Playing the Mobile Phone Tariff Game

As a low volume mobile phone user I have, for the last ten years, been on an Orange tariff known as OVP Virgin which price matches the original Virgin Mobile tariff. This is essentially a pay as you go style tariff, with no fixed monthly fees, except that it is paid in arrears by direct debit like a contract tariff. The major advantage of this is that full international roaming is available rather than the restricted roaming available on PAYG tariffs.

The OVP Virgin tariff has long since stopped being available to new customers, but existing customers have been allowed to keep it. Equally Virgin themselves have stopped offering the post pay option on their PAYG tariffs, except for users who have a SIM on their original PAYG tariff. As it happens I have one of those as well…

The net effect of this is that my average bill over ten years has been about £1.25 a month which means that even after buying two phones outright during that period I have come out much better than I would have done by being on contract with a subsidised phone.

I have recently upgraded to a 3G phone however, which meant I needed to find a new tariff as Orange apparently refuse to enable 3G data for OVP Virgin customers, presumably because they would quite like to get rid of them.

My original plan was to use my Virgin SIM and switch it to post pay mode to get full roaming. That would also give me data access, either at 30p a day (with a 25Mb fair usage limit) or £5 a month (with a 1Gb fair usage limit) which means that if you use it more than about every other day then you want to be on the monthly option.

This week however I discovered that 3 have introduced a SIM Zero tariff which operates in much the same way as the original Virgin tariff and the OVP Virgin clone of that tariff. It also allows 3G data, either at 30p a Mb (quite expensive!) or at £5 a month for up to 2Gb. The call costs are also in general slightly lower than the original Virgin tariff.

The SIM Zero tariff is fairly well hidden however - you won’t find any mention of it on the main 3 web site for a start. After some googling I eventually found this link to the 3 store:

Even the front page of the 3 store doesn’t seem to provide any direct route to that page – the best it provides is a link to this page for SIM only deals:

Which doesn’t list SIM Zero, although it does list SIM Only Internet which is effectively SIM Zero with the £5 a month internet add-on.

So yesterday I ordered a SIM Zero, which really did go through the checkout as zero pounds and zero pence, not even any postage. Today it arrived – they even threw in a PAYG SIM as well just in case I wanted one.

Now all I have to do is get Orange Retentions to give me a PAC which could be quite fun…

Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes
Software Engineer, Developer and system administrator for OpenStreetMap

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