But if you are to benefit from this largesse, you need to shop around – annually at least and every few months if you can spare the time.
This is because some operators penalise customers who remain on price plans they have deemed obsolete. Special offers that were in place when the tariffs were new have been removed and the prices rendered uncompetitive.
What’s more, new service providers are entering the market all the time, each trying to out-do the others.
Britain has four physical mobile networks – Vodaone, O2, EE and Three – but many more “virtual network operators” which partner one of the Big Four but offer their own SIM cards and price structures. Among the better-known virtual networks are GiffGaff, Virgin and Tesco Mobile, but names come and go all the time.
One of the more interesting arrivals of late has been Smarty, which is owned by the parent company of Three and shares the same transmitters, and which undercuts most of its rivals at almost every price point.
The battleground for attracting new customers has moved away from monthly minutes of talk time and numbers of texts – because fewer of us use our phones as phones these days – and Smarty allows unlimited calls and messages on even its cheapest call plans. Instead, it calibrates its prices purely on the amount of data permitted each month. These range from four gigabytes at £6 to a whopping 50GB at £15. You can also pay £20 a month for unlimited data. Those rates were unheard of just a few months ago, but they point the direction the industry is taking, as it seeks to gradually migrate users to the faster and more expensive 5G networks currently being introduced.
Smarty also removes the restriction imposed by many other budget networks on using your phone as a wi-fi hot-spot you can share with someone else. And on certain handsets it allows you to make phone calls using wi-fi if there is no mobile signal. Nor does it tie you to a long-term commitment; the contract rolls on month by month and you can cancel any time.
It’s not the only cheap network out there. Lebara, ID Mobile and Talkmobile are among the others offering similar deals, though not all compete on offering wi-fi hotspots. That, however, could be a deal-breaker for some users, because if you can buy all the data you need for £20 a month, there is no need in theory to pay for a broadband contract as well. A signal from your phone could provide internet access to all the laptops, gaming consoles and other wireless devices in the house. It’s a process known as tethering.
In practice, speed is a limiting factor, since you will get nothing like the bandwidth of a conventional landline on your mobile. All the same, it’s a useful feature.
However, the real benefit of all this competition is in doing away with the need to periodically try to get through to your operator’s call centre in some far-flung continent to see if they will offer you a better deal to keep your business. The ease of changing networks and taking your number with you makes it quicker to skip the negotiation and simply move on.
If you’re wondering whether you should do this now, take a look at your last monthly mobile bill. If it’s more than £6 for 4GB of data and unlimited calls, the answer is yes.
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