Which network is best for unlimited mobile data plans?

Last updated: 07 August 2022   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Many mobile networks now offer unlimited mobile data plans to customers looking for huge data allowances.

Smaller mobile providers like SMARTY, iD Mobile and Tesco Mobile are some of the cheapest for unlimited SIM only mobile plans.

There are only unlimited data plans for customers who want to take a mobile handset or a data only plan with or without a mobile hotspot device.

However, with the average amount of data used per person each month less than 6GB, many customers may find suitable deals if they choose a limited data plan.

people using mobile phones

Best unlimited mobile data plans

Unlimited mobile plans have become far more common in recent years, with big names offering unlimited deals as well as smaller providers looking to attract new customers.

Here are some of the cheapest unlimited mobile deals available right now:

Package Minutes Data Contract term Monthly price
SMARTY Unlimited Data Unlimited Unlimited 1 month £16
iD Mobile Unlimited data Unlimited Unlimited 24 months £16
Tesco Mobile Unlimited data Unlimited Unlimited 24 months £17.50
Lebara Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 12 months £22.50
Three Unlimited data Unlimited Unlimited 12 months £23

As the table shows, all these deals also come with unlimited minutes and unlimited texts, although the contract lengths differ.

Some networks like SMARTY specialise in 1-month rolling deals, while others offer cheaper rates to customers willing to sign up to 12-month or 24-month deals - see Three for an example of this.

Bear in mind that signing up to an unlimited mobile deal on a lengthy contract means customers may see their bills increase in relation to inflation each year. Find out more about annual mobile price increases and which networks use them.

Unlimited 5G plans

5G is included as standard with most unlimited mobile deals - although it's worth checking the terms and conditions of smaller providers to see if there are any caveats.

Coverage is also more of an issue when it comes to 5G, so customers should check the 5G coverage of their preferred network before committing to a deal if 5G services are important to them.

Ofcom research found the premium for taking 5G rather than 4G mobile services had fallen from over £21 to just £3.48 in 2020, with unlimited data customers one of the groups who found it cheaper to take a 5G plan compared to a 4G plan.

Speed restrictions

Some mobile networks will offer different tiers of unlimited plans with different maximum speeds.

Vodafone is the biggest example of this. Their unlimited mobile plans come with three speed options:

  • Unlimited Lite (2Mb maximum)
  • Unlimited (10Mb maximum)
  • Unlimited Max (fastest speed available)

As Vodafone have been posting average 4G speeds of more than 20Mbps for some years now, customers who choose Unlimited Lite or Unlimited will be taking a significant speed hit on their maximum potential download speeds.

For those with a 5G ready device, top speeds could be a fraction of their potential.

To their credit, Vodafone do label their plans properly and there's no suggestion they are tricking customers into taking capped speeds - but it's still important to be aware of these cheaper unlimited deals and the slower speeds that come with them.

Asda Mobile (also operating on the Vodafone network) provides a similar structure with the following speed options:

  • Unlimited Data - 2Mb
  • Unlimited Data - 10Mb
  • Unlimited Data - 150Mb

The crucial difference here is that Asda Mobile don't have an option for the fastest available, so customers will be capped at speeds of 150Mb, no matter how fast the Vodafone 5G network is in their area.

Customers who want to use the Vodafone network because it has better mobile coverage for them can get unlimited deals without caps from the likes of Lebara, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone's own subsidiary VOXI.

Unlimited data handset deals

Some providers allow customers to combine unlimited data mobile plans with a new mobile handset.

To illustrate how this works in practice, here is the Apple iPhone 13 with unlimited data and low set-up costs from various networks:

Handset Minutes Data Monthly price Initial price Contract
Virgin Media Apple iPhone 13 (128GB) on Freestyle Unlimited (Blue) Unlimited Unlimited £36 Free 36 months
iD Mobile Apple iPhone 13 (128GB) on Pay Monthly Unlimited (Blue) Unlimited Unlimited £36.99 £29.99 24 months
Tesco Mobile Apple iPhone 13 (128GB) on Pay Monthly Unlimited (Blue) Unlimited Unlimited £39.99 Free 36 months
Vodafone Apple iPhone 13 (128GB) on Pay Monthly Unlimited + 4 Xtra Benefits (Blue) Unlimited Unlimited £54 £29 36 months

Virgin Mobile, iD Mobile and Tesco Mobile routinely top the charts for cheap mobile handset deals, although customers should look carefully at contract lengths and any upfront costs.

There aren't as many providers offering handsets to their customers alongside unlimited data. For example, while Sky Mobile offer handsets, they don't provide unlimited data plans to customers.

Best unlimited data only deals

There are also unlimited data only deals for customers who want to use a SIM card in a tablet or mobile broadband device.

The number of networks offering data only unlimited deals is much lower. Here are some of the cheapest SIM only data plans with unlimited data:

Package Data Monthly price Contract term
Three Unlimited mobile data Unlimited £22 24 months
Vodafone Unlimited Max: 24 months Unlimited £30 24 months
O2 Unlimited data Unlimited £34 24 months
EE Unlimited data Unlimited £38 24 months

Again, Three is one of the cheapest providers for unlimited deals, and they also offer 12-month and 1-month rolling plans that are highly competitive too.

Smaller mobile networks don't tend to offer unlimited data only plans, so customers looking for a data only SIM will be limited to major networks if they want unlimited data.

Mobile broadband devices

Major networks also offer mobile broadband devices like personal hubs, hotspots and dongles. Some of these have unlimited data.

Here are some of the cheapest personal hotspots and dongles available right now with unlimited data:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
Three Huawei 4G Plus MiFi Unlimited £11 Free 24 months
Vodafone 4G Mobile Hotspot Unlimited £30 Free 24 months
O2 Huawei 4G Dongle 2020 Unlimited £36 Free 24 months
EE 4GEE Wifi Mini 2020 Unlimited £50 Free 24 months

Again, the pricing of these hotspot deals from Vodafone, O2 and EE are generally much higher than Three's pricing structure.

However, one crucial thing to note here is that all these deals are 4G-only. The devices cannot handle 5G speeds and so customers won't be able to access them.

5G hotspots and hubs are available from several networks, but these come with hefty set-up fees as well as higher monthly costs.

How does unlimited data work?

Unlimited data plans mean that customers are not restricted in the amount of data they can use on their mobile phones.

With the spread of 5G mobile broadband services, unlimited data plans and the ability to stream lots of content is becoming ever more important.

Below are some of the common queries customers have about unlimited data plans and how they work.

Tethering and unlimited data

Tethering allows mobile phone users to link their phone's data plan with other devices. This means they can use their data allowance to access the internet on other phones, tablets and laptops.

Unrestricted tethering has been a cornerstone of UK pay monthly mobile usage policy for several years now, so customers should be able to use as much data as they want on other devices while tethered to their mobile.

There are more details on how to use a mobile phone as a hotspot and how mobile networks approach this issue in our dedicated guide.

Are there fair use policies on unlimited data?

Mobile providers cannot advertise an unlimited data deal while capping a service at a certain level of data per month in the UK.

Something mobile providers can do, however, is protect their network and they might query if a customer's using excessive amounts of data because:

  • They could be using it for commercial purposes
  • They could be impacting the service for other people

In these instances, providers will usually contact customers to find out if there's a problem, but it's unlikely to be an issue for the majority of mobile users.

Can you use unlimited data abroad?

There is a caveat to unlimited mobile data plans - unlimited data cannot be used abroad.

Mobile networks have tightened rules on roaming charges in recent years, introducing fees or lowering the amount of data customers can use abroad.

So, customers cannot use unlimited data while travelling out of the UK and will need to check with their provider to see how much it will cost to use data while abroad.

Unlimited PAYG

Most customers looking at unlimited data will choose pay monthly mobile deals because these generally offer the most value for users.

However, a handful of providers do allow customers on pay as you go plans to access unlimited data deals as the table below demonstrates:

Package Data Monthly price Contract term
iD Mobile Unlimited data Unlimited £20 PAYG
Three Unlimited data PAYG Unlimited £35 PAYG
Vodafone Unlimited Bundle Unlimited £40 PAYG

Bear in mind that, while these are classed as PAYG deals, the 1-month rolling deals we see from various mobile providers don't lock customers into a contract either and may be more economical.

The options for traditional PAYG mobile plans are shrinking, but some networks do still cater for this segment of mobile users.

Do you need unlimited data?

It's worth stepping back and working out whether an unlimited data plan is the best option for you and your needs.

While many providers encourage customers to take bigger and better data plans, we might not use as much data each month as we think we do:

  • Ofcom figures show that the average data usage per customer in 2021 was 5.6GB per month
  • This was an increase of 1.1GB compared to the previous year

So, while we're using more data on our mobiles each year, the average customer is not using enough to take them beyond the 20GB or 30GB mid-tier packages offered by most mobile networks.

There are exceptions, of course, and some customers use more data for things like mobile gaming, streaming videos while on the move or tethering other devices.

Before signing up to an unlimited deal, we should check the amount of data we've used on our existing contracts and make a rough estimate of how much we expect to use during the contract period.

It's easy to go too high and go all the way up to unlimited deals when cheaper SIM only deals may suffice instead.

Verdict: Who offers the best unlimited data deals?

The best unlimited data deals depend on whether customers are looking for a SIM only mobile deal, a handset plan or a SIM only data deal:

  • Smaller mobile networks like SMARTY, iD Mobile and Tesco Mobile are often the cheapest for SIM only mobile deals, with Three the cheapest of the major networks.
  • Handset deals with unlimited data are available from several providers but Virgin Mobile and Tesco Mobile often offer competitively priced deals.
  • Data only SIM deals with unlimited data are rarer but are available from major networks, with Three offering the best value.

Overall, we're all using more data every year and unlimited data plans may be worthwhile for customers who stream lots of video or like to tether other devices to their phone while they're out and about.

Many of us, though, may find that less data will suffice, so be sure to compare different mobile deals to find the right option for you.

Remember, too, that the package we take from a mobile provider is usually only part of the puzzle, and we'll need to make sure that mobile coverage, speed and customer service is up to scratch too.


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