Bah - who needs phone calls? Sometimes all you want out of a SIM is more of that sweet, sweet data. In this guide, we’ll look at what you can get from some of the UK’s top mobile networks.
If you have a 4G-enabled tablet, dongle or mobile Wi-Fi device, you'll need a SIM card, just as you do a mobile phone. But in these cases, you won't need a standard mobile SIM with call time - you're not going to be using a dongle to make phone calls after all. Instead you get a card that gives you nothing but sweet, juicy data.
Most operators have data-only SIMs available, but the mound of megabytes you get each month, and the price you'll pay, varies greatly from network to network.
Which networks offer data-only SIMs?
Most of the UK's networks offer SIM-only deals for use in tablets or personal Wi-Fi devices. For example:
From its inception, Three has specialised in selling plans focused on mobile broadband use, and its data-only SIM deals are no exception. The network offers plans on 30-day contracts, with data allowances ranging from a conservative 2GB a month - enough for light browsing, checking social media and email - up to 40GB.
Three offers 4G at no extra cost, which means that if you're in a coverage area, you should be able to use the faster form of mobile broadband.
O2 sells 4G mobile broadband plans, with various options to suit different usage patterns. Monthly data allowances start at a modest 300MB - good for checking email, but will run out fast if you start using the web willy-nilly. On the top end, you can get a plan with 20GB - enough to stream a few movies a month.
O2 also gives you extra perks, including daily offers, and priority tickets to gigs and events with O2 Priority, and free access to O2 public Wi-Fi.
Need a gigabyte of mobile data? Get a gigabag from giffgaff. These give you a set amount of monthly 4G data - either 500MB or 1GB - per month for a low price.
giffgaff is a little different from many other mobile providers in that it's online only and community-supported. There's no dedicated customer service department, for example - any help you need comes from other users, who are rewarded with credit and other bonuses if they help.
That may be a problem for some people who like to have a support team on hand, but it also means that giffgaff often works out cheaper than other networks.
Vodafone's data only-SIMs are available on a 30 day basis, or as a longer 12 month contract. As befits one of the country's biggest networks, there are a lot of options to choose from, with data allowances starting at 1GB and going up to a huge 50GB.
EE was the first network to offer 4G, and offers download speeds that are similar to those you'd get with a decent home broadband connection, even when out and about.
Data-only SIMs are available as 30-day, 12-month, and 24-month contracts, and you can choose between four monthly data allowances: 2GB, 4GB, 15GB and 30GB - all promising download speeds that can reach 60Mb.
The People's Operator
The People's Operator - or TPO - describes itself as the 'ethical' mobile network. That's because 10% of what you pay each month is given to charity.
It doesn't have the biggest selection of plans - just 512MB, 1GB, or 6GB a month, but on the plus side it is very reasonably priced.
What do I need from a data-only SIM?
If you're looking for a new data SIM, there are three things you should think about first. And here they are:
1. Quantity of data needed
The big question is how much data do you actually need? Think about what you'll be doing online, and what sort of plan you'll need to support that activity.
For example, one hour of web browsing can use around 10 - 25MB, but streaming an hour of video can use up to 2GB, depending on quality.
You can find a handy guide to data usage in our exclusive guide, imaginatively titled 'Internet data usage'.
2. Network coverage
The quality of your online experience with mobile broadband will depend largely on quality of the network coverage in that particular area. If you know where you'll be using your devices, or have a few areas you typically frequent, it's worth checking what coverage is like before signing up for any plan.
You can find out more about coverage in our guide. Which is called… erm, Mobile coverage. Look - we never claimed to be experts in naming things.
Finally, you'll want to make sure you get the best value deal possible, or take advantage of any special offers that are currently running. The easiest way to do this is to use a comparison service - you'll be able to easily see all your options and find one the one best meets your usage requirements and budgets.
Can I use a data-only SIM in a mobile phone?
Yes, you can use a data-only SIM in your phone - provided it's the same size as the one you typically use.
This will let you use most of the online functions on your handset - browse the web, pick up email, listen to music, bore your friends on Facebook… whatever you like to get up to.
A few things to watch out for though. Firstly, you will still be able to make calls, but you will be charged for them. Some data-only plans include texts, but if yours doesn't, or you exceed your allowance, you'll be charged for these too.
You'll also need to make sure that your data-only SIM is compatible with your handset. SIMs come in different sizes, and which size you need depends on the handset you use. Older phones, for example, may use full size SIMs, while modern handsets typically rely on micro-SIMs or those really tiny nano-SIMs.
Most networks now give you a combi-SIM that can be cut out into different sizes to suit most devices, but if you want to swap it between different gadgets, it can still be a pain.