What is a Pay Monthly SIM? Contracts, Deals, Data & More

Long gone are the days where you had to choose between pay as you go (PAYG) and a long-term contract phone. Pay monthly SIM-only deals are becoming more and more popular because of the flexibility, cost-efficiency and ease of use they offer.

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about pay-monthly SIM deals, including how they work, the (potentially unlimited) data on offer and how to find the best package for your requirements.

SIM cards: the basics                                              

First and foremost, it’s worth looking at the basics of SIM-only deals – which starts with the SIM card itself. For the uninitiated, a SIM card is the tiny plastic card that slots into your phone. For some phones, the SIM is inserted underneath the battery. However, many modern phones have SIM inserts on the side to facilitate non-removable batteries.

SIM itself stands for ‘subscriber identity module’. But all you need to know is that it’s a smart card that stores data about you as a phone user – including your contacts, balance (or allowances), usage and SMS messages.

While the earliest SIMs in the 1990s were the size of a credit card, today, they come in three sizes – standard, micro and nano. Measuring 25 x 15mm, a standard SIM was the go-to before the advent of smartphones. Most modern phones use a micro-SIM (15 x 12mm) or nano-SIM (12.3 x 8.8mm).

What is a pay monthly SIM?

Pay monthly SIM-only deals are contracts where you pay for the SIM card only, without a device. Don’t worry, you get more than just the card! A pay monthly SIM is preloaded with a set allowance for calls, text messages and data for mobile internet connection. You pay monthly for that allowance, although some deals also allow you to exceed the allowance at a cost.

Pay monthly SIM deals are an alternative to two other options – pay as you go (PAYG) and contract phones.

Contract phones

Contract phones were the only option when mobile phones first hit the market and have remained popular ever since. They originally included a device and a set allowance for calls. That allowance later included SMS messages and finally data. The cost of the device was and still is, spread across the duration of the contract – although some contracts include an upfront payment to reduce the monthly fee.


First introduced by Vodafone in 1996, PAYG phones transformed the mobile game, allowing users to prepay for their usage with a credit ‘top up’ as and when they needed it. With no commitment to a contract and device purchased separately, PAYG peaked in the 2000s and remained popular into the early 2010s.

How many people use SIM-only?

The introduction of PAYG phones saw mobile usage go mainstream. In 2011, it was still the most popular option, accounting for 51% of mobile subscriptions. However, as mobile phone usage became a more integral part of modern life – and people were more interested in upgrading to constantly advancing smartphones – contract phones got back on top.

By 2015, contract phones accounted for more than four times PAYG users, with 67% for the former and 16% for the latter. However, there was also a new kid on the block – with SIM-only deals already equalling PAYG on 16%.

Fast forward to 2021, and SIM-only deals are a serious rival to contract phones. According to 2021 statistics, SIM-only deals have shot up to account for 46% of overall mobile contracts – compared to 52% on a contract with a handset included. Let’s not mention the 2% who answered ‘don’t know’!

Pay monthly SIM only vs traditional contracts

The main difference between pay monthly SIM-only contracts and traditional contract phones is the inclusion of a device. SIM-only deals don’t include a device, whereas their contract phone counterparts do.

That also has implications on the cost of the two deals. Along with the cost of calls, texts and data, contract phones spread the cost of your device (plus interest for the privilege) across the monthly repayments on your deal. With a SIM-only contract, you’re only paying for your usage, which is usually pre-set but can sometimes be exceeded via add-ons or charges for additional use.

Spreading the cost of the device also affects the typical length of contracts on offer. SIM-only contracts typically range from 24 months to a monthly rolling deal. In contrast, contract phone deals will always be on the longer side (at least 12-months, but sometimes up to 48 months), so the cost of the device can be incorporated more manageably.

Pay monthly SIM only vs PAYG

On the flip side, the only thing similar between PAYG and SIM-only contracts is that they’re device free. SIM-only deals are an ongoing contract where you pay monthly for a set number of calls, texts and data.

With PAYG, you top up your SIM card with credit – £5, £10 or even more – with a charge for each call, text or amount of data used. Those charges depend on the tariff from your provider but are typically around 30p a minute for calls and 15p per text.

The benefits of pay monthly SIMs

Based on the two comparisons above, many benefits come with pay monthly SIM-only contracts compared to the alternatives:

  • Less commitment – With shorter contracts than those with a device included, SIM-only deals don’t require quite as much commitment.
  • More value – The calls, texts and data you get in return for your monthly payment far exceeds what you would get for the same cost on a PAYG phone.
  • Cheaper – With no device to pay for, SIM-only contracts are typically much more affordable than contract phones.
  • More flexible – If you do want to keep up with the latest tech, SIM-only deals actually allow you to do so more frequently with a shorter term.
  • Easier – Everyone has a rough idea of how much they call, text and use data. Once you’ve calculated that, it’s much easier to pay for it monthly than constantly top up a PAYG phone.

Finding the right pay monthly SIM-only deal

Pay monthly SIM-only contracts vary in a number of ways. Below, we’ll list some factors to consider when searching for the right SIM-only deal for yourself of your organisation:

1.    Contract length

Pay monthly SIM-only contracts typically range from one month to 24 months in length. One-month contracts are also known as rolling contracts, which can basically be cancelled whenever required. If you choose a more extended contract, you’ll usually be rewarded for your loyalty with lower monthly costs or extra data, so it’s just a question of whether you prioritise flexibility or value.

2.    Usage

Here’s the crucial bit – your usage. Choosing a SIM-only deal with an insufficient allowance of calls, texts, and data will mean you have to pay extra charges (which are usually pretty steep) each month or compromise on the use of your phone when the allowance runs out.

On the other hand, signing up for a deal with a sky-high allowance will see you paying an unnecessarily high amount each month. That extra £5 or £10 a month can soon stack up, especially if you’re purchasing multiple deals for a team of employees.

In truth, most SIM-only contracts nowadays offer unlimited calls and texts as standard. The primary variable is the amount of data you need. Will you or your team be connected to Wi-Fi most of the time? If that’s the case, you might only need 2-4GB.

However, if you or your staff are constantly on the go, using data for browsing, streaming or video calls, then a higher allowance of 10-20GB might be required. Remember, it is possible to get a pay monthly SIM with unlimited data if you want complete peace of mind and limitless usage.


It goes without saying that the two factors the above need to be balanced with costs. As mentioned, committing to a longer contract could reduce the amount you pay for the data you need – or give you more data for the same cost. That’s because SIM-only providers naturally want to keep customers for longer, so they’re happy to reward you for your loyalty.


Choosing a pay monthly SIM-only deal might seem like a simple price comparison exercise. However, it’s worth considering the benefits offered by different providers too. Some providers will have better coverage depending on their network, for example, for the coverage of the network which they use.

Additionally, you might want to choose a specialist provider that has experience with your requirements. If you’re a business owner or manager looking for multiple SIM-only deals in one contract, for instance, you’ll want to go with a SIM-only business provider rather than one targeted at individuals.

Pay monthly SIM-only contracts for businesses

At VS Group, we’re dedicated to giving charities and businesses the solutions they need to stay connected and thrive. That includes a range of SIM-only contracts which can be tailored to your requirements – and those of your mobile or remote staff.

We’ll create a bundle that fits your needs, from paying monthly SIMs with unlimited data to packages with 5GB and handsets included. We provide all-inclusive costs and expert support at every step of the way. Contact us today to talk about your mobile requirements and how we can help.


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