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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.