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Best 5G networks 2021: Get the best deals on next-generation mobile internet

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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.

READ NEXT: 5G explained

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; prices will fall, more deals will become available, more regions will get 5G and there’ll probably be a greater range of handsets to choose from too.

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?

In some cases, yes – and that’s not unreasonable, because you’re getting a much more advanced service. The notable exception is Three, which makes its 5G services available to all customers without raising its prices. 

O2 is similarly offering 5G plans at the same price, and with the same data allowance, as its 4G equivalent plans. It should be noted that there's a chance you'll use more data on a 5G plan than a 4G one so this isn't as impressive as it sounds, but is still refreshing not to see major price hikes. 

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 S21 phones come with 5G as standard, and phones such as the Moto G 5G Plus, Galaxy A52 5G and Pixel 4a 5G are all 5G capable without the hefty price tag. Apple has finally entered the 5G game, too, with its newest iPhone 12 lineup. 

READ NEXT: Best 5G phones

Is every mobile provider offering 5G?

With regards to 5G adoption, some operators were quicker off the mark than others. EE and Vodafone were the first to offer 5G services, with Three and O2 following suit shortly after. 

READ NEXT: What networks are offering 5G?

As for virtual networks that rent their services from the big four, 5G has begun to trickle down to individual services. BT Mobile, which uses the EE network, has launched 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 now also provide 5G connections.

Even lesser-known mobile providers support 5G, such as Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile.

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

SIM-only price: From £20 per month (120GB)

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 (£37 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.

Read our full EE review for more details

Browse EE 5G contracts


Three: Affordable 5G contracts by default

SIM-only price: From £5 per month (1GB)

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 60 towns and cities across the UK and Three's 5G plans are quite affordable, with SIM-only costs starting at £5 per month with an admittedly small 1GB data allowance (which we don't recommend). 30GB contracts, meanwhile, cost a mere £15 per month.

Read our full Three review for more details

Browse Three 5G contracts


Giffgaff: Best 30-day rolling 5G contracts

SIM-only price: From £10 per month (10GB)

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 10GB (£10) to £35 (unlimited). 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.

Read our full Giffgaff review for more details

Browse Giffgaff contracts


O2: Flexibility with 5G contract length

SIM-only price: From £10 per month (5GB)

Currently supporting more than 30 5G locations, O2 is perhaps 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.

Read our full O2 review for more details

Browse O2 5G contracts


Vodafone: Cheap SIM-only tariffs with restricted speeds on cheaper contracts

SIM-only price: From £22 per month (Unlimited Lite)

Vodafone was next to jump on the 5G bandwagon in the UK, undercutting prices of 5G contracts previously offered by EE. All of its SIM-only 5G contracts are listed as 'unlimited' although a few restrictions apply, depending on how much you're willing to spend. Prices start at £22 per month with an 'Unlimited Lite' package, but this restricts your data speeds to only 2Mbits/sec and the regular 'Unlimited' contract (priced at £26 per month) restricts your speeds to 10Mbps – neither of which are 5G speeds. If you're after full uncapped 5G speeds, you'll want to sign up to the 'Unlimited Max' contract, which costs £30 per month.

Read our full Vodafone review for more details

Browse Vodafone 5G contracts

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