Confused about mobile phone options?

Here are some top tips to help you find your way through the mobile phone jungle

Choosing the right mobile phone and phone package for you is not an easy task, thanks to the myriad deals on offer at any time, but there are a few things to look out for that might help you cut through the jargon.

If you already have a phone that you are happy with and do not intend to change, you would probably be looking for a ‘SIM only’ deal, where you are sent a new SIM card and it will include a certain amount of calls and data which you pay for each month. Alternatively, if you wanted to only pay for any time you used your phone, then a pay-as-you-go contract might suit you better. But here is a further rundown of what to look for:

1. Don’t be fooled by free minutes – Mobile phone companies like to tell you about the ‘free’ minutes they are giving you as part of your package. But since you are paying for that package of ‘free’ minutes, they are hardly free. So see through this marketing trick and get to the bottom of what is on offer.

2. Compare contracts and prices – This is easier said than done, as there are so many packages available that it will make your head spin. There are sites out there that can help you compare more effectively, but very few of these are Ofcom – the telecoms regulator – approved. Having Ofcom approval means the comparison services in question have gone through what Ofcom itself describes as “a rigorous independent audit” which checks that information is “accessible, accurate, transparent, comprehensive and up-to-date”. You can access an Ofcom approved site here.

3. Look at how you use your phone – Before you look to get another deal, or another phone, take a look at exactly what you use your phone for by checking previous bills and looking at how many minutes you used on calls, and how much data you have used for web browsing. If you also use your phone for texting, then the good news is that most pay monthly contracts now include unlimited texts, because the advent of free apps such as WhatsApp have enabled people to keep in touch by text without fees anyway.

It is worth remembering that if you are abroad and want to keep in touch with those at home, WhatsApp allows you to text for free, which could give you some big savings over the cost of traditional texting with your provider. If you want to talk, then you can also use Skype or WhatsApp if you have a wifi connection, which will not cost anything for the call either.

If you are not able to tell how you have used your phone just from your bill, then you can call your provider for a breakdown to help you make a decision about what to do next.

4. Decide exactly what you want to do – If you do not need a new phone, then you may decide to go for a SIM-only deal, which is a rolling monthly contract giving you a certain amount of minutes and data. They can cost as little as £5 a month, so if you are on a budget or simply don’t want to spend more than necessary and you are happy with your phone, this might be a good option.

Alternatively, if you do want to get a new phone, then you may find it is cheaper to get a contract for 12 or 24 months and have the cost of the purchase of the phone included. One thing to bear in mind is how much the phone will cost you over that period, and whether buying it outright at the start – if you have enough spare money to do so – would work out cheaper in the long run. By buying it outright you may be able to get a cheaper deal for your minutes and web browsing, but it would all depend on what you want to use the phone for.

If you want to be able to use the phone with any network, you need to have a phone that is ‘unlocked’ so it does not matter which network’s SIM you end up putting into it. These are known as ‘SIM free’ deals.

5. Speak to your existing provider – Before you start talking to other providers about deals that might be available to you, it is worth speaking to your own provider first. They will usually have a raft of deals and offers that their customer retentions team will have access to, which are designed to encourage you to stay with them.

If you decide that you do want to leave your existing mobile provider, you will need something called your Porting Authority Code (PAC) if you want to take your existing number with you. Providers are not allowed to dally when it comes to giving you this, it must come through to you in one working day by email, text or post, but in most cases it will be issued immediately over the phone or via text message, according to Ofcom.


Written by Alison Steed

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Alison Steed

Alison is a highly-respected commentator on personal finance issues and an accomplished writer, editor and broadcaster, having worked on The Daily Telegraph’s personal finance desk for nearly seven years from 2000 to late 2006, becoming the deputy personal finance editor in 2004. After going freelance in late 2006, she has continued to maintain a notable presence in the national press and on both television and radio, writing for The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily and Sunday Express and The Sun. She has also made a number of appearances on TV and radio, including numerous appearances on Sky News, the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, and was the financial journalist behind the hit Channel 4 personal finance show Superscrimpers for the first five series. She has won eight awards for her writing, including Personal Finance Journalist of the Year from the Association of British Insurers four times in a row, which is still a record. She has also received the Living Legend award from Help the Aged in recognition of the campaigning work she has done on the issue of the mis-treatment of older people who need long-term care.

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