I remember my first mobile phone. 1999, an nk402 on the Orange PAYG network. A year before that I had a MiniCall pager – messages to that were 50p each!

I had been loyal to Orange up to late 2011 (Text Saver kept me keen), at which point they had merged with T-Mobile to form EE. I left Orange for a few reasons: the tariffs were now uncompetitive, the signal had suffered since the merge, and I was about to get my first smartphone and it seemed inevitable that I needed a contract to avoid getting fleeced.

I didn’t need a contract, turns out. I ported my number over to the ultra-cheap O2 network-leacher, giffgaff, and it was my network for three unlocked Windows Phones until a couple of days ago as they were starting to seem uncompetitive. The funny thing is that I have returned to my old network, now fully known as EE.

EE doesn’t have a reputation as the cheapest but they are known for having the best and most reliable 4G coverage. Turns out though, that, with a bit of research, they can also compete head-on with Three, who offer 1p/mb data and 3p and 2p UK calls and texts respectively. Vodafone and O2 were off my radar because they seem stuck in the 00s.

I actually tested Three and EE PAYG SIMs before making the leap. I found that I had a strangely-usable 0-bar signal on Three indoors and internet speed was on average H+, even out. EE’s signal was a tad lower than giffgaff’s but it was visible and I’ve never had anything less than 4G data connection.

It’s not very evident without a bit of digging that EE offers a 100mb/10mins/10txts pack for £1 week; this is enough for me because most of my surfing is at home and I can find free WiFi in most places, partly because BT broadband allows me free access to their very large WiFi network. I could visualise it as this: I pay £1 for 100mb of data (1p/mb, like Three, but data only comes as part of a pack/add-on on PAYG EE) and I get 10 free calls and 10 texts on top as a bonus. I class those as a bonus because data is all I really need; nearly everyone I know has WhatsApp and you can call and text through that.

At £4 per month it’s a quid cheaper than the most cheapest contract and you get free boosts of data/calls/texts after a certain number of packs are bought, thereby adding more value over Three in the long-run. Being able to tether, unlike on Three, for no extra fee, can also be handy on some occasions, and calls to voicemail can be from allowance calls.

True that off-pack rates on EE are much higher than on Three and giffgaff but I don’t anticipate going out of bundle often and I can buy add-ons for when I prematurely use up pack allowance (which will assuredly be rare). There’s no free EU roaming like on Three (with an All-in-One add-on), but a MiFi dongle and a local SIM card are still often better value.

EE, like its competitors, also offer free Virgin WiFi on London Tube stops, but this isn’t a big deal as O2 gives free WiFi to everyone there regardless, and it’s pretty decent.

So, if you’re looking at a good balance between quality and price on PAYG, I’m shocked to say that EE are a good choice. It’s nice to be back after a 5yr hiatus.

…For how long, though?