Ready to experience ultra-fast mobile internet? Here’s our guide to getting the best 5G deal for your money
The wait is over: 5G is here, and it makes using your phone faster than ever. If you’re in the market to upgrade your handset, this could be the ideal time to embrace the new technology. 5G phones and contracts aren’t always the cheapest, though, so it’s important to shop around and get the right deal. Here’s our guide to the best 5G providers and packages.
What is 5G?
The term 5G simply relates to fifth-generation mobile data services – that is, the latest, fastest technologies. While a typical 4G connection tends to deliver between 20Mbits/sec and 50Mbits/sec, 5G connections can get you online at speeds of more than 200Mbits/sec. In the right conditions, with a good strong signal, 5G speeds can exceed 1,000Mbits/sec – many times faster than a domestic fibre broadband connection.
“So what?” you might be thinking. “I can watch Netflix and browse the web perfectly well on my 4G phone, so why do I need anything faster?” The answer is that it’s not just about download speeds. Latency is also much lower over 5G, which means data can be exchanged between your phone and a network service almost instantaneously. So you can look forward to much smoother online gaming over 5G, as well as new types of applications, such as augmented and virtual reality services, that will be able to stream gigabytes of data to your phone in real-time with no perceptible lag whatsoever.
Is this the right time to upgrade to 5G?
5G is still quite new. If you’re not in a rush to upgrade, it might be worth waiting a little while. Coverage is still a bit patchy outside of big urban areas.
However, if your current handset is in urgent need of replacing, it’s worth weighing up your options. Take out a new 4G contract today and you’ll be missing out on all the latest 5G apps and experiences while you’re waiting for your next upgrade. And if you want to switch to a new 5G phone before your 24 months are up, you’ll have to pay to buy out your existing contract: you can check your operator’s website for their early upgrade terms, but it might make sense to make the leap to 5G right now and have done with it.
Will a 5G contract cost more than 4G?
Thankfully, not anymore. When 5G first launched you had to pay a hefty premium for the privilege, but now most of the UK’s mobile networks offer 5G connectivity as standard.
Whichever provider you’re with, you’ll also need a 5G-capable phone, and these can come at a premium cost. Bear in mind too that all the major providers raise their prices each year in line with inflation, so the numbers may go up over the course of your contract, though the value in real terms should stay roughly the same.
Which phones can use 5G?
Thankfully, there are more and more phones on the market that are capable of accessing the 5G network. For instance, all three Samsung Galaxy S22 phones come with 5G as standard, and phones such as the Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G, Galaxy A53 5G and Pixel 4a 5G are all 5G capable without the hefty price tag. It was a bit late to the party, but Apple has entered the 5G game, too, with the iPhone 12 and more recent iPhone 13 lineup.
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Is every mobile provider offering 5G?
READ NEXT: What networks are offering 5G?
As for virtual networks that rent their services from the big four, 5G has now trickled down to individual services. BT Mobile, which uses the EE network, has its own 5G service, offering mobile plans to existing BT Plus and BT Business customers, while Sky Mobile – operating on the O2 network – and Virgin Mobile also provide 5G connections.
Is 5G available everywhere in the UK?
Alas, no. Mobile operators need to upgrade their transmitters to provide 5G services. It’s a big job, so they’re starting with major population centres. Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester are among the first cities to get 5G, with further expansion still ongoing. You’ll need to check the operators’ respective websites to see exactly how far each one’s rollout has progressed and to check whether services are available in your area.
Of course, if you’re outside of a 5G coverage area, your phone will still work: it’ll just fall back to a slower 4G connection.
How much data do I need for 5G?
Until the promised spread of 5G apps start to appear, it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much data you’re going to find yourself using, but all the signs are that you’ll be using more data than you do now: Giffgaff predicts that the average individual’s mobile data usage will rocket to an enormous 100GB per month by 2025.
If you’re thinking of signing up for a low-end tariff, therefore, it’s worth checking the small print to see if you can up your data allowance at a later date if you find yourself regularly running short.
The best 5G mobile networks and deals
EE: Best for coverage with generous data
The earliest 5G adopter in the UK, EE’s 5G data plans have a generous amount of data, ranging from 120GB to unlimited, although the latter of which will cost you a pretty penny (£35 per month). It isn’t the cheapest 5G network – although cheaper networks come with a few caveats – but EE seems to be leading the way when it comes to coverage.
Three: Affordable 5G contracts by default
Three is in second place when it comes to 5G coverage in the UK, and offers 5G contracts at no extra cost. The service is live in more than 300 towns and cities across the UK and Three’s 5G plans are quite affordable, with SIM-only costs starting at £9 per month with an admittedly small 4GB data allowance. 30GB contracts, meanwhile, cost a mere £12 per month.
Giffgaff: Best 30-day rolling 5G contracts
If you’re a bit hesitant to sign up to a 12- or 24-month 5G contract, then Giffgaff is your best best. Offering 30-day rolling 5G SIM contracts at reasonable prices, Giffgaff’s data offerings are quite expansive, ranging from 15GB (£10) to unlimited (£35). Using O2’s network infrastructure, if you aren’t pleased with the coverage or speeds, then you can simply change or cancel your plan before the next month rolls along.
O2: Flexibility with 5G contract length
Currently supporting more than 200 5G locations, O2 is one of the smallest 5G network in the UK. However, if you’re looking at picking up a 5G handset on contract, O2 allows you to directly tailor your contract preferences – you can alter the monthly data in small increments, as well as contract length and upfront cost.
Vodafone: Cheap SIM-only tariffs with restricted speeds on cheaper contracts
Vodafone was second to jump on the 5G bandwagon in the UK, undercutting prices of 5G contracts previously offered by EE. Price start at £15 per month with 15GB of monthly data, with unlimited data costing £32. Just make sure to sign up to the ‘Unlimited Max’ contract, since Vodafone’s cheaper unlimited SIMs restrict your download speeds (which we don’t recommend).