Best PAYG SIM for short-term visit to UK?
December 17, 2007 11:06 AM   Subscribe

How can I be as wireless for two weeks in the UK as I am year round in the US?

We're going to the UK for two weeks. I have an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone with EDGE data. I also have an Option GT Max Express (or something like that), which is a global 3G card (HSDPA 3.6, downgrading to other GSM-based data services if necessary). I'd like to be able to use the phone for voice and data, and pop the SIM into my ExpressCard for data access while we're in London.

What's the best prepaid (PAYG) SIM to get for two weeks? Three (Hutchison 3G UK, that is) seems cheapest for phone and 3G data, but I can't find anything that says they even *have* EDGE. It looks like I need either Vodafone (ouch, £10 for 24 hours) or O2, but I'm not entirely clear on that either since I've read that O2 doesn't allow 3G data for PAYG cards, even with the web bolt-on.

And I thought the US mobile data market was bad. Am I just misreading their sites? Does Three have EDGE? Does O2 let you go 3G with a PAYG card? Can I speak complete gibberish? (Wait, I know the answer to the last one).

For extra credit, is there a good place to buy a SIM at Heathrow, or should I wait until we're killing time at Liverpool St. Station the day we arrive?
posted by fedward to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was under the impression that EDGE and 3G are different systems.

3 is a 3G network. All the other major UK networks offer 3G services, but at an additional cost compared to their non-3G plans. I'd imagine that pay-as-you-go data, if such services exist, will be pretty expensive.
posted by skylar at 11:27 AM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster: EDGE and 3G are indeed different systems. 3G phones, however, still work as GSM phones (it's just the data part that's 3G), and 3G data devices (UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA, that is, not EVDO, which is the 3G offered by Sprint and Verizon in the US) all have SIM cards and all downgrade somewhat gracefully to older technology. I already had enough jargon without trying to explain everything in the original post. When the O2 deal for the iPhone was announced, many people complained that there's little EDGE coverage in the UK, and that 3G would have made more sense.

What I can't tell from here is whether Three has non-3G data. A week of "unlimited" data added onto a pay-as-you-go plan is only £2.50, which beats the heck out of Vodafone's prices. But if it's 3G-only and I can't use the EDGE data capabilities of my phone, it's less useful.
posted by fedward at 11:49 AM on December 17, 2007

Only O2 has an EDGE network, which was created specifically for the iPhone.
posted by influx at 1:40 PM on December 17, 2007

The best deals on data, bar none, are from T-Mobile, who have the 'Web n' Walk' tariff. That's a gig of data a month.

Apparently, you can get it on Pay as you go. Pop into a T-mobile shop and ask, or check out their website.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:55 PM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster:
Only O2 has an EDGE network, which was created specifically for the iPhone.
This is incorrect. Orange had one first. Vodafone has been rolling out EDGE too.

Also, I found an answer to at least part of my question: Orange has 3's roaming contract, which means that 3 does have EDGE ... at least where it's relying on its roaming partner. Heh.
posted by fedward at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster: Just to follow up: I ended up with Orange, because none of the stores in the station itself had PAYG SIMs at all, and there was an Orange store across the street. They offer the same £1.00/day deal for data as T-Mobile, or a £4/4MB deal. I wasn't paying attention, though, so I first ended up with a non-3G SIM that wouldn't work in my data card. Since I needed it for four days, I went ahead and got another SIM from Orange that was, in fact, 3G, and that worked great in the computer. I kept the first one in my phone.

The SIM cards were both free with a minimum £5 initial top-up. T-Mobile has basically the same sort of deal, I think. If you're going over there and plan to use a phone at all, I suggest unlocking your own and getting a SIM. It was much cheaper than I'd have paid roaming charges for, and now I have a UK number for when I go back. I did spend a little more than I expected, but that meant I didn't have to take the SIM out of my phone to use it in the computer, so I don't mind the extra expense.

Also, the EDGE thing was very strange. We spent the first week in East Anglia, and I never saw an EDGE indicator until we were in the car on the way to London. GPRS worked fine everywhere, though. Once we were in London, I never got an EDGE connection again, but the 3G data card worked perfectly. If you're expecting EDGE in the UK, don't. There's sparse coverage, but it's not at all something you can depend on.
posted by fedward at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2008

I'm having the same dilema in finding out the best solution to surf whilst in the uk this summer, I'll be staying for a month so I want something that is going to be worth my while, after reading the above post I looked into the orange 3g payg sim card but they don't seem to do one, the only solutions seem to be vodafone and t-mobile but any info is so confusing, anyone have an update seeing as the original post was the end of last year, thanks
p.s I'm only looking for a 3g payg sim to put into my usb dongle...
posted by catwoman66 at 12:05 PM on June 8, 2008

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