Coverage: All providers offer pretty much the same level of coverage. Only if you are going to be living in a remote place or regularly using the mobile while travelling in the countryside, this can make a difference. Ask local people or check with the operators to find more about the coverage in your local area (some of them have availability maps on their websites).
Fees, rates and various services: Unless you’re feeling particularly good at maths, understanding the pricing plans of the various providers can be a challenge. Each operator offers several different plans and options. The different tariffs are complex and most look like they were built to confuse, so direct comparisons are practically impossible.
When you consider different options, you should ask yourself:
How much you think to use your mobile:
If you are not going to use the phone much, but want to be easily contactable, a prepaid card is probably the best solution. If you will be calling a lot, a contract is going to be cheaper if you are going to be in the UK for more than a year.
When you call (morning, day or evening, weekends):
Discounted periods vary and you can select different plans based on your needs.
Where you call (fixed lines or which mobile provider):
Some operators offer different rates depending on whether you call to fixed lines, to mobiles on the same network or to other mobiles.
How much you use the short message services (SMS):
The cost varies significantly depending on type of contract and operator.
If you make many short calls (lasting less then one minute):
Some plans bill one full minute on each connection (as a connection fee), while some per second from the beginning of the call.
If you frequently use your mobile abroad:
These rates and services are not available in standard brochures, so if you will be travelling, check out roaming tariffs as there are big differences.
- Specialist mobile retailers (such as Carphone Warehouse or Phones4U) publish information in a brochure which allows the different plans to be compared quite easily. If you are feeling confused (or lazy), they are also a good place to go and ask questions.
Prepaid or contract?
Similar to other European countries, you can pay for your calls in two different ways: prepaid or contract.
Prepaid: With prepaid phones, you have maximum flexibility since 'you pay as you go', which means you pay in advance for credits which you can then use for your calls. You can also be called for a number of months (depending on the provider) without making any payment. When you need credit you simply buy ‘top-up’ cards that are widely available in newsagents, petrol stations and online (as well as directly from the mobile retailer).
The operators tend to make their rates difficult to understand and choosing one is not easy. To pick a prepaid card, take into consideration the points above and the following characteristics:
- Cost of the purchase of the SIM card itself, which sometimes includes a block of minutes of communication
- Cost of recharging the card
- Connection fees; some operators do not apply connection fees, which is better if you often make many short calls
- Time of the validity to make and to receive calls (these two things are different!) with the recharge purchase.
Contract: The other option available is to sign a contract. Besides delaying payment until the end of the month, the benefits of a contract are lower calling rates (quite significantly in some cases) and much better deals on the purchase of new phones (which are sometimes given even for free). When evaluating which plan is best for you, be sure to read all the other conditions.
Besides the general points above, there are some things you should additionally consider when choosing a contract:
- Monthly fees
- Minimum length of contract - usually 12 months, the penalties on finishing a contract early mean you are probably paying for the duration in most cases
- Cost per minute within the plan and when you exceed the plan
- Services included (e.g. answering system, photo messaging, GPRS)
- Whether or not unused minutes within your plan can carried over to the following period(s).
Contracts are fairly easy to obtain on an individual basis. There are no credit checks nor do you need to provide proof of income. All mobile companies require direct debits from your bank account. Many new arrivals start with a prepaid phone and then convert to a contract when they have sorted out the paperwork.