What is mobile broadband? | broadband choice
What is mobile broadband?
While normal fixed broadband is delivered through cables, mobile broadband works a little differently. It connects to a mobile network and sends data through 4G or 3G services – just like the internet you get on your smartphone.
Mobile broadband can take the form of …
- A dongle – A small, thumb-sized gadget that plugs into your computer’s USB port and connects it to the Internet.
- A personal Wi-Fi device – Also known as a mi-fi device, pocket wi-fi or portable hotspot, this is a small gadget that acts like a mini router. Turn it on and it will connect to 4G and broadcast Wi-Fi so you can plug in your computer, tablet or phone while you’re on the go. See our guide to mobile Wi-Fi to learn more.
- Wi-Fi in the car – A special Wi-Fi device designed to plug into a car. Perfect for streaming music to your phone on a long trip. See our guide to in-car Wi-Fi for more information.
- Data SIM cards only – These work just like SIM cards for your mobile phone, except they only have a data allowance with no calls or SMS. Put one in the SIM card slot of some iPads and tablets, and it will bring it online.
What are the advantages of mobile broadband?
The main advantage of mobile broadband is that it is portable. Once you have a dongle or a Wi-Fi device, you can take it anywhere you want, and as long as you have a 4G signal, you can use the internet.
For very light users who only want to use the internet to check their email every once in a while, it can even be cheaper than fixed broadband – less than ten dollars a month in some cases.
It’s not perfect though. Compared to landline, mobile broadband tends to have much higher latency (lag), tighter download limits, and generally slower speeds.
4G is also not as widely available, and with the exception of these very light users, it is more expensive. See our guide to mobile broadband vs. fixed broadband for more information.
Why should I get mobile broadband?
- As an alternative to fixed broadband. If the broadband options in your area are just not enough, but the mobile signal is fine, then mobile broadband is a good solution.
- For temporary broadband. The great thing about mobile broadband is that it’s very plug-and-play – all you have to do is sign up and turn on your device. This makes it ideal if you are having broadband issues at home, or if you have just moved in and are not yet logged in, or if you are in temporary accommodation for a few weeks.
- To go online when you’re on the go. Mobile broadband is useful as an addition to your “main” broadband connection at home if you often work in coffee shops, play music in the car or want to use the Internet while traveling, for example.
Compare mobile broadband offers
How to choose a mobile broadband offer
When choosing a mobile broadband plan, remember to think about the following.
Once you’re sure what you want, shop around and pick something that matches everything you need – at the best price, of course.
Where do you want to use it?
Before subscribing to an offer, always use the mobile network coverage checkers. You don’t want to risk taking your new gadget home only to find that you can’t get a signal where you want to use it.
What do you want to do with it?
Different types of mobile broadband gadgets are useful for different purposes so this is important.
If you want an alternative to fixed broadband in your home, for example, take a look at complete home routers like the ones from EE.
To use a laptop or tablet when you are on the go, a dongle or personal Wi-Fi device is your best choice.
If you only want mobile broadband for your iPad or tablet, a data-only SIM card is most convenient; or if you really only use it in your car, an in-car Wi-Fi device is very useful.
How long do you want your contract to last?
Are you absolutely sure you are using your mobile broadband every month?
If so, you could save money by going for a longer term contract, such as a 12 month contract. On the other hand, if you prefer the possibility of changing your plan month by month, a 30-day contract will suit you better.
How much data are you going to use?
Mobile broadband allowances can range from 500MB per month to completely unlimited – but the higher rates are more expensive, so it’s not always worth the cost.
If you’re not sure how much you’re likely to use, go for a 30-day plan for now and see how much you’ll end up using – you can always buy a longer-term, cheaper plan. with enough allowance later.
Compare mobile broadband offers