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

Prior to 2018, you had to buy a special mobile broadband SIM card if you wanted to use it inside a tablet, 4G router or mobile broadband dongle. This also used to apply to IoT (internet-of-things) devices such as cameras, alarms and GPS trackers.

Nowadays, it’s no longer the case that you’ll need to buy a special type of SIM card. You can just use a normal mobile phone SIM card in most devices (with only a couple of exceptions). This includes using a regular mobile phone SIM card inside a tablet, 4G router, or mobile broadband dongle.

In this article, we’ll look at the best value SIM cards for use in a tablet, 4G router or mobile broadband device. We’ll also look at the legislation around this issue in the UK and the restrictions that still apply when using your SIM card in certain devices.

Compatible SIM Cards: From £5 per month
Unlimited Data: £16 per month on Three
(exclusive deal with 5G at no extra cost, no speed limits & unlimited hotspot)
Recommended Network: Three
Tablet & iPad SIMs:
Router & Dongle SIMs:
  • Unlimited data for £16 per month on Three
    (best for routers: includes 5G with no data limits & no speed restrictions)
  • Unlimited data for £16 per month on SMARTY
    (with no contract, no credit check & 5G coverage from Three)

Best SIM Cards By Device Type

Tablets & iPads

If you’re using a 4G or 5G tablet like the iPad or the 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 plan with 30GB data or the £16 plan with unlimited data.

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
Three200Unlimited2GB£5.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£6.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£6.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited8GB£7.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited8GB£7.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited30GB£8.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited100GB£12.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimited100GB£12.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
24 months

See Three SIM Only Deals →

If you’re using the SIM card inside an iPad, you won’t normally be able to use the inclusive minutes and texts (as neither calling or texting is 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/5G router or mobile broadband dongle, our current recommendation would be to get an unlimited data plan from Three or SMARTY. They both offer unlimited data with 5G at no extra cost, no speed limits and no restrictions on how many devices you can use at the same time.

On Three, you’re currently able to get unlimited data on the following plans from £16 per month:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£24.00
1 month

On Three, there’s the ability to get a proper IP address on your router which is required for some online games and for certain other applications. You’ll also get access to the Three+ app with weekly discounts and offers from brands such as Cineworld and Uber Eats.

If you’re looking for a flexible alternative, you can get SMARTY’s £16 unlimited data plan:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
SmartyUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
1 month

SMARTY gives you unlimited data with access to Three’s 4G and 5G network. You’ll also get a flexible one-month rolling plan. However, it isn’t possible to get a publicly-accessible IP address on your router with SMARTY. For more information, see our guide on using SMARTY for mobile broadband.

If you’re unable to get a 4G & 5G signal from Three or SMARTY, you can also consider unlimited data on other networks. For instance, Lebara Mobile offers unlimited data from £22.50 per month, with 4G and 5G coverage from the Vodafone network.

IoT Devices

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

For devices not using very much data, consider getting a 1pMobile internet-of-things SIM card. This will give 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 with at least £10 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 a Vodafone Smart SIM, followed by a monthly subscription fee of £2 to £4. This is compatible with a number of vehicle trackers, cameras, pet trackers and other devices.

Net Neutrality & Smartphone SIM Cards

In the UK, the mobile networks have historically sold two different types of SIM card:

  • Regular SIM cards with inclusive minutes, texts and data (normally marketed for use in mobile phones).
  • Data only SIM cards without minutes and texts (normally marketed for use in tablets and dongles).

Due to the market dynamics, there is much more competition on regular mobile phone SIM cards. This has led to a rapid increase in the data allowances available and a rapid drop in the price of those plans.

In contrast, there is still very little competition amongst data-only SIM cards. This means you’ll normally need to pay more for a data-only SIM card, even if you’re getting less on it (i.e. no minutes and no texts). In fact, you’ll normally save money getting a regular SIM card even if you don’t use the inclusive minutes and texts on it.

You can get unlimited data on a range of SIM cards from £16/month:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
SmartyUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
1 month
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£16.00
24 months
Tesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£17.50
24 months
Superdrug MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£20.00
1 month
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£22.00
12 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£22.00
6 months half price
24 months
Lebara MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£22.50
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£23.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£24.00
1 month
giffgaffUnlimitedUnlimitedAlways-On£25.00
1 month
Lebara MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£25.00
1 month
Virgin MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£25.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£25.00
12 months
Lebara MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£27.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£27.00
24 months
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£28.00
1 month
Virgin MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£28.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£29.00
12 months
Lebara MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
1 month
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
24 months
Tesco MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00
12 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£32.00
24 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£32.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£32.00
24 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£34.00
12 months
VOXIUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
1 month
giffgaffUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
12 months
EEUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£35.00
24 months
O2UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£36.00
1 month
EEUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£37.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
2Mbps max
£37.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£38.00
12 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£39.00
24 months
EEUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£41.00
24 months
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
10Mbps max
£41.00
1 month
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£47.00
1 month
To show you the most relevant plans, 27 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. 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 have also been removed.

If you’re using an unlimited data plan, there are a couple of restrictions still remaining on EE, giffgaff, O2, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile. For instance, there’s a limit of 12 tethered devices if you’re using an unlimited data SIM card from EE, giffgaff or O2. In addition, there’s a restriction against 4G home broadband usage on O2, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile’s plans.

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, 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.
  2. Do you need 2G or GSM coverage? Some IoT devices will only function on 2G networks (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. 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 with 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 your device requires an eSIM, see our guide to the best eSIM plans.

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 89 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 89 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • ALISON CHARLES said:

    Hi Ken
    I have Landrover Evoque 2016 model which needs a Data sim to allow the InControl software to operate to its best. Which one do I need please
    Thanks Alison

  • Peter Jackson said:

    I have recently purchased an ipad with sim capabilities, but what do I do to set it up or activate it? The reason I bought this model was so that when I am out of range of my Wi Fi my iPad will be able to access the internet via the telephone network. Is my idea possible and if so how do I tell my iPad that it has this capability is installed? Regards Peter Melbourne Australia.

  • Hi Ken,
    Great article – my wife is setting up a shop, so mobile broadband/data is necessary as there’s no phone line. There will be a few devices connected: till, card machine, weighing scales etc, will it be necessary to have the public ip for these types of things, or would any data connection be fine?

    • Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment. Without knowing exactly how those devices work, my guess is you should probably be fine without a public IP. The latter is normally only required if you’re running a server of some type that needs to accept incoming connections.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

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