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Guide to 5G SIM-only deals

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5G follows the four previous generations of mobile technology. Sequentially, it’s the next step up from 4G, which itself enabled faster browsing and downloads. 4G took over from 3G, which coincided with the launch of smartphones.

Although UK mobile networks have steadily been rolling out 5G since 2019, coverage started to expand more rapidly during 2020. That coincided with more 5G-enabled handsets being launched into the market, including, the much-anticipated iPhone 12 range.

If you’re looking to take advantage of 5G with a SIM-only deal, here’s all you need to know.

Why should I choose a 5G SIM-only deal?

Choosing a 5G mobile deal will provide you with significantly faster speeds than 4G. Ultimately, the difference could be up to 100 times faster.

Latency is also significantly reduced with 5G. This means load times will be quicker and you should experience less buffering when streaming videos.

The main advantage to opting for a 5G SIM-only deal over a pay monthly contract is that it’s often cheaper. You will need to buy a handset outright first, however, or stick with your existing one if it’s still in good working order and is already 5G-enabled.

Once you’ve got your handset, you’ll be able to choose your SIM-only plan which will give you a monthly allowance of calls, texts and data for a set price. Costs can vary depending on how much data you require.

Many SIM-only deals also have the benefit of operating on a 30-day rolling basis which gives you the flexibility of being able to change your plan without penalty if it no longer suits. In comparison, pay monthly contracts tie you in for 18, 24 or even 36 months, and penalty fees for getting out of your deal early can be high.

If your preference is for a longer timeframe, SIM-only deals do exist that last 12 to 18 months.

Can I use a 5G SIM in a 4G smartphone?

Technically, yes you can use a 5G SIM in most 4G phones, but you won’t be able to access 5G speeds. If you want to be able to use 5G networks and make the most of 5G benefits, you’ll need a 5G-enabled smartphone.

Which phones support 5G SIMs?

There are currently more than 50 phones available in the UK that support 5G and that list is expected to grow even further this year.

Some of the most popular phones include the iPhone 12 range, the Samsung S20 and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 ranges, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and the Huawei P40 range, and the OnePlus 8 range.

Which networks offer 5G SIM-only deals?

There are a number of networks to choose from when comparing 5G SIM-only deals. These include:

  • EE
  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Three
  • BT
  • VOXI
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Sky Mobile 
  • Giffgaff (via its Golden Goodybags)

What else should I consider?

When comparing SIM-only deals, another important factor is which network offers the best 5G coverage. At the moment, 5G coverage is mainly limited to major towns and cities, so your comparison needs to take account of your location.

The four core networks in the UK: EE; O2; Vodafone; and Three, all offer 5G, while other networks piggyback off the back of them. These are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) and include BT (EE), VOXI (Vodafone), Tesco Mobile (O2) and Sky Mobile (O2).

To find out what’s available in your area, you can use the networks’ own coverage checkers. Click on the links to access them: O2; EE; Vodafone; Three.

If you don’t live in an area that currently has 5G coverage, you may want to delay switching to a 5G SIM-only deal until 5G is more readily available.

If you do live in an area that has 5G coverage and you travel out of it, your phone will revert back to 4G or even 3G depending on what coverage is available. 

Do 5G SIM-only deals cost more than 4G deals?

Choosing a 5G SIM-only deal over a 4G one may result in you paying a little more. However,  network providers such as Three, Vodafone, Sky and O2, do not charge extra for their 5G SIM-only deals. It’s worth taking the time to compare your options carefully.

It’s also likely that the cost of 5G SIM-only deals will come down in time, and if you’re not locked into a long contract this means you’ll be able to switch to a cheaper deal when prices fall.

How do I find the best 5G SIM-only deal?

The easiest way to find the best 5G SIM-only deal is to use an online comparison service and compare your options.

You’ll need to consider how many minutes and texts you require but, most importantly, how much data you need. If you can cope with a smaller data allowance, you’ll pay less than someone who needs a larger data allowance.

For example, with Giffgaff you can currently choose between a SIM-only deal that includes unlimited texts and calls plus 9GB of data for £10 a month, or one that offers unlimited texts and calls and unlimited data for £35 a month.

Ultimately, the right deal for you will depend on what you plan to use your phone for and how much flexibility you require. If you’re happy to choose a longer term 12-month or 18-month SIM-only deal, prices can be even more competitive.

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