Buyers' Guide: SIM only mobile broadband
Or perhaps you have a tablet PC, Apple iPad or laptop that is configured for mobile broadband without the need for a dongle. Alternatively, you may have bought a device such as the Novatell Wireless Intelligent Hotspot, or Zoom's Travel Router, and just need a SIM to pop inside.
SIM only mobile broadband explained
So what exactly does SIM card mobile broadband mean? Well, mobile broadband works very much along the same lines as the mobile phone concept, and each and every device has a SIM card inside it that effectively funnels the mobile service through to your phone, laptop/PC or iPad/tablet. This is often done using one of the dongle devices that you'll see listed in our comparison charts too. The mobile broadband SIM card is a vital link in the chain in order to receive your chosen 3G internet package.
SIM only mobile broadband is still fairly limited in terms of what's on offer, but the range is slowly improving. SIM card mobile broadband relies on you already having a device with which to get mobile broadband - either a tablet computer, dongle, MiFi, built-in laptop access or other mobile broadband router. SIM only mobile broadband comes with just the card as part of the package. You use a dongle, pad or laptop you already have, or other mobile internet device such as a MiFi unit, and insert your new mobile internet SIM card, just like you would with an unlocked mobile phone, for example.
Mobile broadband SIM card options
At present the options are fairly limited when it comes to mobile broadband SIM only services. 3 Mobile has been the first UK provider to offer the 3G data card option and, in essence, this works in much the same way as the SIM only mobile phone deals that you see on offer.
You will need a device that is not locked to a mobile broadband provider, unless it is locked to the one you have just bought the new SIM from of course! This means the tablet PC, laptop, dongle, or router isn't branded by a different mobile broadband provider. Otherwise, you will have to 'unlock' your device from its current supplier (see below). There are also pay as you go mobile broadband SIM only options.
There are some advantages to going for a SIM card mobile broadband deals like this, especially if you’re already signed up with 3 Mobile, have one of their dongles and perhaps want to change your package. It's possible that you might have a 3 Mobile dongle on contract that has recently expired too, which makes it another ideal time to pick up a 3G card like this. You'll find that in some cases this is a better and more cost effective way of accessing mobile broadband services than using the pay as you go option.
Mobile broadband SIM card for 3G laptops
Now that more of us are using laptops, netbooks and notebook computers for our mobile internet needs the SIM card mobile broadband only option can be an ideal one. Some of the newer machines now come 3G enabled with built-in mobile broadband. The great thing about mobile broadband SIM cards is that they can be slotted into a device like this (assuming again that you’ve got a computer that isn’t locked into a particular provider - see below about 'unlocking') and then access mobile broadband services using the SIM only mobile internet angle.
Of course, you'll need to read up on the information contained within our tables in order to get a better idea of whether the pros and cons of mobile broadband SIM card only services will be the right choice for you. By clicking through to the deals that you like the look of you’ll be able find out if there are any restrictions with particular packages. The thing to remember is that it may be the case that a mobile broadband SIM only deal like the one offered by 3 Mobile won’t work with other dongles or 3G laptops, netbooks and notebooks that come supplied by other mobile providers. You can also read current 3G broadband SIM card users reviews' to find out about their wireless broadband experience, to enable you to make the most informed mobile internet decision.
SIM only mobile broadband for tablet PCs
The very same applies to tablet PCs as it does to laptops. You'll just need to be aware that you'll need a special SIM only mobile broadband deal that is specifically for tablet computers. You can't just use a SIM you have bought for use with a laptop or other mobile broadband device.
Unlocking SIM only mobile broadband
When it comes to what kind of device you'll need for your chosen SIM card mobile broadband package, it largely depends on whether your computer will be able to accept the SIM from another mobile provider. If not, you'll have to unlock your device before using SIM only mobile broadband. We should point out here that unlocking a device is not illegal - you're not doing anything wrong. Of course, the original mobile broadband supplier won't want you to do it, but you are within your rights to. But, you will be breaking the warranty on the deivce - meaning if something goes wrong during unlocking, or after, you will not be covered.
It should be relatively obvious if your device is usable - branding, especially on dongles, is far from subtle! In the UK, if you have a dongle that says O2, Orange, 3, T-Mobile, Virgin Media or Vodafone on the side, it will be locked to that network (unless someone else has unlocked it). If you've already got your mobile broadband SIM card only pack delivered, just pop the SIM in and test it to see if it works - this shouldn't harm your new SIM, but be careful and don't try it yourself if you're unsure.
If you have bought yourself a laptop that has 3G data card capabilities built in, you may also have problems using SIM only broadband from another supplier. It will be possible to unlock it, but the method will vary depending on model, supplier etc. We advise you first look in your laptop's manual to see if it is covered, otherwise contact the original mobile broadband supplier direct for further instructions.
Dongles that are locked should be able to be unlocked quite easily, so you can then use a SIM only mobile internet package. One option is to go to an independent mobile store which offers unlocking services. You may also want to risk searching the internet for downloadable software solutions, although this can be risky. However, before considering these options, contact the original mobile broadband supplier to see if they will unlock it for you. Some may even offer to do it for free if the device is near the end of a long contract.
Remember though, unlocking can come with risks, although its generally a simple and painless process. However, think carefully about whether a mobile broadband SIM card only is worth the risk if you're trying to use a dongle from another supplier. Dongles can be very cheap now, sometimes as little as £10 - its worth looking at our special offers section to see if the best deals which may beat mobile broadband SIM card offers are the cheapest.
3G data card broadband and the future
Just as long as you have adequate network coverage mobile broadband can then be accessed wherever you happen to be heading. The flexibility of mobile broadband SIM cards is hard to fault when it comes to this plug-and-go concept. The opportunity of using SIM only mobile broadband deals in the future will, hopefully, mean that we'll have a lot more of these package options to choose from and this should also mean that prices get increasingly competitive in our favour too.