Best 4G deals with a sweet 5GB of data
If you want to stream videos and download apps on 4G, you'll need a decent amount of data. We look at the best deals.
4G is incredible. It lets you stream BBC iPlayer, Netflix or download films from iTunes or the Google Play store, and listen to music on Spotify.
EE's own data calculator suggests that if you do Web browsing every day, use email often, regularly tweet pictures, and stream TV shows several times a week, you'll need between 4 and 5GB of data, but that doesn't come cheap.
If you only want the Internet for Twitter and Facebook (around 500MB-1GB of data at most), don't bother splashing out on a 4G connection -- 3G will suit just fine.
If you want a 4G plan to replace your home broadband, tethering your laptop to your phone, then you'll need a whole lot more data and you'll find the price quickly shoots up. I'll be comparing the best 4G deals around with a 5GB data 'sweet spot', which will let you stream videos and download apps without worrying too much, but also won't empty your bank balance every time a bill comes through.
On EE, a 5GB data allowance on a 12-month SIM-only plan will cost you £31 per month. Want an as part of the bundle? It'll set you back £45 per month over two years, with a £70 upfront charge for the phone if you want the required 5GB of data.
5GB of data on O2 will cost you a lower £26 per month, but only until 28 February. O2 are temporarily offering higher data packages -- sign up after that date and a 5GB allowance will set you back £31 per month. Throw an iPhone in using the O2 refresh plan -- where you pay for the phone separately allowing you to upgrade sooner -- and it'll cost £47 per month on a two-year contract.
Vodafone is pushing its deals hard to get you to sign up now, offering a very impressive 4GB additional data on any 4G contract until the end of January. If, for example, you opt for the 4GB plan, you'll have your data allowance doubled to 8GB for the same price.
Vodafone also throws in 12 months of Spotify Premium or Sky Sports subscriptions. If you're already a Spotify subscriber, you can merge your account and effectively knock £10 per month (the price you'll already be paying for Spotify) off the monthly cost.
SIM-only prices start at £26 per month, which nets you 2GB of data. £31 per month snags 4GB of data while £36 gets you 8GB. All of which will receive an extra 4GB of additional data on top. The base 2GB of data then actually translates to 6GB for £26 per month, and if you're already a Spotify subscriber, it effectively becomes £16 per month, making it the most affordable option by far.
Of course, prices go up if you want a phone too. £47 per month will snag you the iPhone 5S with 2GB (plus the extra 4GB) of data over two years, with an upfront charge of £19.
Right now, with its extra 4GB of data, Vodafone is the best value, particularly if you are already a Spotify or Sky Sports customer. This deal is only available until the end of January though -- when it ends, a 4GB allowance on a 12-month SIM-only plan will cost £31 per month. This puts it below O2, which adds an extra 1GB of data for the same price (after its own special offer has come to an end) and EE.
Then there's Three. Unlike the other networks, Three isn't charging any extra for its 4G services, but instead will be rolling it out to all existing customers on all existing contracts. So far Three has done a soft launch of a few thousand people in London, but is planning on doing a larger rollout to London and Manchester early this year.
It's very difficult to know exactly how Three's 4G service will compare to the others. With so many people immediately on it, it's possible that capacity will struggle and you won't get the best speeds. With unlimited data starting at only £12.90 per month though, a potentially slower connection might be a fair compromise. We'll see exactly what sort of speeds Three can achieve later this year.
Making the decision on who to go with won't just come down to price. A huge factor is 4G coverage and EE has the competition beaten hands down for now. While Vodafone covers 15 cities with 4G signal, EE is officially live with its services in 141 towns and cities. If you live outside of a major city but still want superfast speed, EE is the only choice.
There are of course a variety of contracts at many different prices. Although Vodafone and O2's tempting deals are due to end soon, they'll likely be replaced by something else to coax you to sign up, so always keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, happy hunting and make sure you pop your own experiences -- or any good deals you've found -- in the comments below.