You can now use a regular smartphone SIM card in other devices like a tablet, dongle or mobile broadband router.

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, dongle or mobile broadband router). Regular smartphone SIM cards also wouldn’t normally work in IoT (internet-of-things) devices like a camera, alarm or GPS vehicle tracker.

Nowadays, it should be possible to use a regular smartphone SIM card in any device, including your tablet, dongle, mobile broadband router or IoT device. This is thanks to an Ofcom ruling in 2018, based on the principle of net neutrality and the EU’s Open Internet Access Regulation. It says that mobile networks shouldn’t discriminate based on the device or the equipment you’re using to access their network.

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 (only including data).

Over the past few years, the market for regular smartphone SIM cards has become much more competitive than the market for mobile broadband SIM cards. As such, you can often get more data for the same price when taking a regular mobile phone SIM card with minutes, texts and data over a mobile broadband SIM card that only includes data. It’s also possible to get unlimited data on a range of smartphone SIM cards from as little as £20/month.

Until recently, the terms and conditions on many mobile phone SIM cards would stop you from using the SIM card in devices other than a mobile phone (e.g. you wouldn’t be able to use a smartphone SIM card in your tablet, dongle or mobile broadband router). In 2018, Ofcom ruled that this was a breach of net neutrality as defined in the EU’s 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, restrictions should now no longer be in place stopping you from using a smartphone SIM card in other types of devices. You can now use either a regular smartphone SIM card or a specialist mobile broadband SIM card in devices other than your mobile phone. Restrictions on the use of tethering and personal hotspot should now also have been removed from all networks.

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. Do you need 2G or GSM coverage? Some IoT devices will only function on 2G coverage (also known as GSM or GPRS). 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 as they tend to have the widest geographical coverage in the UK.
  2. 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 offers unlimited data plans with different download speed limits (2Mbit/s on Unlimited Lite, 10Mbit/s on Unlimited and uncapped download speeds on Unlimited Max). For high bandwidth devices like a router, you’ll be needing the access to faster download speeds.
  3. 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 to choose a Pay As You Go SIM card.
  4. 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 from your mobile network. 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) but if not, it’s possible you’ll need to pull the SIM card out from time-to-time, placing it in another device to trigger a chargeable activity.

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 the best 5G SIM-only deals.

In some cases, a specialist IoT SIM card may work out to be better value for usage in some devices. For instance, Vodafone offers the V-Sim for a monthly fee of between £2 and £4 per month, plus an upfront fee of £5 for the SIM card. This can be used in a wide range of different IoT devices.

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 28 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 28 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hi,
    Please is there any way to achieve the following task:

    Presently if I put my sim card inside a mobile broadband router I am unable to receive or make calls on my mobile phone as the sim card has been placed inside the router.

    I would like to put my sim card in a mobile broadband router and still be able to use my mobile phone to make and receive calls.

    Please is there a way to do this?

    • Hi Sam,
      Thanks for your comment. Sadly, it isn’t possible to do this. However, some 4G routers have a RJ11 phone port. This allows you to plug in a desk phone and to use it for calling and texting.
      Ken

  • Tracie Sandra Bailey said:

    Hi i have just bought a Huawei in car wifi. I plan to use it in uk and in europe. Can you recommend the best simm card to use? I take it it will have to be a phone card. I am already with o2 for my phone should i get another one from them thanks tracie bailey

  • Brian Nicholson said:

    I’m trying to use a Three PAYG SIM card in a new dual-SIM tablet as well as my simple phone (where it works well, good signal etc.) It won’t connect. A separate app tells me the SIM is fully recognised and ready but (in red) that the service state is ‘out-of-service’. There is a good signal The APN has auto-filled plausibly and the tablet knows exactly which network the SIM is on The phone is a Sony Ericsson Z610i .The network phone technology is GSM/UMTS. It works happily on Three as (presumably) 3G.

    Is there something else I should be doing, or is this a Three restriction, possibly unwarranted? Three are not usefully contactable right now.

    There is no reason why you should trouble to reply, but if you do, thanks!

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your comment. With regards to your dual-SIM device, do you know whether it supports 4G on the second SIM slot? I believe lots of dual SIM devices are 2G-only on the second SIM card slot, which isn’t compatible with the Three network (more info here).
      Ken

      • Brian Nicholson replied:

        Thanks for such a quick reply. The tablet is 4G capable and probably has the 4G/2G limitation you mention. My network app tells me the phone type is GSM. and that it is voice capable. I only have the one SIM card. When placed in slot 2 no network signal is found and the SIM service state is Power Off (in red). When the SIM is placed in slot 1 a decent signal is found and the SIM service state is ‘out-of-service’. Does this look like something Three is causing and if so are they allowed to? It looks as if I will have to find a way of getting hold of a competent person at Three but you can tell me what to expect.

      • Brian Nicholson replied:

        I have found the terms for my 2017 PAYG SIM and they are just as your article describes – use only in a phone. So that has to be the problem. Thanks for your article (and replies); I have not seen the point so clearly made elsewhere.

        • Hi Brian,
          Thanks for getting back to me! You’re right: there used to be a restriction on the devices in which you’d be able to use a Pay As You Go SIM. However, this changed in 2018 as a result of an Ofcom ruling on net neutrality (essentially saying that mobile networks couldn’t discriminate based on the type of device). It should therefore currently be allowed to use a regular Pay As You Go SIM inside a tablet.
          Ken

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