Like mobile phones, a lot of mobile broadband devices - including dongles and portable Wi-Fi hotspots - are locked to a single network. Inconvenient, right? If you want to switch to a deal from a new provider, you’ll need to get it unlocked. Here’s everything you need to know.
How to unlock a dongle or MiFi device
First of all, check whether or not your device is definitely locked to a network or not. You can do this by slipping in a SIM card from another network to see if it works - or, if you don't have one of those to hand, contact your network or look up its locking policy. We've listed major networks' policies for mobiles in our phone unlocking guide, but they may have varying rules for mobile broadband devices.
(On the other hand, if you bought your dongle outright from somewhere other than a mobile network - like an electronics store - don't worry. It's already unlocked.)
Dongle absolutely locked? Okay, let's get to work unlocking it.
The best way to do this is to contact the provider it's locked to. They'll either give you instructions on what you need to do, or just straight up unlock it for you. Some, like Three, will even do that for free.
There are other ways to unlock a dongle too, of course. DIY is an option - there are tutorials, software downloads, and codes available online - but we wouldn't recommend that route unless you really know what you're doing.
You'll also find a number of third parties who will unlock it for you, like phone shops on the high street. They'll do the job, but do get a quote from your provider first, as mobile networks will often do it cheaper (or free).
Is it legal to unlock a dongle or mifi device?
Yep, it's completely legal and above board. In some cases, however, it will void your warranty - check the manufacturer's policy if that's a concern.
How much does it cost?
It varies, depending on your device, your network, and what kind of contract you took out. Some networks charge up to a tenner, some charge just £1 or so, and some don't charge a thing. Independent phone shops tend to charge £10-15.
How long does it take?
Your dongle will usually be unlocked within a few days - though it can take up to 30 days for the process to fully complete.
What other networks offer data-only SIM cards?
The best thing about an unlocked gadget is that you can grab a data-only plan from whoever's offering the best deal. You're free to switch to a shiny new SIM from networks like these:
Once you've found a new deal, simply order a SIM and stick it in your dongle - and you're ready to go.