Pay-as-you-go mobile broadband

ByDominic Baliszewski

Dear Dominic, I would like to know the cheapest mobile broadband provider for a pay as you go tariff. I have a contract with Vodafone for my mobile phone; does this make any difference as to which mobile broadband provider I should choose? Thanks in advance,

Our Broadband Expert says...

Hi Beadon, you're not obliged to take mobile phone and mobile broadband packages from the same provider, but some providers will only allow you to be a mobile broadband customer if you already have an existing mobile phone or broadband contract with them.

Confused? Let me explain.

Mobile Phone and Broadband Providers

To qualify for O2 ( mobile broadband, you must be an existing mobile phone or broadband customer, pure and simple (although there are rumours this is set to change in August). The contract is perplexingly difficult to understand, but here's the deal outlined in terms as simple as I can muster:

Price Plan Top Speed Data Allowance Price Per Month Out of Bundle Charge (per MB) More Info
Mobile Broadband - 18 months 1.8Mb rising to 3.6Mb from June 3GB £20, rising to £30 if mobile phone or home broadband are disconnected or minimum top-up requirements are not met 20p per MB Free USB modem stick
Mobile Broadband - 1 month 1.8Mb rising to 3.6Mb from June 3GB £20, rising to £30 if mobile phone or home broadband are disconnected or minimum top-up requirements are not met 20p per MB You have to pay £119.99 for your USB modem stick

On the other hand, Vodafone ( operates no such restrictions and has an 'open door' policy on mobile broadband acceptance. Existing Vodafone mobile phone customers do receive a bonus however; the £49.99 dongle cost is wavered provided you sign up to a 12 month mobile broadband contract.

I suggest you try haggling with Vodafone (via their call centre) to see if they can improve on this free dongle offer, especially if you're a long standing mobile phone customer. As the old adage says, if you don't ask, you don't get.

Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband is a relatively new phenomenon, and a number of providers are still finding their feet with the product.

An established framework for pay as you go mobile broadband payment plans has yet to emerge, so each provider tends to play by their own rules. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to opting for a pay as you go tariff ahead of a fixed contract.


If you're a light internet user on a monthly contract, you may be using significantly less than you pay for. That's where a pay as you go tariff comes into play.

Moreover, should you be jetting between the UK and overseas, or even between an area in the UK where you can obtain coverage and one where you cannot, it makes sense to be able to top up your usage allowance only when you need it.


Invariably, you are required to buy the dongle with pay as you go tariffs, whereas dongles more often than not come free with fixed contracts. O2's dongle will set you back £119.00 before you've even started.

The cheapest pay as you go mobile broadband tariff belongs to Three mobile ( at £49.99. However, you are required to top-up a minimum of £10 and then convert that top-up to what 3 mobile describe as an 'add on'.

Here's an over view of 3 mobile's pay as you go range:

Most pay as you go contracts require a minimum monthly top-up. O2 insist you top up by £20 or more each month to keep your dongle and/or package.

Data Charges

The cost of usage that exceeds the boundaries of pay as you go tariffs is very high. 3 mobile charges pay as you go customers £1 for every extra MB they use outside of their bundle charge. Fixed contract customers are only charged 10p per extra MB.

For fixed contract customers, a 1GB exceed will cost you £100/102.40 (depending on whether you consider 1GB to be 1000MBs or 1024MBs).

Vodafone however has a set charge of £15 per GB.

T-Mobile ( offers 3GB usage on their pay as you go tariff, but charges you £4 each day you use it. However, T-mobile also offers free unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot access in places such as Starbucks, but only if you have a T-Mobile phone on a pay monthly contract.

For an idea of how demanding certain downloading activities are, check this out:

  • 60 hours web surfing = 1.5GB
  • 1 Music Album = 0.06GB
  • 10 Min Video Clip on Youtube = 0.2GB
  • Low definition movie = 0.75GB
  • DVD quality movie = 4.5GB
  • 10 hours of internet radio = 1.2GB

One Month Contracts - A Middle Ground

My personal favourite, as a halfway house between long-term fixed contracts and pay as you go, is the Vodafone 30 days contract.

Vodafone offers a 30 day mobile broadband contract, with such positives as fast speeds (7.2 Mbps on a USB modem) and Apple Mac compatibility. The one drawback is, as discussed before, you must pay for the modem (and top up at least £20 in the month).

Mobile Internet Access - Alternative Sources

You can, of course, connect to the internet on your laptop via a 3G mobile phone. Most 3G phones can be hooked up to your computer or laptop and used as a modem via a cable supplied by your provider. You'll also need software and a data plan, without these your laptop will not know how to communicate through the phone line.

Using a mobile phone as a dongle when connected to a laptop or via Bluetooth connection is the cheapest option, although there are a number of downsides.

Download capabilities are severely restricted, and you have to situate the mobile next to the computer, permanently. Most handsets aren't compatible with Apple Macs and you get only low resolution images at best.

Details correct at time of publication


Mobile phones

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