One of the most exciting hacks one could carry on the older 3G-capable Amazon Kindle was to use its global SIM capabilities in case of emergency via SSH. As US telecom companies shut down their 3G networks over the years, that capability died out. However, there is a way to get a truly global SIM for £22.99 (or about $28): here is how we did it.
RWG is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) based in Wales, which specializes in IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity. IoT is the umbrella term for connected things like e-scooters or smart meters, many of which use data-only SIM cards.
The one that caught my attention is one called 5 year SIM data only, which gives you 100MB every month for 60 months for a one-off price (£22.99). You can buy more than one and RWG claims that the SIM will never expire - although you can’t carry forward any unused data. A cheaper, UK-only SIM is available for about half the price.
Now 100MB per month doesn’t sound a lot. Netflix, even on its lowest settings, consumes 170MB of data per hour but if all you want to do is send text messages (not SMS) or small data packets (which is what IoT is all about), then this is a great solution. 1MB is enough to send about 10,000 Whatsapp messages if that’s your thing (or about 8-minute voice call in our rough test). Videos and pictures consume a lot of data and should therefore be avoided.
In a short conversation with the support team at RWG Mobile, we were told that we could use the SIM in most global territories, except for a number of countries (Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Venezuela and Yemen). Note that Russia and Cuba are not part of the list while Venezuela is a surprising addition.
Since you can buy more than one SIM, you could technically get two of them in a mobile device (there's no restriction about using it in a smartphone or a tablet we’ve been told) or in a Mi-Fi/4G Hotspot device and swap them (although that could get messy).
Anyone - even those living outside the UK - can buy the SIM and the only constraint is that it must be activated in the UK before leaving for a foreign country. It does accept various international credit cards (JCB, Discover, Diners) although curiously, no American Express.
You also don’t have to register the SIM card, which means that you don’t have to pay extra if you go over your 100MB limit.
How do you use a global SIM?
The obvious answer is that you can use it as an emergency data SIM, but bear in mind that it will be useless in feature phones as (a) it is a 4G SIM card (b) it cannot be used to make calls or send text messages.
If you are a frequent traveler or a business user, it will provide you with a transient SIM that will be handy for booking a cab or finding your direction, but just bear in mind that it is no substitute for Wi-Fi if you can find it. There's no eSIM alternative though.
A global SIM can also be used inside a GPS tracker as well for a variety of things like luggage tracking, should the worst happen.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.