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All about pay-as-you-go data SIMs

When you want to get online on the go, you need a data-only SIM plan. Much like a mobile phone, your tablet or mobile Wi-Fi device needs a SIM card in order to connect to 3G or 4G mobile internet - and there are plenty of SIMs available with just a data allowance, and no minutes or texts.

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If you’re not a particularly heavy user, or if you only need mobile broadband for a month or so, your best bet may be to pick a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) data plan.

How do pay-as-you-go data SIMs work?

It’s actually quite difficult to get true pay-as-you-go mobile data, where you top up your account and spend it as you use. Most networks instead offer them on a 30-day basis. You can either buy a bundle of data on your SIM, which you then have up to 30 days to use; or take out a 30-day contract that continues rolling every month until you cancel it.

We show a mixture of both those kinds of plan in our table, so you can find the best value one for you.

All you need to do to get a SIM deal is:

1. Compare PAYG data SIM deals using the table above

2. Pick one you like and click through to sign up

3. Stick it in your tablet or mobile broadband device, activate it, and boom - you’re online!

What’s the cheapest PAYG data SIM?

The best value SIM deal for you all depends on what you want - the same allowance can come with quite different costs on different networks.

Adjust the filters on the sidebar of our comparison table above, so the results only show the kind of plans you want. Then, sort by cost to find the cheapest plan that fits your criteria.

Keep an eye out for special offers too. Some networks have extra discounts and deals just for existing customers who take out more than one kind of plan, for instance - which could save you even more money.

How much data do I need?

The best data allowance for you will all depend on how much you’ll be using your tablet or mobile broadband device.

The great thing about choosing a PAYG or 30-day deal is that you can try a data allowance out for size - and easily switch to a bigger or smaller one at the end of the month. It’s a good way of finding out how much data you use.

But for your first month, here are a few guidelines…

  • If you just need a bit of data to browse the web for a few hours and send some emails - pick a low allowance, 500MB-1GB.
  • If you need to use your mobile broadband for work, and will use it a lot over the coming month - 5GB-10GB.
  • If you want to stream TV or films on the train - allow 1GB per hour of streaming (more if it’s HD).
  • If you don’t have home broadband right now and need a bit of mobile broadband until it’s installed - go for a high allowance, 20GB or more.
    For more info, see our guide: How much data do I need?

Can I get unlimited data on a PAYG SIM?

Sadly, no. You can’t currently get mobile broadband or a tablet SIM with unlimited data at all.

You can get deals with some quite high allowances, however - up to 30GB or so on some networks.

Which networks offer pay-as-you-go data SIMs?

Plenty of mobile networks have PAYG and 30-day data SIMs available, including:

Remember to check coverage in your area before you commit to a deal, of course.