Many people shopping for a mobile plan will settle on a contract deal, opting for the shiniest new smartphone, and all the extra fees that go along with it. For the more value conscious, however, or those who are happy with their current handset, a SIM-only plan could be ideal.

How-To: A Few Tips on How to Find a SIM-Only Plan

GSM and CDMA Networks

All mobile companies in the UK operate on GSM networks, which means they can make voice calls and transmit data at the same time, are more common internationally, and use SIM-cards; which makes the phones easily transferable from service to service.  A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card is, as it sounds, a small removable card that holds identifying information about the user for the network to recognize. This card can be switched from device to device, provided it’s within the same network, or you are “unlocked” from the initial network. In this way you can easily switch phones (or networks) and keep the same number – or vice versa.  Not all carriers (notably in the US) run on GSM networks, so this should be considered when considering a SIM-only plan abroad.

Key reasons for a SIM-only plan

You already own a phone you want to use for a while.  Whether you just bought a phone outright, or you have a phone left from a contract plan with which you are happy, and want to keep using, a SIM-only plan is probably right for you.  The new handset you want isn’t available, but your contract is done. Before committing to another contract you can tide yourself over on a SIM-only plan.  You just want to pay less. If you own a phone, SIM-only plans are your greatest value.  Mobile network providers do not usually make a lot of money off handset sales. More often, they are used as a gimmick to lure in customers, and commit them to the network service for a year, or more likely, two.  As impressive as the new sleek and shiny models can be, they are also expensive. This cost is passed on to you, usually through subsidized payments, or charge adjustments to cover the company in cases of contract fraud.

When people walk out on their contracts, it’s not always easy to retrieve that expensive new phone. Those losses are reflected in the adjusted costs to other contract members. SIM-only plans don’t include handsets, and therefore are able to forego this caution and extra expense.  Many mobile network carriers offer SIM-only plans with all of the bells and whistles of any regular contract plan, with two special bonuses – lower costs and shorter commitments.  Besides the risk-adjustments costs mentioned above, there is also no need for a subsidized phone fee, as there is no phone for which payment needs to be made.  Also, without the risk of losing an expensive phone, many companies are more flexible with the time you pledge to stay loyal, often requiring as little as a 30-day guarantee. To move from carrier to carrier, your phone must be unlocked. The easiest way to do this is through your provider, though there are several other options as well.  Unlocking an iPhone can be more difficult, and it should be noted that they use nano SIM-cards, which will be the new standard, but as of yet may not be provided by all carriers.

The Best Reason for SIM-Only Plans: Travel Abroad

The people that benefit most from a SIM-only plan are the world-travelers. As GSM networks, and thus SIM cards are used internationally, it is easy to find a foreign SIM-only plan while traveling abroad. You can buy either a country-specific card, or an international card.  Either way, you can be provided a UK number for your friends and family to use, so they can avoid international charges. And, since you are using a local provider in a foreign land, you get to avoid international charges as well.