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* * * * *

Mobile Broadband on a Budget (or FREE!)


Having recently purchased a 3G enabled Samsung 550 Chromebook I've been looking at cheap options to get it on-line. 99% of the time I’m in a Wi-Fi area, so I’m only looking for an “emergency SIM” and as such, don’t want to pay too much for it. (£5/month or less is my budget)

Obviously, these findings are just as relevant if you own a 3G enabled tablet or have a 3G dongle for desktops and laptops.

My research has been
  • As expected with big name vendors charging high prices for very little data
  • I’ve not been surprised to see MVNO’s trying to undercut big networks at their own game
  • Pleasantly shocked by MVNO’s with FREE innovative solutions

MVNO = Mobile Virtual Network Operators. The likes of Giff Gaff who piggyback their service onto the main networks.

The Major Networks

Vodafone [Vodafone]
PAYG: FREE SIM, then £5 top up for 250MB data (valid for 30 days)
30 day contract: FREE SIM, £7.50 per month, 500MB data

T-Mobile [T-Mobile]
30 day contract: FREE SIM, £5 per month for 1GB data (usually £7.50)

Three [Three]
PAYG: FREE SIM, then £10.49 for 1GB data (valid for 30 days)
30 day contract: FREE SIM, £7.50 per month, 1GB data
30 day voice contract: All-you-can-eat-data, 200 mins, 5000 texts, £12.90 per month

Orange [Orange]
30 day contract: FREE SIM, £5 per month for 250MB data and Unlimited BT Wi-Fi

Now Orange PAYG is a little curious. If you purchase direct from the Orange website you get a basic SIM which you then have to add an ‘animal’ top-up to; Monkey, Dolphin, Racoon etc depending on your intended use. None of which seem to lend themselves to Mobile Broadband.

BUT, if you take a look on eBay you can now and then find an Orange SIM for 99p where your first £5 or £10 top up gets you 250MB of data per month for 12 months.

So just £10.99 for 250MB each month for 12 months. Quite a bargain. But the offer seems sparse on the ground and appears to come and go.

That's to MoDaCo member @gluttonyx for putting us onto that one. :) Here'e the eBay link he provided: [eBay Link]


Don't forget possible Quidco Cashback on all major networks, well worth a look. ;)

The Cheaper MVNO Options

Right, so what about the MVNO’s (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), the guys who piggyback onto the major networks?

Giff Gaff [Giff Gaff]
Runs over O2 network
PAYG, FREE SIM, then £5 for 500MB (valid for 30 days)

Virgin Mobile [Virgin Mobile]
Runs over Orange/T-Mobile network
PAYG, FREE SIM, then £10 for unlimited data and 300 texts (valid for 30 days). Obviously a phone tariff, but unlimited data is a draw,although FUP will need some investigation.

Looking at the other main MVNO’s; Tesco, Asda etc, none of them seem to do a mobile broadband plan and none of their voice plans compare on price to either of the above that I could see.

The FREE Options

Okay, the final category is the one that was new to me and has actually surprised me. MVNO’s that don’t charge a bean for using their data, but get their revenue from advertising.

Samba Mobile [Samba Sign Up Page]
Runs over Three network

Samba provide two options:
SIM only for £5 (£2.50 using above link)
Dongle and SIM for £25 (£22.50 using above link)

Both options are purely mobile broadband only with no calls and text packages available.

The dongle supplied is a ZTE MF190 which arrived within 2 days of ordering and mine came unlocked to all networks out of the box, which is contrary to reports I had read. I tried T-Mobile, Vodafone and Samba (Three) SIMs, all of which worked fine.

I then took the Samba SIM out of the dongle, put it in my Chromebook and it worked right from the off. So you can use the SIM however you please and happily swap between SIM only and using the dongle.


Posted Image



Once you are signed up you then have to head to Samba’s website and watch some adverts. Every advert that you watch adds 3.5MB to your allowance. Once gained, there is no expiry of the allowance and you can accumulate as much as you want.

I found it quite easy to accumulate around 100MB a day just by having their webpage on a tab in my browser, clicking on the ad, muting the sound and going back to what I was doing whilst the ad runs in the background. It probably takes a maximum of 10 seconds to get an advert running and they can run anything between 20 seconds and a couple of minutes.

Posted Image


When you then use your accrued data on your tablet/chromebook there are no adverts, you just use as normal.

Whilst its time consuming to build up your allowance, its good that it doesn't expire over time, so you could build up say 700MB watching adverts for a week and keep the SIM there for emergency use.

Just to be be clear, you can watch the adverts over your home/work internet connection and gain allowance. You don’t have to watch the adverts over their network, which would be self defeating in itself.

Note: you need to disable ‘adblock’ or similar for the Samba website. ;)

Finally, if you don’t fancy sitting there watching adverts all day, you can buy data from Samba at the following rates:

£3.50 gets you 250MB (valid for 30 days)
£5.00 gets you 500MB (valid for 30 days)

I was a little sceptical on what speeds would be delivered with SIM. With it being FREE I had visions of speed caps etc and not using the full bandwidth of the great Three network. But I was proved wrong as I managed to get a best speedtest result of 8.4Mbps Down and 2Mbps up from my Chromebook.

You can monitor your on-going allowance by simply logging onto the Samba site.

Ovivo Mobile [Ovivo Mobile]
Runs over Vodafone

Ovivo Mobile use as similar concept to Samba in that adverts drive their revenue, but the way they are delivered is different. Instead of you having to watch adverts in advance to gain an allowance, they say their adverts are forced upon you whilst you are browsing.

To get started on Ovivo it costs you £10 for the SIM and you get the option of having a pure mobile broadband account or a calls/texts/data plan. (more of that cracker below)

But as a bonus, when you activate your SIM after it arrives, the £10 you paid then goes onto your account for you to spend in a PAYG style, so in effect the SIM is FREE.

Then each and EVERY month from now on in you get the following allowance for FREE:

Phone Plan: 100 mins, 100 texts, 400MB data, FREE Ovivo to Ovivo calls
Mobile Broadband Plan: 500MB data

Note: You can swap from one plan to the other by filling in a form on their site if you change your mind later down the line.
100 mins, 100 texts and 400MB for FREE every month seems insane for me and would be a great SIM for low usage people, especially with the FREE Ovivo to Ovivo calls included too.

Note: I ordered the calls/texts/data plan, but it happily works in my Chromebook (data only).

Obviously, once you use all your allowance you’d start eating into your £10 credit until the month is up when your FREE allowance is reset back to the limits above.

The SIM arrived next day after ordering and the activation process was as simple as logging back into their website using the mobile number on the SIM card they send you and the password you previously set up when registering.

Posted Image


Having used the SIM whilst doing some test browsing on my Chromebook for a little while I can’t recall seeing any ads over and above the ones already on websites. And this was with Adblock extension purposely turned off.

I’d be interested to hear from other Ovivo users on their Ad experience, how intrusive are you finding it?

As with the performance test from Samba, Ovivo also appear to use full available bandwidth of its underlying network, this time Vodafone. This was abundantly clear as I managed to get 9.6Mbps down and 2Mbps up using speedtest on my Chromebook.

And checking your remaining monthly allowance is a simple as logging into their site.

Credit to MoDaCo member @simc1 for giving us the heads up about Ovivo. :)

NOTE: Looks like there is a price hike in the offing in the next few days.

Ovivo Sign-up Page: "Please note, from Monday 4th February 2013, it will cost £15.00 to purchase an OVIVO SIM card, but you will still receive the full £15.00 of calling credit onto your account when activated."


So over to you

I personally think the Ovivo deal is unbelievable, maybe even impossible for them to sustain this business model. But for very little outlay and no commitment on our part, its got to be worth a gamble and I will be keeping that Ovivo SIM in my Chromebook for the foreseeable future.

And as I've already built up a healthy couple of hundred MB on the Samba SIM, that will stay in my bag for emergencies as well.

What experience do you have of any of the above? (good or bad)

Is there a bargain provider of Mobile Broadband out there that we've missed that people should know about?

Any comments on this subject are very welcome.

About the author

Zarch1972's Photo
Zarch is a veteran gadgeteer who has owned everything from a Commodore VIC-20 to a HTC One and much of what came in-between.

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89 Comments

The above is all good and well but how about piggybacking off of your own android phones network, which is completely free. All you got to do is share the network connection from your phones WiFi or blue-tooth,

Just do the following:
First you will have to pair your tablet to your phone make sure to turn on discoverable mode.

1. click settings
2. click more
3. click tethering and portable hotspot
4.click configure wifi hotspot
5. enter a network name of your choosing for exp:( my phone ) then chose a password click save
6. click portable wifi hotspot or blue-tooth tethering (which ever you want to run off of,( i find blue-tooth runs better when phone is next to my tablet).let it find and your phone, click connect.

Viola, you are now sharing your phones internet connection completely free using your phones data plan.
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everett_psycho
Feb 03 2013 03:25 PM
That's fine if you are on threes one plan and you might get away with it sharing an android phones network to another android device but it's actually against the terms of service, if I tether my phone to my laptop three will bill me for it.

I've ordered myself both samba and ovivo sims, the main reason is to give it a shot as my home broadband is woefully slow, if I use it a lot I might upgrade my main mobile to the one plan and use these sims as backup, but for an out lay of £12.50 it's a good way to see if I actually use the service before committing to a 12 month contract
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vodafone red data gives me 2gb of data which I can tether if required, but it's hardly ideal
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"Having used the SIM whilst doing some test browsing on my Chromebook for a little while I can’t recall seeing any ads over and above the ones already on websites. And this was with Adblock extension purposely turned off."

according to the video, ads are shown on your mobile browser but i can't confirm this until my sim arrives :)
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Looks like the price hike is now in force on Ovivo (SIM now £15), but you get the £15 back in credit when you sign up.

And they've also boosted the referral bonus from £2 to £3 per sign up. :)
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Looks like the price hike is now in force on Ovivo (SIM now £15), but you get the £15 back in credit when you sign up.

And they've also boosted the referral bonus from £2 to £3 per sign up. :)


You can also refer yourself if you want another SIM, before you wouldn't get the £. Handy if you run more than one phone.
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So from the replies, it appears that the T-Mobile PAYG SIM ONLY with 6 month Internet Booster is your best value PAID option.

Get your new PAYG SIM and put £10 of credit on it to activate, then buy a £20 Internet Booster that lasts 6 months with "unlimited browsing" (but subject to their Fair Use Policy for downloads)

http://www.t-mobile....ou-go/boosters/

So works out £5 per month for the first 6 months (£10 + £20), then £3.33 for each of the subsequent months (£20 every 6 months)

Certainly looks a bargain to me. :)
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everett_psycho
Feb 07 2013 03:08 PM

So from the replies, it appears that the T-Mobile PAYG SIM ONLY with 6 month Internet Booster is your best value PAID option.

Get your new PAYG SIM and put £10 of credit on it to activate, then buy a £20 Internet Booster that lasts 6 months with "unlimited browsing" (but subject to their Fair Use Policy for downloads)

http://www.t-mobile....ou-go/boosters/

So works out £5 per month for the first 6 months (£10 + £20), then £3.33 for each of the subsequent months (£20 every 6 months)

Certainly looks a bargain to me. :)


Can't you whack £20 on, activate it then use that to pay for the internet booster? Seems the first £10 would go to waste just sat on the account.

My samba and ovivo sims and dongle turned up yesterday, had a quick play but I'm impressed so far, I'll give it some more attention at the weekend as reception in our flat is patchy.
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unrandomsam
Feb 07 2013 07:09 PM

I've been using a PAYG sim from T-Mobile in my tablet for a while.
If you purchase £20 of topup, then you get a month's free internet: http://www.t-mobile....s-you-go/plans/
Then they do a 6 Month internet booster for £20:
http://www.t-mobile....you-go/boosters
So for £40 you can get 14 months of internet.


The tmobile sims intended for phones are not so good. (They mess around doing stuff like downgrading the quality of images and also trash downloads in the process). If you use a vpn or tunnel over ssh you can get around it.
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unrandomsam
Feb 07 2013 07:11 PM

So from the replies, it appears that the T-Mobile PAYG SIM ONLY with 6 month Internet Booster is your best value PAID option.

Get your new PAYG SIM and put £10 of credit on it to activate, then buy a £20 Internet Booster that lasts 6 months with "unlimited browsing" (but subject to their Fair Use Policy for downloads)

http://www.t-mobile....ou-go/boosters/

So works out £5 per month for the first 6 months (£10 + £20), then £3.33 for each of the subsequent months (£20 every 6 months)

Certainly looks a bargain to me. :)


You are only supposed to use them on phones. (Cannot get decent quality for jpg's in webpages even.) You can disable the accelerator but only on a proper mobile broadband sim.
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everett_psycho
Feb 08 2013 12:28 AM
Not sure if anyone else has had this with ovivo but I paid £10 for the sim on Sunday, activated today and seem to have £15 credit on the account, too late for people thinking about buying but might be worth checking for those who did buy
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don't ignore the ovivo loyalty bonus:

http://ovivomobile.com/255/ovivo-rewards/featured-promotions-1

top up £10/month (which is what i spend with giffgaff at the moment) for a year and you should end up with 300 free texts - 300 free minutes & 800mb free internet which once earnt will remain whether you top up again or not :)
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just activated giffgaff in my huawei e5331 that I got for £46 from amazon, so much faster than 3 or samba
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Cheers for this... just ordered a Samba sim (too tight to pay £15)

Started watching the highly informative adverts, ready to use the data up in the summer whilst on the many weekends away planned with the kids. Free internet so they can do homework etc. is worth a try. Will be ordering a mifi soon, as tethering the phone kills the battery too much. It's OK for a short period of use, but it won't survive all day. Also, can leave a mifi near the laptop/Nexus all the time, and not worry about taking the internet access with me when I go for a pint.
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so far so good.
everything promised has been delivered.
ordered ovivo sim last sunday, received it wednesday and transfered number on friday.
they also added £3 for transfering my number to ovivo and £3 for refering my wife.
as an added bonus, i'm now getting the best 3g performance i've ever had :)
thanks for the heads up on this :)
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thanks for the heads up on this :)

Happy days, glad people have found it useful . :)
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zombimuncha
Feb 17 2013 11:11 AM
I'm using an MNVO called Vizz. It runs on Voda's infrastructure, and I get 10MB free per day as long as I keep my prepay balance over £2.
Sweet deal!
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ran out of data on my giffgaff, onto ovivo
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My own personal take on this.

I purchased via Amazon, a 3 data only SIM which has a 3Gb allowance valid for 90 days. This cost the tidy sum of £10.50 , thank you very much. Only drawback obviously depending on your usage is although this SIM can be topped up, I would not be luckily enough to get it at the same rate, so I just buy a few SIM cards at a time and replace as and when required.

Everyone's usage is different, I mostly use Wi-Fi so this amount of data is fine for my uses.
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so why not get the samba sim instead?
£2-50 then watch a few adverts and get free data, job done :)

My own personal take on this.

I purchased via Amazon, a 3 data only SIM which has a 3Gb allowance valid for 90 days. This cost the tidy sum of £10.50 , thank you very much. Only drawback obviously depending on your usage is although this SIM can be topped up, I would not be luckily enough to get it at the same rate, so I just buy a few SIM cards at a time and replace as and when required.

Everyone's usage is different, I mostly use Wi-Fi so this amount of data is fine for my uses.

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So a few weeks on, how are we all finding the service from Samba and Ovivo? I've no complaints on either.

I think its a no brainer to pick one of each SIM up as spares. :)
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everett_psycho
Feb 19 2013 11:21 PM
Liking it, they screwed up my ovivo so I'm on the phone plan but it's worked out well, shoved in my old phone that I've recommissioned as an mp3 player it gets left in aeroplane mode 99% of the time but it came to my rescue twice already when my three sim had no reception but ovivo did
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as a light mobile phone user the ovivo is perfect for me. i can't see any need for me to top up again :)
the samba card i've bought now resides in my orange san francisco and is used as a wifi hotspot, dongle, watching you tube videos, a sat nav and general surfin.
i'm saving £10/month with very little inconvenience.
thanks zarch and all contributors :)
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I opted for samba, and in the 3 weeks I've had the sim I've managed to earn just under 800MB, just for having the adverts in a background tab for about 15mins now and again while I'm doing my normal daily surfing
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I opted for samba, and in the 3 weeks I've had the sim I've managed to earn just under 800MB, just for having the adverts in a background tab for about 15mins now and again while I'm doing my normal daily surfing

Good stuff. I've been doing similar and building a bit of a Samba data stockpile. :)
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