About data only SIM deals
In this guide
- Choosing the best deal
- Data only SIM providers
- What is a data only SIM?
- Data limits, unlimited data and usage
- Frequently asked questions
Mobile phones aren't the only devices to accept a SIM that allows you access to the internet wherever you are. There are also tablets, and more recently a lot of newer laptop models are including a SIM slot so you can connect to 4G without the use of mobile broadband dongles or MiFi devices.
Since you don't make calls on a tablet or laptop, you only really need the data, which it why some providers offer data only SIM deals. But who offers them, where can you get them and how do you choose the right one for you? Let's find out.
How to choose the best data only SIM deal
So you've got a tablet or a laptop with an empty SIM slot and you've decided you want fast 4G broadband access while you're out and about. How do you know which SIM is right for you? Which provider? What sort of contract? Here's what you should consider and in what order.
- How much data you need – This can be tough to pin down because it depends both on what you intend to do with your device and how much you intend to do it. If you use your device for social media, sending and receiving the odd email and browsing the web, you really don't need very much data: 1-5GB will be sufficient. If you stream a lot of video, though, you will need many times that (10GB to 50GB). The most reassuring advice we can give you here is to go in low: Get a 1GB data only SIM if you believe there's a chance it'll be enough, then upgrade it to a higher allowance if you find yourself going over
- Which network provider – There are four network providers in the UK: O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. All other providers piggyback on one of those four. Choosing a network should be a simple matter. You already have a phone and you almost certainly get a good signal. So, the easiest and safest choice will be to get a data only SIM on that same network, either with the same provider or with another provider that uses it. We detail which providers use which network in the next section
- Compare data only SIM deals – You can use the table at the top of this page to compare data only SIM deals. Decide what's important to you and use the sorting options and filters to narrow down your search. Looking for the cheapest? Just sort by price and so on. We don't currently have all the data only SIM deals out there in our comparison and are working to include more. At the very least, what's here on this page will give you a flavour of what you're likely to pay
- Choose a SIM and click through – Once you've chosen something you like, click 'See Deal' to take you through to the provider's site where it can be purchased
Which providers offer data only SIMs?
The following providers encompass the vast majority of data only SIMs being offered to UK customers right now.
- Sky Mobile – Piggybacks on the O2 network and offers data only SIMs in sizes from 1GB to 20GB
- BT Mobile – Is on the EE network, which BT actually owns, technically. It offers pure data SIMs in sizes from 3GB to 50GB and almost everything in between
- Vodafone – Offers pure data SIMs in sizes between 2GB and 50GB and operates on its own network
- EE – Operates on its own network and offers data only SIMs in sizes ranging from 5GB to 50GB
- Three – Operates on its own network and offers data only SIMs from 1GB to 40GB. It also offers a couple of pure data SIMs on pay-as-you-go (PAYG), where the SIM comes preloaded with a certain amount of data and expires after a lengthy period (12GB lasting 12 months, for example)
- O2 – Operates on its own network and offers tablet and laptop data only SIM deals on monthly contract between 3GB and 50GB, and on similar PAYG terms as Three (above)
What is a data only SIM deal?
If you're familiar with how SIMs work in your phone, you can pretty easily figure out what the difference is with a data only SIM. It's the same thing minus the calls and texts. They are even offered in similar varieties to those you see advertised for phones: Pay monthly SIM only, pay monthly with a device such as a tablet, short contract, long contract and so on. You get the picture.
Unlike SIM deals for phones, data only SIMs can be used in three different types of device. They are…
- Tablets – Tablet computers such as Apple's iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab have versions with a SIM slot. Worth noting while we're here that not all tablet computers have a slot, even those of the same make, so if you're in the market for one and want to stick a data only SIM in it, be aware and choose the right model
- Laptops – It's taken longer than it should have, but a lot of new laptop models these days come with a SIM slot
- Mobile broadband and MiFi devices – Some mobile broadband devices allow you to insert a data only SIM. Many don't have a slot, though – it really depends on both the MiFi device and the provider
Data limits and unlimited data only SIMs
Before we get into the FAQ, there are a few bits and pieces you need to think about/be aware of around data limits, what happens when you hit them and some limitations on the use of data only SIMs.
What happens when I hit your data limit
As with your mobile phone, when you hit your monthly limit, a number of different things can happen depending on the package and provider you have chosen. Some will charge you a set amount per additional gigabyte you use until your next rollover period when your data renews. Others will simply cut you off, notifying you that you've hit your limit and offering to sell you a bit more data to tide you over.
Our point, though, is not to describe for you what every provider and package is going to do in this situation. Rather, we want to get across how important it is for you to find out exactly what happens in this situation before signing up.
Data only SIMs with unlimited data
In a word: No. Three and Virgin Mobile are the only mobile providers who offer unlimited data, but they only do so on their mobile phone SIMs. And sadly, you can't put a mobile phone SIM into a tablet – well, you can, it'll fit. It just won't work.
The reason for this is that what with tablets and laptops being so powerful, some users could use such a package as their household's main source of internet. Providers don't want you doing that. Three actually does offer a 4G home broadband router, which uses mobile data and acts like a regular household router, and has a package with unlimited data. As you'd expect, it's on the expensive side.
Frequently asked questions
Can I use my data abroad for free?
Your data only SIM provider will usually outline a list of countries in which you can use your data as you would at home and at no additional cost. This varies from provider to provider, so if you're likely to be going abroad a lot and will definitely need to use your data only SIM, it's worth checking whether or not the country or countries you frequently visit are included
What's the best data only SIM?
The one that suits your needs. Unhelpful answer? Well, we don't mean it to be. Ultimately, if you use the criteria outlined in the second section of this page and then use our tools to find that SIM at the best price, then that, to you, is the best.
Can I buy data on its own for my phone?
Yes. Most data only SIMs will work in your phone, provided your phone is unlocked and/or locked to the same network as your data SIM. However, this is not universal. Some don't, so if this is something you're likely to do, check with the provider prior to purchase. We can't honestly think of a good reason why you would want to do this, since mobile SIM deals with calls and texts come with lots of data these days, and can actually work out cheaper than a similar data only SIM deal.
Can I use a data only SIM for tethering/MiFi?
Yes. Tethering (where you used the device your SIM is installed in as a wifi router) is near-universally allowed with data only SIMs. These policies do change from time to time, though, so it's worth checking with your new provider to be sure.
Will my iPad or tablet accept a SIM card?
There are two ways to access the internet from a tablet or iPad. Wifi (at home or when you're out and about), or via a mobile phone network. All tablets offer wifi access, but not all offer 'cellular' access (4G). Tablets that support both wi-fi and cellular data will have a slot for a SIM card.
Will my tablet work with a SIM from any network?
As with smartphones, some tablets will be purchased locked to a particular network. This might be the case if you originally bought your tablet together with an airtime contract. You can normally pay for a tablet to be unlocked so you can use it with any SIM. If you bought your tablet outright, it will normally be unlocked and able to accept a SIM from any network.
How do I choose a tablet SIM?
Tablet SIMs work in a similar way to SIM only mobile deals. The main difference is that they are data only with zero calls or texts allowance. You’ll be able to choose from 30-day rolling contracts, 12-month contracts and 24-month contracts. In general, the longer you commit for, the cheaper your monthly fee for a set amount of data will be.
How much data do I need?
If you’ll mostly be using wi-fi, you might not need that much data. You can get dirt-cheap SIMs for tablets from £3 or £4 a month – although you won’t get much data for this amount of money, and it won’t be enough if you regularly stream music or video while you’re out and about. Heavier users should assess how much data they use each month and then look for an appropriate SIM.
Do I need 3G or 4G?
You'll have a tough time finding a 3G deal these days, so your decision here is pretty much made for you.
What size SIM do I need?
SIM cards come in three sizes: standard (or regular), micro, and nano. You need to get the right size SIM for your tablet, otherwise it won’t work. The packaging should say which SIM you need – or you can look it up online. Fortunately, most mobile networks offer multi-sims – these are standard SIMs that can be broken down into micro or nano SIMs.
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