Phone Without SIM Card: 8 Gonzo Things You Can Do With It

The average consumer replaces their smartphone about every 3.5 years, leaving them with a device too old to trade in. Other consumers, such as telecommuters and thrifty budgeters, want to save on their $113 average monthly bill by canceling their mobile plan. Both smartphone owners wonder if there’s any use for a phone without a SIM card.

Generally, you can use a phone without a SIM card, leveraging a Wi-Fi connection. Smartphones without a SIM chip cannot make calls or send regular text messages on the cellular network. Secure messaging apps can replace this functionality. Phones can still call emergency services without a SIM.

With wireless internet blanketing in most homes, businesses, and communities, you can quickly test a no-SIM-card usage pattern by removing it. I’ve rounded up some frequently asked questions to help guide you before beginning your no SIM card test.

Woman on couch texting because she knows you can use a phone without a sim card

What Can You Do With a Phone Without a SIM Card?

Without a SIM Card, you might think that your phone is just dead weight. But that is not the case. There are many reasons why keeping and using your old smartphone can be hugely beneficial. 

1. Go Through A Digital Detox

Firstly, this is a chance for you to go through a digital detox. How does this detox work?

You would move all your social media apps, notifications, games, and interactions to another device (your old phone). This allows you to compartmentalize your social media, making it inconvenient to scroll through your phone and keeping your FOMO at bay. 

2. Use It As A Cryptocurrency Wallet

If you are an active crypto trader, switching an old phone to airplane mode would be digitally safer. The best way to store cryptocurrency is in an offline “cold wallet.” Many individuals who trade crypto daily use a hot wallet (a device connected to the internet). This could potentially expose your virtual coins to online hackers.

Upcycling your old smartphone, installing a trusted wallet app, and removing the SIM card, you’ll get the best form of digital encryption – no internet connection! Of course, you can connect your phone to the internet via Wi-Fi when needed and switch it back to airplane mode when you’re all done.

3. Make It A Battery Backup

Some have suggested using your old smartphone as a battery backup. This works if your newer model uses the same battery or can charge phone-to-phone with your old device. 

4. Use It Dedicated Media Device

You can also use your old phone as a dedicated media device to watch movies or as an MP3 player. This will preserve your primary smartphone’s battery life.

Woman holding a coffee and smartphone which she's using as a baby monitor since her phone is without a sim card

5. Make It A Baby Monitor

With two phones, you can try one of the many baby monitoring apps, like BabyCam (commercial) or Child Monitor (privacy-respecting, Free, and Open-Source Software; FOSS). This allows you to “live stream” video of your child using your old iPhone or Android smartphone while watching them sleep and play from your primary device.

This can be great for parents who can’t physically watch their children at all times. Furthermore, you won’t have to spend additional money on baby monitors. 

6. Set It Up As A Basic Security System

Another great idea is to turn your old phone into an emergency panic button or portable security system. 

Safe Haven (FOSS) is an app that turns your phone into a personal security device, allowing you to hit a panic button if you feel threatened.

Not to be confusing, but there’s a similarly named, open-source project called Haven from the Guardian Project. This app uses the plethora of sensors available on your old smartphone to monitor a room. If triggered, the app will notify your primary device. This is an excellent option at home or for travelers.

7. Use It For Safe USB Storage

You could also use your phone as an encrypted USB storage device. Because a phone does not look like a high-tech storage device, it can blend into the environment without drawing any suspicion.

8. Make It Your Dedicated GPS Navigation System

Lastly, suppose you travel a lot and use a ton of data for GPS. In that case, you could consider placing an offline GPS on your upcycled phone, which uses downloaded maps and can link to OSM. (Open Street Map) It can also work with a corresponding app such as OsmAnd (FOSS), among many others. 

This could save you heaps of data and preserve your primary phone’s battery, since the screen is one of the largest power consumers. 

Keep your old phone. It can reduce the wear and tear you put on your new phone.

Got more questions about SIM cards? I answered 9 common questions about SIM cards that you’ll definitely want to know.
Man holding a globe and sim chip with questioning look wondering if you can use a phone without a sim card

Can You Still Use Wi-Fi Without A SIM Card?

You can connect to a Wi-Fi network even if your phone does not have a SIM card. A SIM chip has a different function; it does not interfere with your phone’s ability to connect and operate on a Wi-Fi network. 

Your SIM card will authenticate itself with its cellular service provider through identification with the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity). After identifying the SIM, the mobile network will establish your phone’s location and store it in its central database. The database holds permanent subscriber information called the HLR (Home Location Register). 

This is essentially how your SIM card works when connecting with your android device or iPhone service provider.

How Can You Browse the Internet Without a SIM Card or Wi-Fi?

If a wireless network and SIM card are not an option for you, there are still ways that you can connect to the internet. 

Tethering Via Bluetooth

The first way is to share data via Bluetooth by tethering two phones together. This option is only available on devices with Android version 2.2 and above. All you’ll need to do is pair the two devices together, then enable ‘Bluetooth tethering’ on the device that has access to the internet. Pretty straightforward, right?

Note: If you’ve connected multiple Bluetooth devices to your smartphone, consider disconnecting them for optimal speed and to keep your phone from overheating while tethering.

Using Mobile Hotspot

Another solution is tethering your iPhone or Android smartphone to a mobile hotspot like this via USB cable.

mobile hotspot takes an LTE connection (mobile data connection) and converts it into a Wi-Fi signal, thus acting as a router. You can consider it to be a portable wireless router. 

Ethernet Connection

USB-C to Ethernet cable adapter can help hard-wire a connection to your router. With the adapter and network cable, you would plug them directly into one of the ports on the router. Note that only devices with USB-C will be able to operate this way.

What Happens When You Call Without a SIM Card?

A call made to a cell phone without a SIM card will go directly to voicemail or be immediately disconnected. A SIM is required to register a device on the mobile network for calls, SMS and MMS messages, and mobile data.

If you don’t have a SIM chip but have access to the internet via Wi-Fi, for example, you can make data calls. Many communication apps like Skype and Hushed offer a regular phone number that receives calls over a data connection.

Some cellular providers also offer the ability to make Wi-Fi calls – as long as that phone is connected to the internet. 

Of course, I’ve used Mint Mobile, US Mobile, and Google Fi if you need a cheap SIM. I’ve used all three of these services. Activation was quick and for as low as $8/mo (at the time of writing). It’s the perfect deal for a second line for work or, for example, compartmentalize registration for WhatsApp.

Woman's hand holding a sim chip leaving her to wonder if you can use a phone without a sim card

Can You Receive Text Messages Without a SIM Card?

Sending standard SMS or MMS messages is impossible without a SIM card. These texts use the same communication channel as making calls. Mobile service providers that offer Wi-Fi calling may also transmit text the same way. Some internet-based calling services offer text messaging without a SIM. 

By the way, I wrote a whole article about the dangers of using MMS (and SMS). I’m clueless why people still use a messaging designed decades ago that has no security or privacy!

However, you can use apps to send messages with an active internet connection. WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messenger app, but many other apps have capabilities and better privacy. 

Some examples include:

This isn’t the complete list, but you can look at the best messaging apps I reviewed, which allow you to text with Wi-Fi. 

Can You Use Mobile Data Without a SIM Card?

Mobile data requires a SIM card, regardless of which way you want to slice it. This is because this data gets sent over your mobile service’s network – not Wi-Fi. Hence, you won’t use mobile data if you do not have a SIM card. 

Many mobile network providers offer data-loaded SIM cards. This data plan offers options to pay for a top-up or a recurring subscription. These SIM cards will not allow you to make calls or send text messages (SMS or MMS). However, this will enable you to connect to the internet using mobile data without needing a Wi-Fi connection, tether, or hotspot.

Typically, loading a data-only chip in your SIM tray is cheaper than a monthly plan. If you’re not making many calls and are looking for a budget plan, this option is ideal!

Mike Chu

Mike is a web developer and content writer living as a digital nomad. With more than 20 years of devops experience, he brings his "programmer with people skills" approach to help explain technology to the average user. Check out his full author bio by clicking here.

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