes out on top when it comes to the fastest internet connection. All of its mobile data plans come with 4G, meaning you'll benefit from very fast internet speeds if you've got a 4G enabled phone and are in an area with 4G coverage.

Shared mobile data plans

You can share a plan with EE, which could save your family members forking out for their own individual plans. 4GEE Plans can be shared with up to four other people within your household and everyone gets unlimited call and texts - it's just the data allowance that gets shared.

If you want peace of mind that you won't reach your data allowance, remember to keep your eye on how much data you're all using!

EE film store

EE has its own video on demand service, which gives you access to 100s of the latest movie titles as well as a back catalogue of movie classics. You rent a film on demand and watch it on your PC, laptop, tablet or phone.

Again, just remember to keep your eye on how much data you're using if you stream the films when you're out and about, as EE's data isn't unlimited.

Compare EE deals

 

BT Mobile

BT (www.BT.com) - the owner of EE's network - doesn't offer any unlimited data plans. Its 4G plans give you three data options to pick from: 500MB, 2GB and 20GB. If you're concerned about your usage, BT does let you set a monthly spending cap to ensure you don't overspend on your phone bills - this stays in place even if you go abroad.

Cheap 4G plans for BT Broadband customers

If you're a BT Broadband customer then BT will give you a discount on its SIM only plans. The discount makes BT SIM plans very competitive and one of the cheapest ways you can get a 4G data SIM. 

FREE BT Sport App with BT SIMs

BT also currently offers the BT Sport App free with all SIM plans. This offer is available whether you're an existing BT Broadband customer or not. Just take any BT SIM Only plan and you'll get FREE access to watch live sport via the app.

Compare BT Mobile deals

 

Vodafone

If you pick a Vodafone 3G or 4G plan, a set data allowance - anywhere between 250MB and 20GB - will be stated in the contract. You can then check what you're using via the MyAccount page on Vodafone's website.

Data test drive

One cool thing about Vodafone is its Data Test Drive, which is available to new and upgrading pay-monthly customers. It allows you to use as much data as you like - with no restrictions - for the first three months of your contract. After that, you can upgrade or downgrade to a data bundle that suits your actual usage.

Vodafone Red plans

Vodafone has partnerships with Spotify, Now TV and Sky Sports to bring entertainment packages to some of its Red plans. This means that you could get access to some of the latest movies, live sport and music through your Vodafone plan. Google's Chromecast TV is also available from Vodafone. It's always worth comparing how much these services cost if you get them independently.

Compare Vodafone deals

 

O2

O2's 3G or 4G plans aren't offered with unlimited data. Its plans range from 100MB to a fairly generous 8GB a month. There's not much chance of you accidentally going over your data limit - O2 lets you know if you're getting close to it, and you can always purchase top ups to get more data.

Not the best value if you're looking for a big data allowance, but there are other benefits to joining O2.

O2 Priority

O2's flagship Priority service is a very broad offers and rewards program. You can get exclusive offers such as VIP tickets to the latest gigs, discounts on high street retailers, and prize draws to win a whole range of treats.

O2 Priority Tickets

This little gem lets O2 customers get access to tons of live event tickets up to 48 hours before they're on sale to the public.

TU Go

TU Go is a neat service that allows O2 customers to text, call and check their voicemail over a Wi-Fi connection. Great for when you don't have any phone signal!

Compare O2 deals

 

iD Mobile from Carphone Warehouse

The network brought to you by Carphone Warehouse, iD Mobile offers customers unlimited data tariffs. iD uses the Three network for its coverage, which is why it's capable of giving people unlimited 4G plans (only Three and iD offer unlimited 4G). SIM only plans start from £7.50 a month and iD Mobile offers add-ons so you can tailor your plan to suit your needs, adding minutes, text or data to your allowance when you need it. At the moment, all iD's SIM plans are available only as 1 month contracts, which gives you greater flexiblity to switch and save.

Compare iD Mobile deals

 

Other networks

giffgaff

giffgaff does things a little differently from most networks. It's online-only, its community provides technical support, and its phones are paid for through peer-to-peer lending, meaning the more you pay up front, the less you pay each month. With giffgaff you pick a 'goodybag' of calls, texts and data, one of which includes 3G with unlimited data. It doesn't offer 4G goodybags with unlimited data.

Goodybags are pay-monthly, but there's no minimum contract term - if you find you don't actually need unlimited data you can switch to a cheaper limited data plan the next month.

Compare giffgaff deals

 

T-Mobile

T-Mobile (www.ee.co.uk) is now defunct and its deals are no longer available to new customers. It used to offer 3G plans with unlimited data and no fair usage policy. That means that you can browse, download and stream to your heart's content on 3G at least - you couldn't get 4G plans with unlimited data from T-Mobile and you still can't get unlimited data via T-Mobile's parent company, EE.

 

talkmobile

talkmobile is all about low-cost plans, so as you might expect, it doesn't offer 3G plans with unlimited data, or even offer 4G plans at all.

If affordability's your thing, it's definitely one to look at, but not if you have your heart set on unlimited data - its plans only go up to 2GB of data a month.

Compare talkmobile deals

 

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile offers a 3G plan with unlimited data. It's one of its new Freestyle tariffs, which let you change the amount of call minutes, texts and data you pay for each month, depending on what you need. It's flexible, but still rewards commitment - the longer you have the plan, the cheaper it gets.

You'll also pay less for an unlimited data plan if you're an existing Virgin Media customer for their TV and broadband packages.

One thing to note, however, is that Virgin Mobile does not offer any kind of 4G service yet.

Compare Virgin Mobile deals


Tesco Mobile

Much like Three, if you have a 4G-compatible phone, Tesco Mobile gives you 4G at no extra cost. Unfortunately, none of its 4G plans are unlimited.

The maximum data allowance available is 8GB a month - that's generous enough to do a fair bit, and you'll be warned if you're nearing your limit, but if you're set the peace of mind you get with unlimited data, look elsewhere.

Compare Tesco Mobile deals


Mobile by Sainsbury's

Mobile by Sainsbury's is all about affordable SIM-only plans and good value 30-day call, text and data bundles. As you'd expect, none of them offer unlimited data, with the top plan coming with 2GB a month which is usually more than enough for regular users. Mobile by Sainsbury's doesn't offer 4G.

Compare Mobile by Sainsbury's deals


The People's Operator

The People's Operator, or TPO to its chums, does pay-monthly and pay-as-you-go SIM-only plans with some of what you spend on them going to a charity of your choice. It doesn't offer 3G plans with unlimited data or any 4G plans at all, and its top-end plans give you 3GB of data a month.

However, it has previously offered 3G with unlimited data as a special deal, so if the idea of a more socially-conscious network appeals, check to see if any such deals are currently running.

Compare The People's Operator deals

Mobile in use

TalkTalk Mobile

TalkTalk Mobile has unlimited 3G data plans available - but all TalkTalk plans are only available to existing TalkTalk customers. If you are an existing TalkTalk customer then the prices are generally quite good. As an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), TalkTalk Mobile uses the Vodafone network for its mobile services so it covers 99% of the UK. Adding 4G to its mobile phone plans isn't currently in the pipeline for TalkTalk.

Compare TalkTalk Unlimited SIM deals

 

Do I need unlimited data?

That depends. Getting an unlimited data package gives you peace of mind that you'll never go over your monthly data allowance. You won't have to worry about how much data you consume, you won't receive hefty charges on your monthly bill, and your network won't cut your internet connection off when you're busy browsing the web or halfway through an episode of Breaking Bad.

You might, however, pay a premium price for the luxury of having an unlimited data plan that you don't really need.

The average customer uses less than 1GB data per month. The amount of data you need each month really depends on how much you use your phone for emailing, watching videos, downloading apps and music, using Facebook and Twitter, and browsing the internet.

It boils down to this: do you plan to use the web extensively when out and about? Will you watch films and TV shows on the likes of BBC iPlayer and Netflix when you're not connected to Wi-Fi? If so, you'd definitely benefit from unlimited data. If not, you'll probably be fine with a data limit.

To get a sense of how many gigabytes you're likely to guzzle, here's a rough guide to internet data usage.

 

What does 1GB of data mean?

So what does 1GB of mobile data actually get you? We've put together a simple table of what 1GB translates to when using your mobile phone on a day to day basis with some real world examples like Netflix, iPlayer and Spotify.

 

Activity

1GB =

BBC iPlayer

Watching TV episodes in standard definition

2 hours

Netflix

Watching TV or films in HD (high definition)

1 hour

Call of Duty / FIFA

Playing games online

40 minutes

Facebook / Instagram

Posting photos on social media

500 photos

Skype / Facetime

Video calls

3-5 hours

iTunes / Spotify

Downloading music

150 songs

Email

Sending and receiving basic emails

10,000 emails

News (Guardian, BBC, etc.)

Browsing web pages

40 hours

WhatsApp

Sending messages via apps

1 million

 

What is a fair usage policy?

Does 'unlimited' really mean you can munch as many megabytes as you like?

Each of the main mobile networks in the UK - Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE (which also runs the defunct Orange and T-Mobile networks) has its own approach to data. Some plans clearly state a set download allowance, while others described as 'unlimited' may still carry a fair usage policy.

When choosing a mobile network, it's a good idea to look at the terms and conditions, as some deals will suit your needs better than others.

While mobile phones plans are often labelled as offering 'unlimited' data by networks, the amount of data you can actually use is normally capped by a fair usage policy. This is basically a set of guidelines laid out in the terms and conditions.

Breach the fair usage policy and your mobile phone bill could increase significantly, as additional charges may apply if you've used too much data. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has looked at the networks' use of the term 'unlimited' when it comes to data and given them the green light to keep using it, so be aware of any limits that may apply.

To stay out of the danger zone, make sure you understand your network's fair usage policy. If you think you might breach it, consider ways of cutting down your data consumption - use Wi-Fi where possible, for example.

 

4 ways to cut down on your data usage

You can significantly cut down how much mobile data you use by adopting some of these good habits. 

Hook up to Wi-Fi hotspots

Data usage depends on how often you connect to Wi-Fi. Hooking up to the Wi-Fi at home, in the office or at thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country means you won't be eating into your data allowance while you're connected.

Turn off Facebook autoplay video streaming

Facebook now has an autoplay function, which means that your phone may automatically start streaming the videos in your newsfeed.

If you don't want to eat up so much data watching the latest viral videos, disable Facebook's autoplay by setting it to Wi-Fi only. This means the videos will only begin to play automatically when your device is connected to Wi-Fi, therefore not using mobile internet data.

Go to Facebook app >> tap More (the three horizontal lines) >> scroll to Settings >> find Video and Photos >> turn Auto-play to Wi-Fi only or Off.

Download movies and TV episodes before you leave the house

Downloading a TV episode on BBC iPlayer before you leave the home could save you a good chunk of your mobile data allowance.

If you watch around two hours of standard definition programmes a week on your mobile device, then you could save roughly 4GB of data a month by downloading on Wi-Fi instead of streaming.

Downsize your photo sharing

Sending smaller resolution versions of your pictures (whether via email or uploading to Twitter or Facebook) can significantly reduce the amount of internet data you're using. Does that selfie really need to be in super high resolution?

 

What is mobile data?

In the same way that mobile networks charge you to make calls - or include a certain number of minutes with a pay-monthly plan - there are costs involved with connecting to the internet on your phone.

Whenever you send an email, check Facebook or download an app, your phone is transferring data using your mobile network (unless you're connected to Wi-Fi).

To help keep traffic flowing and make sure they're not overloaded - and to make money, of course - networks charge you for using mobile internet. Instead of paying by the minute as you do with calls, you're billed according to how much data you use.

This makes it important to compare mobile phone deals and choose the plan with a data allowance that best suits your needs.

 

Can I get Unlimited 4G?

Yes you can! The network Three offers customer's unlimited data plans, with 4G at no extra cost. If you have a 4G-enabled phone and are in a 4G coverage area then you can make the most of faster internet on an unlimited data plan at no extra cost.

4G gives you faster download and upload speeds and reduces loading times. But be warned! This does mean you'll use up data faster - though you need not worry if you're on an unlimited data plan.

 

Best Network for Unlimited Data

This is an easy decision. By far Three offer the best value when it comes to mobile data plans. It's not just the fact that they do better unlimited data plans in comparison to the vast majority of the competition, but some great extras get thrown in on top.

The 4G speeds and the ability to use your allowance abroad in many countries at no extra cost are stand out features on their own. And on top of that, their pricing is fantastic. It will be interesting to see if such a good mobile phone tariff continues to exist once they merge with O2 - only time will tell, but if you ask us, we say to grab it while you can.

If you want unlimited data with no limits for your mobile phone then Three is your answer with their all-you-can-eat data plans.

Click here to compare mobile phone deals

 

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