Why choose pay as you go?
Pay as you go mobile broadband offers similar advantages to pay as you go mobile phone use – the opportunity to try different networks on for size, to pay only for what we use, and being available to everyone.
There are other bonuses too: PAYG phone deals are more limited in terms of the handsets on offer, but pay as you go mobile broadband deals include the same wide range of devices as pay monthly users can expect to get their hands on.
PAYG is also really well suited to one of the newest ways of getting mobile broadband: in-car mi-fi. The 12V devices might not be useful all year around, but with the right pay as you go mi-fi deal, or a pay as you go data SIM, they're ideal for the occasional long journey.
What does it cost to get started?
Getting set up with mobile broadband is more expensive for PAYG users, because they're expected to buy their equipment upfront before getting to use it. That said, most pay as you go mi-fi hotspots and dongles come with a certain amount of data included – anything from 1GB up to 24GB.
The cheapest mobile broadband pay as you go deals are for dongles with minimal data allowances – enough to get started, basically. The more devices that can connect to a mobile broadband hotspot, the more expensive it's likely to be – and obviously, the more data that comes included, the more we'll pay.
Because even PAYG mobile broadband devices come with some data included, it shouldn't be necessary to top up straight away. In fact, it's worth waiting to see how long the data lasts: the best deals will give us anything from 90 days to a year in which to use the allowance included with our device.
After that, data top ups have a shorter lifespan than standard phone top-ups. Some of the smallest and cheapest are valid for just 24 hours, most last for up to 30 days. Users can top up more often if they need to, but if they don't use all their mobile broadband credit within the allotted time, it'll vanish.
PAYG mobile broadband does cost more than pay monthly mobile broadband. But as it's possible to top up with just a couple of hundred MB at a time there's no need to pay for more data than absolutely necessary – and there's no risk of facing stiff out of allowance charges.
Also bear in mind that while pay as you go mobile broadband devices need to be used at least once every six months to avoid the SIM and account being marked as inactive, that can be done by buying a 24 hour top-up or a small 30-day data bundle for a quick browsing session.
Who offers the best coverage?
Among the advantages of pay as you go mobile broadband over pay monthly is that users aren't limited to just one network; they also don't have to pay for a service they know they won't be able to use for a while.
There's nothing to stop people from having more than one PAYG mobile broadband device, each on a different network, and using whichever offers them a better connection or better value data depending on where they are.
Where pay as you go mi-fi and dongle users do lose out is in access to public wi-fi hotspots. Among the providers listed above, only one offers their pay as you go mobile broadband customers access to wi-fi on the London Underground, for example.
Go back up to the mobile broadband deals