So you've got a tablet or a laptop with an empty SIM slot and you've decided you want fast 4G or 5G broadband access while you're out and about. How do you know which SIM is right for you? Which provider should you choose? What sort of contract? Here's what you should consider and in what order.
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.
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.
Yes. Most providers now offer data only SIMS with unlimited data, including O2, EE, Vodafone and Three all offer unlimited data SIMs.
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.
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. With everything from small amounts to unlimited data now available with every network, it will largely come down to which provider has the best signal in your area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some providers – including Three and EE – also offer pay-as-you-go packages whereby you purchase a one-off chunk of data that is valid for a specific length of term, such as 24GB for 24 months.
If you’ll mostly be using wi-fi, you might not need that much data. You can get 1GB of data for about a tenner with most providers but this 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 consider an unlimited data SIM.
Most SIM deals now offer 5G as standard but will default to 4G if 5G is not yet in the area. Just be aware that you will need a 5G capable device in order to benefit from 5G connections.