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Mobile Wi-Fi in the UK

I'm visiting England next month and am still deciding on phone and Internet choices. I've been reading forum postings about all kinds of smartphone and Internet options for Europe. My question is specifically about Mobile Wi-Fi in the UK.

I see that the website VisitBritain Shop offers a rental hotspot device or “pocket wifi” from the company tep ( There are various rental time periods (3 days up to 2 months). 150 MB per day is allowed. Three days is $31.50 while ten days is $62.50. I'm thinking this might be an easy and safe choice since it is offered by the VisitBritain Shop and would give me access in London parks, train, etc. without having to find a wifi cafe, get a password or pay on the spot. Also should work easily in my hotel room. I realize that coverage might not always be spectacular or available in a place like the Cotswolds.

Planning on taking an iPhone 5s and a Kindle Fire HDX.

I know there are pros and cons to any connection option, but wonder if anyone has experience with this wifi hotspot device or something similar in England. All comments welcomed.

Posted by
1838 posts

We don't pay for WiFi anywhere. It is free in about any area you will be in, hotels cafes, bars, transportation stations, etc. Also its in many restaurants and fast food places. I don't know about your specific electronics but we use a iPad mini to access email.

Posted by
44 posts

I'm looking for a way to use my smartphone without paying Verizon's very expensive global roaming charges. If I understand mobile hotspots correctly, I will be able to use my cell phone to make calls thru the pocket tep hotspot and use its daily data allowance, as well as use the hotspot for Internet access. Sounds like I can use the pocket wifi device easily without seeking out wifi as I travel around. Is that correct?

Posted by
30291 posts

well, yes, (really maybe), and no.

I've never used a mi-fi, other brand names may apply, but I do regularly use UK mobile services on the 3 phones I carry, on EE, O2 and on three.

Does your 5s have a sim slot; is it quad band gsm compatible? Is it unlocked? If so, I'd just buy a sim from a supermarket with as much data as you want on one of the better networks and use the the phone's 3g or 4g abilities without extra hardware. Be aware that 4g means something completely different depending on which side of the ocean you are on.

$62.50, or somewhere around £40 in real money, is highway robbery for 10 days. Half that for 3 days is pretty darn expensive too.

Go to the Tesco or Carphone Warehouse websites - there are Tesco supermarkets on every corner here - and look at their sim-only pay as you go deals. Buy one, stick it in, many Tescos even have phone stores in the back who will do it for you, and go to town.

Be advised that three has fast 3g but their coverage is very limited around the UK. My three phone won't let call from inside anywhere except in central London and Birmingham. 4g is only availble on anybody's network in a few places around the country.

Cotwolds and any rural areas will be spotty for any coverage but I find my O2 does pretty well there.

I know nothing about Kindle devices.

Posted by
30291 posts

phone calls don't use data, they are phone calls, and your plan will need to include phone minutes if you want them. If you use Skype or similar that will be all internet so will be all data. Video calls use a LOT of data.

Posted by
1829 posts

Although not strictly necessary, I suppose, we use a mifi device (SIM free bought off Amazon and an EE Pay as You Go SIM) when we are out and about. Also have one for Italy because wifi can be a bit slow?patchy at the places we stay. Maybe we are lazy but sometimes there seem so many hoops to jump through before being able to use free wifi.

Other people say that "tethering" ie using your phone handset as a pocket wifi device is a better option but we have not tried that so cannot comment. Obviously you will need an unlocked phone if you want to use a UK SIM.

This link is for a UK wide store that not only offers good deals on SIMS from some of the major suppliers in the UK but has very helpful staff who will advise on the best deal for your needs. They seem to have a store on every street corner!

Posted by
1027 posts

As Linda said, an unlocked wifi dongle is about $25, and a a 1GB data only Sim can be had for $10.

Posted by
44 posts

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and information.

It is not clear to me yet if the mobile wifi device from Three includes voice calling or is just for Internet data. I am expecting their hotspot device (and plan) to allow both cell voice and Internet just like my home wifi does here in the US with no usage charges from Verizon. I'll do some more checking and will post here if I find out for sure.

Overall, I'm looking for a convenient solution even if I have to pay a bit more to have voice and Internet for my smartphone and Internet for my Kindle pretty much wherever I go, and without having to login to various cafes and places. Sounds like coverage for Three is not great outside London. I'll mostly be there but also in Kent and the Cotswolds.

Posted by
5479 posts

If you get a data-only solution, you can always buy a Skype US phone number for $18/3 months. That gives you unlimited incoming calls. You can either give people that US number or forward your Verizon phone number to it before you leave for the UK. (Verizon didn't used to offer unlimited forwarding, not sure about now.)

For outgoing Skype calls, you can either buy Skype credit in $10 blocks and pay the small per-minute fee or buy an unlimited plan - not sure how much that costs.

But with Skype you can also use it with WiFi when available and not have to burn data on your hotspot.

Posted by
244 posts

I used the app on my iPhone called WhatsApp. I use the hotel wifi and can text and send pictures for free! It worked perfect! No charges. Everyone needs the app on their phone. It worked for us in Italy, Switzerland, Germany. Perfect way to stay in touch with our kids in California!

Posted by
6223 posts

(bumping this older thread because I have the same questions, and maybe the OP has returned and can offer their opinion based on recent real-world experience)

We're headed for the UK in late June/early July for 3 weeks. We will start in London, wander around a bit of nearby England, then head north, spending a bit more than half our trip around Scotland, including some of the more far-flung islands (Lewis and Orkney). Using public transit in London, and much of the other parts by driving. We will have a dedicated GPS with maps of the UK as a primary navigation device while in the car.

I'm interested in options for data connectivity while out and about (we don't care about phone calls, only data). Yes, I know many hotels will have free wifi - I get that. On recent trips we have found that having good data connectivity all day makes a big difference - and no, I don't mean because it allows one to waste their day Facebooking when they should be actually experiencing life. Previously I would have scoffed, too, but now I got religion...

On our last trip to Japan we rented a "pocket wifi" device and found it utterly liberating. The connectivity was super fast, rock-solid reliable, and was available almost everywhere (we lost connectivity briefly in longer rail tunnels, but otherwise were always connected while zooming along at 150 mph on the bullet trains - only while hiking in remote areas did we fail to get a connection). We used multiple devices (his and hers iPads) for everything from picking restaurants to navigating subway systems, to learning about the places and things we stumbled across. It allowed us to navigate on foot everywhere - underground (Tokyo has a vast maze of underground pedestrian walkways), on subways, though tiny back streets, even on paths out in the countryside (thank you, Google Maps) - it made everything almost too easy. It allowed us to buy tickets to sites while we were en route to them, find out opening/closing hours for obscure attractions, get tips from others to make the most of our time, and a thousand more things that made our trip much easier and better. Nearly every day we would turn to each other, amazed and delighted, and say "wow, I'm never going to travel without one of these again!"

In Japan, it could not have been easier. The service delivered the device to our hotel so it was waiting there for us on arrival. Dropped it in a mailbox in a prepaid mailer at the airport as we left. About a hundred bucks for 2 weeks, an incredible bargain in my eyes.

I don't expect wifi across the UK to provide quite the same speed (our device in Japan was rated at 75 MB/sec, and seemed about as fast as my workplace's super-fast wired broadband) nor coverage to be as broad (I'm realistic - I expect cellular coverage will be sparse at best across a lot of Scotland, and spotty in many other places). Still, I'd be happy to pay for a device that would give us connectivity throughout the trip (allowing for those gaps).

I'd be thrilled to find something similar for our UK trip. Anyone have experience and/or recommendations? Thank you!

Posted by
44 posts

I returned from my trip on Sunday. (Had a wonderful time.)

Quick report on the Mi-Fi pocket device --
I did rent the tep device through the online Visit Britain Shop. Picked it up at Heathrow terminal 5. The device worked great in London. However, no coverage in rural Kent or the Cotswolds. Didn't try it in Oxford.

Overall, the performance in London was excellent. It provided personal, secure wi-fi. As Nigel and others have pointed out it is not cheap and there are many alternative. On my next trip to England I would not get it. Probably would buy a very inexpensive phone and data plan from a Tesco store or similar outlet.