You can normally use a mobile phone SIM card in other devices like a tablet, 4G router, mobile broadband dongle or other smart devices.

In the past, it was necessary to buy a mobile broadband SIM card if you wanted to use it in devices other than your smartphone (e.g. in a tablet, a 4G router or a mobile broadband dongle). This also used to apply to IoT (internet-of-things) devices such as smart cameras, alarms and GPS trackers.

Nowadays, it’s no longer the case that you’ll need to buy a special type of SIM card. This is because you can now use a mobile phone SIM card in any device you like (with only a few exceptions). This includes using a regular mobile SIM card inside a tablet, in a 4G router, in a mobile broadband dongle or in an IoT device. This follows an Ofcom ruling on net neutrality in 2018 which said that mobile networks shouldn’t discriminate based on the type of device and based on the equipment you’re using to access their network.

Best SIM Cards By Device Type

Tablets & iPads

If you’re using a 4G tablet like the iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab, our recommendation would currently be to get a SIM card from Three. This is because you can get a SIM card from as little as £5/month with inclusive data that can be used on your tablet or iPad.

For regular usage, we’d recommend the £8 per month plan with 12GB of data or the £16 per month plan with fully unlimited data.

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
Three600Unlimited1GB£5.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£6.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited12GB£8.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited30GB£12.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months

See Three SIM Only Deals →

Normally, you won’t be able to use the minutes and texts inside a tablet (as neither of them are supported on the iPad). However, you’ll still save money compared to buying a mobile broadband SIM card. On some Android-powered tablets (e.g. those from Samsung), it might be possible to make and receive phone calls and text messages on your SIM card.

Routers & Dongles

If you’re using a 4G router or a mobile broadband dongle, our recommendation would currently be to get a unlimited data plan from either SMARTY or Three. This is because they both offer unlimited data without speed restrictions and without any limitations on how many devices you can use at the same time.

You can currently get unlimited data from £16 per month on these networks:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
SmartyUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
1 month
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
6 months half price
24 months

Customers choosing Three instead of SMARTY will have the benefit of 5G coverage at no extra cost and the ability to get a proper IP address on their 4G router. For more information, see our guide on using SMARTY for mobile broadband.

If you’re unable to get a 4G signal where you live from Three or SMARTY, you can also consider Vodafone’s £26/month Unlimited Max plan. This gives you unlimited data without speed restrictions and without limitations on how many devices you’re able to connect at one time.

IoT Devices

If you’re using an internet-of-things (IoT) device like a GPS tracker, an alarm system, an entry system or a sat nav, the best value SIM card will depend on the requirements of the device.

For something that doesn’t use very much data, consider getting a 1pMobile internet-of-things SIM card. This gives you 2G, 3G and 4G coverage from EE at Pay As You Go rates of just 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB. There are no regular monthly charges on 1pMobile, but you’ll need to top-up your SIM card at least once every 120 days.

Alternatively, for IoT devices that are in regular use, Vodafone offers a Smart SIM for internet-of-things devices. You’ll pay an upfront fee of £5 for the Vodafone Smart SIM, followed by a subscription fee of £2 to £4 per month. This is compatible with a number of vehicle trackers, smart cameras, pet trackers and other devices.

Net Neutrality & Smartphone SIM Cards

You can use a regular smartphone SIM card in other devices like a tablet or dongle.

In the UK, mobile networks have historically sold two different types of SIM card: a SIM card for your mobile phone (with inclusive minutes, texts and data) and a SIM card for mobile broadband (normally only including data).

Over the past few years, the market for regular mobile phone SIM cards has become much more competitive. Meanwhile, the market for mobile broadband SIM cards has hardly moved. For this reason, you can now get a lot more data for the same price when you choose a mobile phone SIM card (with inclusive minutes, texts and data) over a mobile broadband SIM card (that only includes data).

For instance, you can now get unlimited data on a range of smartphone SIM cards for as little as £16/month:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
iD MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
SmartyUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
1 month
Superdrug MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
1 month
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
6 months half price
24 months
iD MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£22.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£22.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£24.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£24.00
12 months
giffgaffUnlimitedUnlimitedAlways-On£25.00
1 month
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£26.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£26.00
24 months
Virgin MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£27.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£28.00
12 months
Tesco Mobile5,0005,000Unlimited£28.00
18 months
VOXIUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
1 month
Virgin MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
12 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
6 months half price
18 months
Tesco Mobile5,0005,000Unlimited£30.00
12 months
Tesco Mobile5,0005,000Unlimited£30.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£33.00
12 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£33.00
18 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
12 months
Lebara MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
3 months half price
1 month
giffgaffUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£36.00
1 month
EEUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£37.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£37.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£40.00
1 month
EEUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£41.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£45.00
1 month
To show you the most relevant plans, 21 similar but more expensive plans have been hidden. .

Until 2018, the terms and conditions on many mobile phone SIM cards would prevent you from using the SIM card in devices other than a mobile phone (e.g. so you wouldn’t be able to use a smartphone SIM card in your tablet). However, this changed in 2018 as Ofcom ruled that this was a breach of net neutrality as defined in the Open Internet Access Regulation:

The EU Open Internet Access Regulation, among other things, enshrines ISP customers’ fundamental right to access the content and information, to use the applications and services, and to use the terminal equipment of their choice through their internet access service through their internet access service. ISPs may enter into agreements with their customers on the commercial and technical conditions of the service, but in doing so they cannot limit customers’ core rights.

In particular, Ofcom took issue with a mobile network that “imposed restrictions on the devices in which a SIM can be used – e.g. where a SIM purchased for a mobile phone cannot be used in a tablet”.

Since the Ofcom ruling was published in 2018, most restrictions stopping you from using a smartphone SIM card in other types of device have been removed. You can therefore now use a regular mobile phone SIM card in other types of device. Most restrictions on the use of tethering and personal hotspot should also now have been removed.

In recent years, however, some restrictions have been re-imposed on the unlimited data plans from certain networks:

  • On EE unlimited data plans, tethering and personal hotspot usage is limited to a maximum of 12 devices. This is intended to discourage the use of their unlimited data SIM card inside a 4G router or mobile broadband dongle. There’s also a 600GB per month fair usage limit.
  • On O2 unlimited data plans, there’s a specific requirement that the SIM card mustn’t be used inside a mains-powered device. This is intended to prevent you from using the SIM card inside a 4G home broadband router. In addition, tethering is also limited to a maximum of 12 devices and there’s a 650GB per month fair usage limit.

The ruling on net neutrality is not affected by Brexit as this has already been transposed into UK law. You can therefore continue using a mobile phone SIM card inside other types of device from January 2021 onwards.

SIM Cards for Smart Devices

In most cases, it should now be possible to use a regular smartphone SIM card in any smart device. This includes your tablet, mobile broadband dongle, router or other smart devices like your laptop, camera, vehicle tracker, pet tracker, alarm, etc.

Before going ahead and choosing a SIM card, however, it’s still worth thinking about the following things:

  1. Are you using the SIM card inside a router? If so, we’d recommend getting an unlimited data SIM card from Three. This is because they’ll allow you to use the unlimited data SIM card inside a router. They’re also the only provider to give you a publicly-accessible IP address. If you don’t need a publicly-accessible IP, SMARTY’s unlimited data plan is also worth considering as you can use this in a wide range of devices.
  2. Do you need 2G or GSM coverage? Some IoT devices will only function on 2G coverage (also known as a GSM or GPRS signal). If your device requires 2G coverage to work, you should choose a mobile network that uses coverage from either EE, O2 or Vodafone. It isn’t possible to use Three or another mobile network that uses coverage from Three as they don’t offer any 2G coverage. If you need better rural mobile coverage (e.g. for use in a GPS vehicle tracker), we’d typically recommend choosing a SIM card with EE coverage. This is because they tend to have the widest geographical coverage in the UK.
  3. What do you need in terms of download speeds? Different use cases and different categories of device may require different download speeds. For instance, Vodafone’s unlimited data plans come with a range of speed limits (2Mbps on Unlimited Lite, 10Mbps on Unlimited and uncapped download speeds on Unlimited Max). For high bandwidth devices like a router or dongle, you’ll want access to the fastest speeds available.
  4. Do you want to Pay Monthly or Pay As You Go? For most high-bandwidth devices that are in regular use (e.g. tablets, dongles and routers), you’re best off getting a Pay Monthly SIM card. These SIM cards start from around £5/month for an inclusive data allowance (plus some minutes and texts that you may or may not be able to use in your device). For low-bandwidth devices that will only connect to the internet occasionally (e.g. alarms and GPS trackers), it may be better choosing a Pay As You Go SIM card.
  5. What are the minimum usage requirements on Pay As You Go? If you choose a Pay As You Go SIM card for your IoT device, you should bear in mind the minimum usage requirements. Typically, your SIM card will get disconnected from the network if you don’t use it for a chargeable activity at least once every 6 months. Some IoT devices have the functionality to keep your SIM card alive (e.g. by sending a text message automatically on schedule). If not, it’s possible you’ll need to pull out the SIM card from time-to-time, placing it inside another device to trigger a chargeable activity (e.g. by sending a text message to yourself).

For more information, see our guide to the best Pay Monthly SIM cards and the best Pay As You Go SIM cards. If you’d like access to 5G, you can also see our guide to 5G SIM-only deals.

More Information

For a full round-up of the best SIM cards currently available on the market, see our guide to the UK’s best value SIM only deals.

Your Comments 66 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 66 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • I was speaking to Vodafone tech rep who said that data only sims would have better connectivity and faster speeds in a 4G router than a standard phone sim with the same data plan but with talk and text. Does anyone know if this is true? Another vodafone rep who I was transfers to later said the opposite, so I don’t know who to believe.

    I’m looking at Vodafone’s unlimited max plan with no speed caps but the data only sims aren’t offered on a cheaper per month 24 month plan whereas the phone sims with the same data plan are. What to do?

    • Hi Timothy,
      Thanks for your comment. There shouldn’t be any difference between the two, though do make sure you choose an Unlimited Max plan. This will give you access to uncapped 4G and 5G speeds on the Vodafone network. If you choose the Unlimited Lite or Unlimited SIM cards, this will have a speed limit of either 2Mbps or 10Mbps. More info here.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Richard Hutchins said:

    I am just coming to the end of a Three UK mobile home broadband contract. I have a very good signal where I live (70-80mbps) I have a TP Link 4G Router (model is Archer MR600). If I take out an Unlimited/unlimited/unlimited sim only contract with Three will it definitely work as home broadband as we have now? When 5G is available in my area can I simply get a new router?

  • Hi Ken,

    We have just purchased a Huawei E5576 mobile router and bought a 3 mobile data app however 3 has no coverage where we live as we found out. What other Data sim could we use without spending too much money? We have O2 and EE in the area.
    Thanks,
    Lynn

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