The English appear to be very funny about offering contracts — even very short ones, like a month — to anyone who hasn’t been living in the UK for less than 3 years. Consequently, all of the contract options were unavailable to us, so prepaid was the only route possible.
This is who we’re with in UK.
3 are a good option as they are starting with the premise you have a phone and you just want the card whereas the others are still trying to presume ‘locked’ phones and cards (Louise says “being highly techie I don’t have to tell you that there are a variety of unlocking/evasive options”).
For PAYG mobile broadband, you buy a USB dongle (works with PC and Mac), for £20, then top up of 3Gb is £15, 1Gb for £10 or 7Gb for £25. Not too shabby.
The dongle listed on the website is a ZTE MF627, but I got a Huawei E156G. It is unlockable, which means one can re-use it in other countries. To unlock, one needs a simlock code that is generated specifically for a single device, identified by the IMEI number. There are services that charge for this service, but there are also kind individuals who will generate these codes for you — see this thread. I suspect one needs to use generic software to retrieve the IMEI number, and to subsequently unlock; Huawei provides (in the loose, do-the-bare-minimum, our-customers-can-go-jump-off-a-cliff sense) ‘Mobile Partner’ which hopefully fulfils this role, a Windows app available here, from DC Unlocker (it works in Parallels or VMware, Mac users).
One hassle with the E156G is that the driver is very buggy and has crashed my Mac four or five times so far, mostly while trying to sleep the laptop. There may be workarounds, I haven’t experimented much yet. Update: I found an article that describes an alternate way to use the Huawei modem, with different drivers. This doesn’t seem to cause any havoc, unlike the software provided by 3.
A side rant — what ever happened to consumer protection!? Surely this ‘locking’ practice should be illegal, and yet it’s the norm! Apparently it isn’t possible, ever, to unlock an iPhone in the UK, even when you’ve paid it all off and you’re out of contract. So, if you ever plan to travel, you essentially have to buy a new phone. Absolute bollocks.
Mobile broadband with 3 seems to be quite flaky, although I haven’t narrowed down the cause. Both on my iPhone and through the dongle, I am frequently disconnected and the network frequently just breaks down requiring a reconnection. On the iPhone, I just receive ‘Could not connect to the Internet’ errors. Their tech support staff don’t know anything, not surprisingly. I don’t know if this is just 3, or it’s a UK telco phenomenon, but one should be aware.
3 was great in order for me to use Internet on my iPhone too — they offer all kinds of ‘free’ goodies with a PAYG account, including 120Mb of data with every top-up. We also get free calls between us, which is perfect.
The alternatives, in my assistant Louise’s words:
There are some pretty bad reviews out there from users about T mobile coverage and technology BUT there are techie reports that say it beats others (personally I always take large number of neg reviews as reality especially if referring to coverage etc). I also dislike the fact they seem to sell only £2 per day daily usage if not contract though supposedly there is a £24 3 Gb option…. Am not liking their website for real info and no obvious free call option, though you can get ‘free SIM’ here personally think it is no different than just going and buying a pay-as-you-go card!
Their data option is 3 Gb 30 day PAYG which is £14.68 price of dongle which is £29.99 which I believe makes it a total of £32.99 which is £7 cheaper than 3 mobile and their 3Gb top up is just under 3 mob. So let’s see what their calling plan options are….. Ok, no ‘family & friend’ type offer just lots of different SIM card names to confuse one, cheapest call costs would be 10p per min so not free and not much to sell it over 3 mob as you would spend the small amount you’d save on set up and top up on data card…..
A rolling 30 day PAYG data card with higher set up costs at £58.70 and then £14.69 per 3Gb top ups…. for £14.69 1 mth SIM card you can get unlimited O2 to O2 calls…. BUT double the amount of texts if buy online than in a shop but you also have to buy SIM for £9.99
1gb data for £39 set up and then top up would be £15 per 1gb…. hmmm – not really making sense as an option in comparison to Orange or T mobile or 3 mob…. Their SIM only for calls is well positioned at £10 buying 100mins talk & 500 texts (you do know that many of us use texting as quickest and cheapest way to communicate over here?) AND their essential free roaming for THIS summer (ie no commitment to continue past Sept). Still, probably not enough to swing it as also critically it is a 30 day plan (use it or lose it).