Is Unlimited Data Worth It? A PROS and CONS Guide…

When it comes to data, more is usually better. But are there instances where an unlimited plan could be considered overkill? Let’s investigate… 


With an unlimited data plan, theoretically, you’ll never have to worry about data ever again. You get as much data as you want, both 4G and 5G, and you can use it for whatever you like – streaming movies, downloading content, social media. Whatever. 

I’ve had an unlimited data plan, mine’s with Three, since 2012 and I have no plans on switching it any time soon. Prior to that I used contracts with phone networks and, because I was a student and I wanted to keep costs down, most of the time my data was capped at 5GB. This was WAY back in 2009/10, though, and times have changed quite a bit since then. 

Different Types of Data Plans in The UK

The kind of data plan you get will determine, MASSIVELY, how much you pay for unlimited data. For instance, a SIM-only (or SIMO) plan will always be cheaper than a phone contract plan with unlimited data, simply because you aren’t also buying a phone (or, in the case of all contracts, “leasing” a phone from a phone network). 

Let’s take a look at what unlimited data looks like on phone contract plans versus SIMO plans. Once we’ve done this, we’ll explore the best options for each and then, in order to show what else is available, give you an overview of other types of data plans that, while not unlimited, come with more than enough data for most people. 

Phone Contracts With Unlimited Data 

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The first thing you need to know is that all of the UK’s main phone networks – Three, Vodafone, EE, and O2 – all offer phone plans with unlimited data. The devil, as always, however, is in the details. And you will pay significantly more for a phone plan with unlimited data. 

Example of Cheap Unlimited Data Phone Contract

For instance, the iPhone 14 with unlimited data from Three costs anywhere from £27 per month up to £37 per month (this does not include the cost of the phone, though). In some cases, unlimited data is actually cheaper than capped data.

How? Some plans come with extras, stuff like free access to Paramount+, 5G Roaming, and extended warranty. 

Say you go with the bare bones unlimited data plan with an iPhone 14. You’ll pay £27 per month for the data and £22 for the phone over the course of 24 months. In total, you’ll pay £49 per month except for the first month, when you’ll have to pay a one-off fee of £35 for the phone itself. 

This is for Three’s cheapest unlimited plan too, the one that comes with ZERO frills. In most cases, this is all most users will need. 

Example of Expensive, Premium Unlimited Data Plan

But say you want a premium experience with things like 5G Roaming, Paramount+, and Extended Warranty. How much will that cost? 

Again, using the example of the iPhone 14 on Three’s flagship unlimited phone contract, Unlimited Premium Airtime, you’ll pay £108 per month

You do get things like 56 Day Roaming Passes, a free subscription to Paramount+, and Extended Warranty on your phone. But it’s still £108 per month which is hella expensive. 

Conversely, with one of Three’s SIMO unlimited plans, where you bring your own phone and just use Three for data and connectivity (calls and texts), you can pick up an unlimited data plan for £25 per month which is significantly cheaper. And if you don’t need unlimited data, you can grab a SIMO plan with 120GB of data per month for £16. 

Do UK Phone Networks Actually Offer Unlimited Data? 

The definition of unlimited, or what constitutes unlimited data, varies between phone networks in the UK. Some phone networks – like Three – offer truly unlimited data plans with no fair usage restrictions, while others – like EE – have fair usage restrictions that kick in at 600GB per month. 

Three Unlimited Standard Plan
5.0
£25.00pm

The Unlimited Standard SIMO 24M is the most expensive of the bunch, costing £25.00 per month. As the name suggests, this plan offers unlimited data, making it a perfect fit for heavy internet users, be it streaming, gaming, or frequently downloading large files. 

Pros:
  • Unlimited 4G and 5G Data
  • Cheapest Unlimited Plan In UK
  • Exceptional Coverage
  • First Three Months Are 100% Free
VIEW LATEST DEALS

Now, most people will not get through 600GB of data per month, unless you’re using your phone to mine bitcoin, stream 4K movies all day, or host entire web platforms! EE believes 600GB is such a large amount of data that it can be considered “unlimited”, whereas Three just doesn’t care how much you use – there are no limits. 

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of all of the UK’s main phone networks and their respective unlimited data allowances, fair usage restrictions, and other important things like throttling, whereby download speeds are slowed down when the network is busy. 

Which UK Phone Network Offers Truly Unlimited Data? 

  • Three: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly, Pay As You Go, Home Broadband and Mobile Broadband. They don’t have any fair usage policy, but personal hotspot usage is limited to 12GB/month on Pay As You Go.
  • Vodafone: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only. They have three types of unlimited data plans: Lite (max speed 2Mbps), Standard (max speed 10Mbps), and Max (fastest available speed). No fair usage policy is mentioned.
  • EE: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only. They have a fair usage policy of 600GB/month and limit the use of 12 devices at a time for personal hotspot.
  • O2: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only. They have a fair usage policy of 650GB/month and limit the use of 12 devices at a time for personal hotspot.
  • BT Mobile: Offers unlimited data for BT Halo customers only. They have a fair usage policy of 1000GB/month.
  • Virgin Mobile: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only. They have a fair usage policy of “more than 1000GB/month”.
  • Tesco Mobile: Offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only. They have a fair usage policy of 650GB/month and limit the use of 12 devices at a time for personal hotspot.
  • VOXI: Offers unlimited data for people under 30 and on selected plans. They don’t have any fair usage policy.
  • giffgaff: Offers unlimited data on the £35/month Always On data. Speeds are reduced to 384kbps between 8am and midnight after using 80GB.
  • SMARTY: Offers unlimited data on their £20/month plan. They don’t have any fair usage policy.
  • iD Mobile: Offers unlimited data on their £20/month plan. They have a fair usage policy of 650GB/month and limit the use of 12 devices at a time for personal hotspot.
  • Lebara: Offers unlimited data on their £30/month plan. They don’t have any fair usage policy.

As you can see, getting an unlimited data plan in the UK isn’t hard; all the main networks and even MVNOs offer unlimited data in one form or another, and, price-wise, they’re all similarly matched.

But you have to keep in mind that each phone network has different types of limitations and restrictions that they enforce on their respective plans. 

Some networks limit the upper amount of data you can use (this is referred to as fair usage restrictions), while others limit things by speed (they charge more for faster data). And if you think that sounds annoying and unnecessarily complicated, you’d be 100% correct – it is a monumental pain in the ass. 

Understanding the Limitations of ‘Unlimited’ Data in the UK

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Here’s a complete breakdown of all the limitations and restrictions applied by UK phone networks on their respective unlimited data plans. This information is up to date, as of July 2023. 

  • Three: While Three offers unlimited data across various plans, they do impose a limit on personal hotspot usage for Pay As You Go customers, capping it at 12GB per month. This means that while you can consume as much data as you want on your device, you can only share a limited amount with other devices.
  • Vodafone: Vodafone’s unlimited data plans come with a catch – speed restrictions. They offer three types of unlimited data plans: Lite, Standard, and Max. The Lite plan restricts the speed to 2Mbps, the Standard to 10Mbps, and the Max plan offers the fastest available speed. This means that depending on the plan you choose, your internet speed could be significantly limited.
  • EE: EE’s unlimited data is subject to a fair usage policy of 600GB per month, which is quite high but still a limit nonetheless. Additionally, they restrict the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. So, if you’re planning a big gathering with more than 12 devices, you might run into some issues.
  • O2: Similar to EE, O2 also has a fair usage policy of 650GB per month and restricts the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. This means that while the data is unlimited, there are still boundaries to consider.
  • BT Mobile: BT Mobile offers unlimited data only for BT Halo customers. They also have a fair usage policy of 1000GB per month, which is one of the highest among UK networks but still a limit to be aware of.
  • Virgin Mobile: Virgin Mobile’s fair usage policy is a bit vague, stating that it applies to those who use “more than 1000GB/month”. This could potentially lead to uncertainty about what exactly constitutes fair usage.
  • Tesco Mobile: Tesco Mobile’s unlimited data comes with a fair usage policy of 650GB per month and restricts the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. This is a common theme among many UK networks.
  • VOXI: VOXI’s unlimited data is only available for people under 30 and on selected plans. This age restriction could be a significant limitation for many potential customers.
  • giffgaff: giffgaff offers unlimited data on their £35/month Always On data plan. However, after using 80GB, speeds are reduced to 384kbps between 8am and midnight. This means that heavy data users could experience slower speeds during peak hours.
  • SMARTY: SMARTY offers unlimited data on their £20/month plan without any fair usage policy. However, the terms and conditions state that they reserve the right to investigate any usage they deem excessive, which could potentially lead to restrictions.
  • iD Mobile: iD Mobile’s unlimited data comes with a fair usage policy of 650GB per month and restricts the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. This is in line with many other UK networks.
  • Lebara: Lebara offers unlimited data on their £30/month plan without any fair usage policy. However, they do state that the service is for private, personal use only, and not for use as a hotspot, which could limit its utility for some users.

Which Network Has The Least Amount of Restrictions? 

Despite some restrictions on personal hotspot usage for Pay As You Go customers, Three offers a compelling package that makes it a top choice for those seeking unlimited data. Let’s delve into the reasons why.

Key Features of Three’s Unlimited Data Plans
A Plan for Every User: Three’s strength lies in its variety. The network offers unlimited data on a wide range of plans, including Pay Monthly, Pay As You Go, Home Broadband, and Mobile Broadband. This flexibility allows customers to choose the plan that best suits their needs and usage patterns. Whether you’re a heavy data user, a casual browser, or somewhere in between, Three has a plan for you.
Truly Unlimited: Unlike many other networks, Three does not impose a fair usage policy on their unlimited data plans. This means that customers can truly use as much data as they want without worrying about hitting a cap or having their speeds throttled. In an era of streaming, gaming, and constant connectivity, this freedom is a significant advantage.
Generous Hotspot Allowance: While there is a limit on personal hotspot usage for Pay As You Go customers (capped at 12GB per month), this is still a generous allowance compared to some other networks. For Pay Monthly customers, there’s no limit on personal hotspot usage, a significant advantage if you often tether other devices to your phone.
Competitive Pricing: Value for money is a key consideration for many, and Three delivers on this front. Their unlimited data plans are competitively priced, making them an attractive option for those seeking to get the most bang for their buck.
Reliable Coverage and Speed: Three boasts extensive coverage across the UK and has been investing heavily in its network infrastructure. This means that customers can expect reliable service and good data speeds, ensuring a smooth, frustration-free browsing experience.
Roam Free: With Three’s ‘Go Roam’ feature, customers can use their data in 71 destinations worldwide at no extra cost, a feature that is not universally offered by all carriers. This makes Three a great option for frequent travellers or those with a case of wanderlust.
Perks Galore: Three also offers additional perks with their plans, such as access to rewards and benefits through the ‘Three+ app’, and free subscriptions to services like Apple TV+ or Apple Music with certain plans. These extras add value and make Three’s unlimited data plans even more appealing.

Three Unlimited Standard Plan
5.0
£25.00pm

The Unlimited Standard SIMO 24M is the most expensive of the bunch, costing £25.00 per month. As the name suggests, this plan offers unlimited data, making it a perfect fit for heavy internet users, be it streaming, gaming, or frequently downloading large files. 

Pros:
  • Unlimited 4G and 5G Data
  • Cheapest Unlimited Plan In UK
  • Exceptional Coverage
  • First Three Months Are 100% Free
VIEW LATEST DEALS

Comparison of Unlimited Data Plans: EE, Vodafone, Three, and O2

EE vs Three

EE Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. Fair Usage Policy: EE’s unlimited data is subject to a fair usage policy of 600GB per month. This is quite high but still a limit nonetheless.
  2. Personal Hotspot Limitation: They restrict the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. So, if you’re planning a big gathering with more than 12 devices, you might run into some issues.
  3. Plan Availability: EE offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: EE is known for its extensive coverage and high-speed 4G and 5G networks.
  5. Roaming: EE offers inclusive roaming in 48 destinations for their unlimited data customers.

Three Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. No Fair Usage Policy: Unlike many other networks, Three does not have a fair usage policy for their unlimited data plans. This means that customers can truly use as much data as they want without worrying about hitting a cap or having their speeds throttled.
  2. Personal Hotspot Allowance: While there is a limit on personal hotspot usage for Pay As You Go customers (12GB per month), for Pay Monthly customers, there’s no limit on personal hotspot usage.
  3. Plan Availability: Three offers unlimited data on a wide range of plans, including Pay Monthly, Pay As You Go, Home Broadband, and Mobile Broadband.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: Three has extensive coverage across the UK and has been investing heavily in its network infrastructure.
  5. Roaming: With Three’s ‘Go Roam’ feature, customers can use their data in 71 destinations worldwide at no extra cost.

Both EE and Three offer compelling unlimited data plans, but they differ in terms of fair usage policies and personal hotspot limitations. Three might be a better option for those who want truly unlimited data without a fair usage policy, while EE could be more suitable for those who need a high-speed network and don’t mind a fair usage policy.

Three vs O2

Three Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. No Fair Usage Policy: Unlike many other networks, Three does not have a fair usage policy for their unlimited data plans. This means that customers can truly use as much data as they want without worrying about hitting a cap or having their speeds throttled.
  2. Personal Hotspot Allowance: While there is a limit on personal hotspot usage for Pay As You Go customers (12GB per month), for Pay Monthly customers, there’s no limit on personal hotspot usage.
  3. Plan Availability: Three offers unlimited data on a wide range of plans, including Pay Monthly, Pay As You Go, Home Broadband, and Mobile Broadband.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: Three has extensive coverage across the UK and has been investing heavily in its network infrastructure.
  5. Roaming: With Three’s ‘Go Roam’ feature, customers can use their data in 71 destinations worldwide at no extra cost.

O2 Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. Fair Usage Policy: O2 has a fair usage policy of 650GB per month. While this is a high limit, it’s still a cap that users need to be aware of.
  2. Personal Hotspot Limitation: O2 restricts the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. This could be a limitation if you often share your phone’s internet connection with multiple devices.
  3. Plan Availability: O2 offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: O2 has a robust network with extensive coverage across the UK.
  5. Roaming: O2’s ‘Roam in EU’ feature allows customers to use their data in 48 destinations in Europe at no extra cost.

O2 vs Vodafone

O2 Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. Fair Usage Policy: O2 has a fair usage policy of 650GB per month. While this is a high limit, it’s still a cap that users need to be aware of.
  2. Personal Hotspot Limitation: O2 restricts the use of personal hotspot to 12 devices at a time. This could be a limitation if you often share your phone’s internet connection with multiple devices.
  3. Plan Availability: O2 offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: O2 has a robust network with extensive coverage across the UK.
  5. Roaming: O2’s ‘Roam in EU’ feature allows customers to use their data in 48 destinations in Europe at no extra cost.

Vodafone Unlimited Data Plan:

  1. Speed Restrictions: Vodafone’s unlimited data plans come with speed restrictions. They offer three types of unlimited data plans: Lite (max speed 2Mbps), Standard (max speed 10Mbps), and Max (fastest available speed). This means that depending on the plan you choose, your internet speed could be significantly limited.
  2. No Explicit Fair Usage Policy: Vodafone does not mention a specific fair usage policy for their unlimited data plans.
  3. Plan Availability: Vodafone offers unlimited data on Pay Monthly and SIM Only plans.
  4. Network Speed and Coverage: Vodafone has a strong network with extensive coverage across the UK and is known for its high-speed 4G and 5G networks.
  5. Roaming: Vodafone’s ‘Global Roaming’ feature allows customers to use their data in 81 destinations worldwide at no extra cost, but this is dependent on the type of plan chosen.

Three and O2 offer compelling unlimited data plans, but they differ in terms of fair usage policies and personal hotspot limitations. Three might be a better option for those who want truly unlimited data without a fair usage policy, while O2 could be more suitable for those who don’t mind a fair usage policy and need a robust network with extensive coverage.

Is An Unlimited Data Plan Worth It?

Data is important. We all use it and we all need it in our day to day lives to get things done. But the question about whether unlimited data is worth it or not will depend entirely on your own, specific needs and requirements. 

For instance, most people, meaning 99.9% of users, will never use more than 100GB of data per month. Not with normal usage. For this reason, you could save yourself a few quid a month by opting for a plan or SIMO plan with 120GB versus unlimited data. 

Having said that, if the difference between 120GB of data and truly unlimited data, in the context of Three, is only £9 extra a month, some users will be inclined to simply split the difference and go with the unlimited plan. Or, move up a notch to 250GB of data per month for £20. 

I think if you already have a phone, so you don’t need a traditional phone contract, going with an unlimited data SIMO plan is a no brainer. 

You’ll pay £25 per month, get truly unlimited data, and that for most people will be the end of the story. This is why I haven’t changed my SIMO plan since 2012. 

If you’re going the contract route, however, unlimited phone plans can get pretty expensive. In the example we used earlier in the article, the iPhone 14 with unlimited data costs £49 per month on Three’s most basic package. On its more premium unlimited plan, the price expands to £108 a month. That’s a big increase. 

Alternatively, if you get the iPhone 14 on Three’s 150GB Standard Airtime 24M, which should provide more than enough data for most users, you’ll pay £23 per month plus the cost of the phone. Basically, unlimited data on phone contract plans is a lot more expensive because you also have to pay for the phone too. 

My advice? Buy your phone outright, get something you can afford, something like the Pixel 7a or the Nothing Phone 1, and then get Three’s bare bones unlimited plan (it costs just £25 per month). You take a little bit of a hit upfront with the cost of the phone, but in the long run you’ll save a fortune because the monthly cost of data (and the phone, as it’ll be paid off quicker) are much lower. 

Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He has written for Den of Geek, Fortean Times, IT PRO, PC Pro, ALPHR, and many other technology sites. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.

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