Best mobile data deals: Push your limits

The days of downloading infinite mobile data are over -- but there are still places you can turn if the Web runs through your veins.

The party is over, people, and all you can eat data plans are dropping faster than a pair of trousers at a Chippendales convention. But smart phones are getting thirstier than ever for a foaming pint of gigabytes.

T-Mobile slashed one of the best data plans in the business yesterday, following similar changes by Vodafone and O2 . So where should you go if you're a downloading machine? We've tracked down the best data deals we could find, laid them on a silver platter, and decorated them with a little sprig of parsley. Enjoy.

But first, a note on limited data plans versus unlimited plans with a fair-use policy. If a deal has a data limit -- say, 1GB -- then when you go over, you start paying extra. Deals with a fair-use policy aren't that hard and fast, but give the company an out if you're using dollops of data.

Generally, you'll receive a text warning you if you're approaching the fair-use limit, then possibly asked to upgrade to a pricier deal, or even cut off if you keep it up -- but usually not charged just for going over the fair use limit.

The iPhone tends to come with special deals from the networks that sell it. Check out our best iPhone 4 deals for our take on those deals.

How much data do you need? That's a tough one. Most people use less than 500MB, but then, most people don't know how their phone works. If you're using a smart phone, especially one with a lot of live widgets that pull down data all the time, we think 500MB is the bare minimum. If you've got an Android phone, for example, and you like to use its apps and features to the maximum, we'd recommend a 1GB limit.

It's also worth thinking about Wi-Fi -- if you're connected to a wireless network at home and at work, that will slash the amount of data you use over your mobile network. Also, some of the networks include subscriptions to Wi-Fi networks such as BT Openzone -- if they're present in your area, that could save you data too.

Finally, a piece of advice on SIM-only deals: they rock. If you can possibly stand to buy a phone SIM-free and unlocked -- which is a pricey proposition, unless you find your dream phone used on eBay -- you'll pay less overall, less per month, get more data, and be able to switch to a better deal whenever you want, with a SIM-only plan.

Three

Three offers a SIM-only 12-month contract called the One Plan, which includes 2,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and unlimited data for £25 per month. If you need a phone, there's also a 24-month One Plan where you can snag a smart phone for free, starting from £25 a month.

If you don't need quite such a bottomless pit of Internet, Three has some generous limited plans too. Its Text 500 plan gives you 1GB of data, 5,000 texts and 500 minutes starting at £13 a month, depending on what phone you pick to go with it.

giffgaff

giffgaff only sells SIM cards, not phones, so you'll need your own phone to use it. The company, which runs on O2's network, is a bit on the wacky side, but we've used it and it works a treat. Its £10 goodybag deal scores you 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited Internet, and you're only locked in for one month at a time.

Other options

Virgin Mobile offers 1GB of data on some plans, starting from £20.43 a month on the pithily named Virgin £20.43 Web deal, although it's cheaper if you have a BlackBerry.

If you're keen on Vodafone, you can add 'unlimited' Internet -- with a 500MB fair-use policy -- to its SIM-only deals for £5.11 per month.

Similarly, if you simply must have T-Mobile, you can have the same 'unlimited', 500MB fair-use add-on with its monthly deals for free on a £10.21 contract over 24 months.

Tesco Mobile is another network for whom 'unlimited' means a 500MB fair-use policy. It's offering contracts on that deal starting at £15 a month for 24 months, which includes 100 minutes and unlimited texts. It also does a good one-month SIM-only deal for £10, which includes 500 minutes, unlimited texts and data.

The walk of shame

We couldn't find any decent data deals on Orange's mind-bending website -- although many plans claim to include "Internet", a closer look at Orange's price plans reveals that this could consist of as little as 250MB a month.

To get 1GB of data per month on Orange, you'll have to shell out for a 24-month, £45.96-a-month Panther plan. You could add 1GB of browsing to a cheaper plan -- almost essential if you're buying a data-hungry phone such as the Orange San Francisco -- but it costs a whopping £10.21 a month extra.

O2 has ditched its reputation for being the network for smart-phone lovers by cutting the data allowance on most of its plans to 500MB. If you want 1GB, you'll have to spend over £60 a month on a 24-month smart-phone deal. For shame. A bolt-on that adds 500MB to your plan costs £5.11 a month.

 

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