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Mobile Phone Network Providers

For mobile phones to work they must use a network and it is to this network that you pay your bills. This is the cellular network referred to earlier which allows signals to be sent between mobiles. There are now 6 mobile phone networks in the UK. In this section we are going to take a look at each of them in turn so that you can make an informed decision when it is time to choose your mobile network provider, but first of all lets take a look at the things that all network providers have in common.

Pay as you go
Pay as you go, pay as you talk or prepay is where you simply pay for the calls that you make, in advance. If you plan to make a substantial amount of calls this is a very bad idea as individual call rates work out expensive, particularly when calling between networks - this is known as cross-network calling. Calling cross-network is a daily reality unfortunately, as you will find most people you know are with different providers. In this scenario both networks want to make money from the call and you end up footing an inflated call cost. The benefit here is that you can only use what you have paid for in advance via pre-paid credit so there's no risk of a nasty surprise when you receive your bill. When you have run out of credit you can continue to receive calls indefinitely. You can top up your pre-paid credit in a variety of easy ways - at supermarket checkouts, with vouchers, on the Internet, at ATMs or by making a free call from your mobile handset. As they are less sure of making a set amount of money from you, mobile network providers charge higher prices for handsets. Flashy models that would be free on monthly contracts run into the hundreds but do not despair - you can pick up a simple (but completely adequate) pay as you go handset from many high-street retailers for less than £30!

Monthly Contracts
All Mobile phone networks offer a pay monthly contract of 12 months or longer, subject to a successful credit check. You will receive a bill (usually itemised - but some providers charge extra for itemisation) each month showing your previous usage. The advantage of these contracts are the inclusive minutes and texts. All you have to do is estimate your usage and stick to it rigorously, as making calls outside of your allocated usage can be very costly, particularly when calling cross-network - you can check your usage from your handset with simple pre-set commands. Always make sure that your inclusive minutes are cross-network and be particularly careful of premium rate landlines and numbers that would ordinarily be reduced or free from a landline such as 0800 and 0845. More often than not, these numbers are not included as inclusive minutes and so they will cost extra1. With the advent of 3G, some monthly contracts include a set amount of premium content such as MMS messages, Video Calling, video and video game downloads. The down side is that once you have signed a contract you are legally bound until it expires. Some mobile providers will allow you to change your price plan but it is usually harder to move to a lower tariff than a higher one and you may only be able to move after a set amount of months or time has passed or you may not even be allowed to change your tariff at all. Always read the small print.

1.Note on special UK numbers: Ofcom has introduced 03 numbers as an alternative to chargeable 08 numbers like 0870. Calls to 03 numbers will now cost the same as calls to normal geographic numbers (starting 01 or 02), and should be included as part of any inclusive call minutes or discount schemes in the same way as geographic calls. Please check with your provider that they are sticking to this Ofcom guideline.

In the interim period while companies update their systems with the new 03 numbers, you can find geographic fixed line equivalents for many of these overpriced special UK numbers for many major companies by visiting Say No to 0870.com.

Coverage
A mobile network provider's coverage is the area in which they have installed a physical network of mobile telephone masts - basically the area in which you can use your mobile. If you live in a rural or less densely populated area of the UK then check the coverage maps carefully as this will be of vital importance. Some mobile networks have inter-provider agreements which allow them to fill any holes in their coverage by borrowing from each other, this should cost not you any extra however.

SIM Only
A SIM card is the removable electronic chip inside your phone that stores all your data - the price plan you are on and your payment and personal details. In essence this is the brain of the phone, or the brain of the network - inside your phone! All mobile network providers offer the option to purchase just their SIM card which will allow you to connect to their network (meaning you will pay them for mobile phone usage).This is useful if you have a phone already which you wish to keep but want to change providers. Given that they are not providing you with a handset, the cost is considerably less. This is because handsets, particularly today with the advent of 3G technology are extremely complex and expensive pieces of equipment. Handsets may be advertised as free on monthly contracts, but in fact their cost is subsidised by the price that you are tied into - this is why longer contracts offer cheaper rates and extra benefits. SIM cards also come with Pay as you go or Pay Monthly contracts that vary between providers.

Roaming
If you want to use your mobile phone abroad first you need to check that the handset you wish to buy is compatible with the mobile systems of any particular countries you have in mind. Secondly, when it comes to choosing a mobile network check through their roaming tariffs which will explain exactly how much it costs to send and receive calls and texts while you are outside the UK. Many providers will charge you extra if you make calls when abroad and also when you receive them! Likewise, texting will be charged at a premium but it is usually free to receive texts. Charges between mobile providers vary greatly in this area, due to the large costs that can quickly mount up you often need a more stringent credit check in order to have roaming permission granted if on a contract.

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