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Life / Telephone / Mobile
Using a mobile phone (cellphone) in the UK
  Buying a mobile phone (cellphone)
  Technical notes
  Cheaper mobile calls
  Text messages
  Mobile phone theft
Related pages:
Guide (introduction to telephones in the UK)
  International (cheap international phone calls from the UK)


How to buy and use a mobile phone in the UK.

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For a wider range of phones try one of the following links. Note that most of these are contract phones, requiring you to pay a monthly charge for a year or more (you will need to have a UK bank account and a good credit history):

Companies which only sell phones for their own mobile networks: Vodafone ; T-Mobile ; 3 mobile
Companies which sell phones from several different networks: Carphone Warehouse ; Phones4U ; Amazon

- What should I do after I have bought my mobile phone?

Put your SIM card into the phone. Recharge the battery (this will take several hours; you cannot use the phone until you have finished this).
Make a note of the phone number. This is printed on the sticker on the box.

Make a note of your mobile phone's IMEI number. This is a 15-digit number which is different for each phone. To find the number, enter the code *#06# on your phone. Alternatively, open the back of the phone and look at the label behind the battery, or look at the box in which you bought the phone. If your phone is stolen, you should report this number to the police and to your mobile phone network provider.

You should register your phone by visiting the company's website.

You should get your mobile phone security marked.
You can ask about this at your nearest police station (to find this, see: Personal/Advice). You can also mark other valuables, such as electronic dictionaries, personal stereos, cameras or laptops. If you sell your mobile phone to someone, you may want to let that person know the details used to mark the phone.

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- Will the mobile telephone work in the UK and in other countries?

Two UK mobile phone networks (T-Mobile and Orange) use a standard known as GSM1800. This uses a frequency of about 1800MHz.
Two UK mobile phone networks (O2 and Vodafone) use a standard known as GSM900. This uses a frequency of about 900MHz.

If you have a phone from your own country which uses GSM1800 or GSM900 it should be possible to bring it with you and to insert a SIM card for a network that uses the same standard, although you may need to pay for the phone to be "unlocked" before it will accept the new SIM card.

If your phone is dual band, it will normally work at either 1800MHz or 900MHz.
If it is tri-band, it will work at 1800MHz, 900MHz or 1900MHz.
A quad-band phone should work at 1800MHz, 900MHz, 1900MHz or 850MHz.

To check which countries use which GSM standards, see:

You need a 3G phone to use 3's network
Note that many US phones use CDMA networks: these are not compatible with GSM or 3G networks used in the UK.

Check the website of your telephone network (see below) for details about how to use your phone to make or receive phone calls or text messages while you are abroad. Making or receiving calls outside the UK can be expensive - make sure that you understand the charges before you use your phone .

- How much does it cost to have a mobile phone?

The cost of having a mobile phone depends on how you use it. As a guide, for a pre-pay phone you might pay between 60 and 100 pounds for a handset, then you might pay 15 pounds per month if you make 2 minutes of calls each day at an average cost of 25p per minute (or 5 minutes of calls each day at an average cost of 10p per minute).

- What type of pricing system (tariff) should I choose?

Pre-pay (also known as pay as you go) is the most common way to pay for mobile phone calls and is the cheapest if you do not use the phone much. You buy a pre-pay phone for the network you have chosen, and then buy voucher cards from a newsagent (the most common vouchers give you £10 of calls). You scratch the back of the card to see a number, which you then enter into your phone (instructions are given with the voucher). If you have a credit card or a debit card, you can also use this to buy call time, or you can ask for money to be added to your account (a top up) automatically.

A contract phone is an alternative to a pre-pay phone, especially if you are staying in the UK for more than a year, use a mobile phone a lot, and have a UK bank account. You sign a 1-year contract, pay a connection fee (perhaps 30 pounds) at the start, and you will be given a cheap (or free) handset. You will pay a fixed monthly bill (a line rental charge); you may get some free calls as part of this. You also pay for your calls, but the cost-per-minute may be lower than for pre-pay phones. Bills are automatically paid from your bank account (you will have to sign a direct debit mandate). This way of paying for your mobile phone calls is sometimes called a conventional tariff or contract tariff. If you choose an all-inclusive tariff you pay for a year's charges at the start, including some call time.

- What equipment do I need?

You need a phone handset, a SIM card (SIM is short for Subscriber Identity Module; it is a card placed inside the phone which contains information about the phone's owner), and a battery charger (a connection to an electrical supply, so that you can keep phone's battery charged up).
These are often provided together when you buy a phone.

If you have a pay-as-you-go phone, you can top up the credit online, from some newsagents or phone shops, or on your phone (using your credit or debit card).

- How do I choose a mobile phone network and tariff in the UK?

The main mobile telephone networks in the UK are:
(Virgin Mobile uses the T-mobile network)

The services provided by each network are similar, and the cost of basic handsets for each of the networks is similar, so usually the most important thing is to find the one with the cheapest call charges (tariff). Unfortunately choosing the best tariff can be complicated. You need to consider:
- How much you expect to use the phone (if you use it a lot and are in the UK for over a year, buy a contract phone instead of pay-as-you-go)
- If you normally make calls on the same day (some tariffs are cheaper after the first few minutes)
- Which network you will call the most (it is often much cheaper to phone someone on the same network, so check what your friends use)
- If you will use it mainly off-peak, in other words during evenings and weekends (some tariffs offer cheaper off-peak calls)
- How many text messages you expect to send (some tariffs will allow you to send some messages free).
- How much you expect to use your phone to access the internet (it is much cheaper to use an internet cafe).
- How often you expect to use voicemail to listen to a message you have missed (normally you are charged for this, but sometimes it is free)
- Any regular service charges (even with a pay-as-you-go phone, you may be charged a fee by the network)
If you live in a basement or in a mountainous or remote area, it is important to check that you can get a signal (ask someone who has a mobile phone with the same network).

If you want a phone with video (called a third generation or 3G phone), a new network has been created by:
3 mobile

- Which handset should I choose?

After you have chosen which network and tariff is best for you, you should then choose a handset which uses that network.
Popular phone makers include Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Siemens.

Some of the questions to consider when choosing a handset are:
- What is the cost of the handset? Buying an expensive handset may make it more likely to be stolen.
- Which mobile phone network can you use, and what are the charges (tariffs) for that network?
- Can you understand how to use the menus? Are the menus available in your language?
- Can you use it outside the UK?
- Is it WAP enabled - in other words, does it allow access to the internet and e-mail?
- What type of keypad does it have?
- How easy is it to write text messages? "Predictive text" can make writing messages much faster (see below)
- What sort of call alert does it have (eg vibrating)?
- Can you use it to take photos?
- Can it send picture messages (known as MMS)?

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- Cheap international phone calls

For details of how to make cheap international phone calls from a mobile phone, see: Life/Telephone/International
The same method can also save money on calls to other mobile phones in the UK, especially at weekends

- Other ways of reducing mobile phone call charges

Make a record of how much you use your phone and compare the costs for the different tariffs. There are a large range of different tariffs for contract phones.

Send text messages instead of speaking on the telephone. The charges are usually lower (note that you may be charged for more than one text message if you send a long message (for example: more than 160 characters).

It is often cheaper to make a call to a conventional telephone (a fixed landline) instead of calling a person's mobile telephone. If your friend is at home, call that person's landline instead of his/her mobile telephone.

It is cheaper to make calls to the same mobile telephone network. If you have to make a long call to someone on a different network, ask the person you are calling if he/she can borrow a friend's phone which is on your network.

If your tariff is cheaper at off-peak times, call your friends at these times. If the cost of the first few minutes of calls each day are more expensive, make several calls on the same day instead of a few calls each day.

Some companies provide phone numbers for customers which can be called for free if you use a fixed line telephone (including public telephones). These telephone numbers often start with 0800. Such calls are not free if you use a mobile phone, so you may wish to find a fixed line telephone to make these calls.

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It is usually cheaper to send a text message than to speak to someone.

You can also use SMS (Short Message Service) to chat with a friend using short text messages.

Abbreviations are often used in text messages, to make them quicker to type. For example:
B4 - before; BF - boyfriend; BRB - be right back; BTW - by the way; CU L8R - see you later; CU@7 - see you at 7 o'clock; FYI - for your information; GF - girlfriend; IC - I see; K - alright (OK); LOL - laugh out loud; PLS - please; RU -are you; TNX - thanks; TXT - text message; W8 - wait

Emotions can be expressed by typing the following:
:-) Happy ;-) Happily winking :-P Sticking out tongue :-( Unhapy :~( Crying :-| Unemotional :-O Surprised

Note that some phones have smart input, so if you type 7 8 8 3 3 6 8 it will automatically guess the word STUDENT (this can be much quicker than pressing each number several times to select each letter individually, which in this case would require you to enter 7777 8 88 3 33 66 8)

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Advertisement feature (by CPP)
Top Mobile Phone Theft Hotspots Revealed.... Glasgow is the worst place to be if you want to hang on to your mobile, according to new research out today. Belfast and Liverpool come a close second and third. The newly released CPP figures show we are most vulnerable to thieves while enjoying a pint in the pub with our friends, surrounded by people. A massive 22% of victims reported having their mobiles stolen in a bar compared to just 9% who said their phones were taken while they were in the high street. The majority of thieves strike in the early evening and the most popular times of year for stealing mobiles are the first two weeks of May and the last two weeks of July. But although half of mobile theft victims simply feel annoyed that they didn't look after their phones better, we are becoming more vigilant. Almost half of those who have had their mobiles stolen reported the incident within the hour. And there are ways we can protect ourselves. Nearly all phones are fitted with security codes which once activated prevent any SIM cards except yours working on your handset. You can also register your mobile with increasing the likelihood of it being returned to you. Most important of all, be aware of who is close to you if you are making a call in public and use your phone's vibrate facility so you can decide whether it is safe or not before answering it. For more information on how to protect their phone visit

Here are the CPP's top tips to help you keep your mobile safe:

1. Note down your IMEI number - printed on the inside of your handset's battery case - if your phone goes missing your service provider can use this number to blacklist your phone.
2. Log an ICE number - Store the name and number of someone who should be contacted in case of emergency in your phone book, adding the letters ICE in front of their name.
3. If your phone has a security code, remember to activate it. This means only your SIM card will work on your handset.
4. Be aware of who's close to you if you need to make a call in public.
5. Use your phone's vibrate facility if it has one, so you can decide whether it's safe before answering a call.
6. To help avoid abusive or bullying mobile calls or messages avoid giving out phone numbers to anyone other than close friends and family.
7. Try to keep your phone as close to you as you would your iPod or keys. It only takes a moment to be swiped by an opportunist.
8. Register your handset on the National Mobile Phone Register ( It increases the likelihood of lost and stolen phones being retuned to you.


1. Glasgow (31 per cent)
2. Belfast (29 per cent)
3. Liverpool (29 per cent)
4. Chelmsford (25 per cent)
5. London (24 per cent)
6. Bristol (23 per cent)
7. Manchester (21 per cent)
8. Leeds (21 per cent)
9. Sheffield (19 per cent)
10. Cambridge (19 per cent)

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Introduction to telephones in the UK: Life/Telephone/Guide
Making international phone calls: Life/Telephone/International

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