Mobile broadband

If your home broadband is painfully slow or you need internet access away from home, then mobile broadband could be the answer.

Here’s what you need to know about mobile broadband to help you decide if it’s right for you.

If your home broadband is painfully slow or you need internet access away from home, then mobile broadband could be the answer.

Here’s what you need to know about mobile broadband to help you decide if it’s right for you.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
6
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 2 DECEMBER 2021

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband gives you wireless access to the internet via 3G, 4G, or 5G networks without the need for cables or a fixed-line router.

The main benefit of mobile broadband is that you’ll have on-the-go access to the internet wherever you are.

How does mobile broadband work?

Mobile broadband works by connecting your laptop or tablet to the internet using a 3G, 4G or 5G mobile phone network. How you do this depends on the provider, plan and device you go for.

There are different ways to get mobile broadband:

  • Mobile dongle - a small USB internet stick plugs into the USB port of your laptop. It’s easy to use and offers instant internet access wherever you are. On the downside, it can only be used to connect one device.
  • MiFi pocket WiFi - A pocket-sized portable box which acts very much like your home router. The difference is it runs on batteries, so you can take it anywhere.
  • Tethering - Many network providers offer a tethering option on their SIM plans. This allows you to use your smartphone as a mobile router to create a personal ‘hotspot’. 
  • Data-only SIM - Most tablets and some newer laptops have a SIM slot. A data-only SIM provides your device with mobile data without a phone number. 

Why would I need mobile broadband?

The main benefit of mobile broadband is it gives you the freedom and flexibility of decent internet access when you’re on the move. You might want to consider mobile broadband if:

  • You travel a lot and you don’t want to use unsecured public WiFi spots like those in airports and coffee shops.
  • You need it for business use. Mobile broadband gives you internet access when you’re out of the office or have a long commute to work.
  • You’re a light internet user and don’t want to sign up to a long-term broadband plan. In this case pay-as-you-go mobile broadband could suit you as you’ll only pay for internet access when you need it.
  • You only want a temporary internet solution, for example, you’re in a short-term let while you’re waiting to move home, or you want one-off internet access for a weekend away.
  • You live in a rural area and have a slow internet connection. If you have a good 4G signal, mobile broadband might be a faster alternative.

See how fast your current internet service is, using our broadband speed checker tool.

Please note, currently we don’t offer mobile broadband comparison.

What should I consider when choosing a mobile broadband deal?

When thinking about getting a mobile broadband deal, or looking at different options, here are some things you need to decide:

What do you need it for?

If you need it as an alternative to a standard cable broadband connection, you’ll probably want a full mobile router. This will plug into your home and allow multiple devices to connect at once, just like any other type of broadband. However, if you’re wanting mobile broadband that’s actually mobile, on the go, then you might choose a dongle or other type of personal WiFi device that you can carry around with you.

Where will you use it?

If you’re using mobile broadband to connect your home to the internet, you’ll need to make sure that the network provider offers good coverage in your area. Mobile broadband isn’t always as reliable as a cable connection, so you’ll want to make sure that your home is near a signal tower for good coverage.

If you’re planning to use your mobile broadband on the go, using a dongle or other personal WiFi device, then you’ll want a broadband provider that has good nationwide coverage.

How much data do you need?

If it’s for home use, with multiple/heavy users, then you’ll probably want an unlimited mobile broadband package. That way, you don’t need to worry about blowing through a data cap and being charged extra. Unlimited mobile broadband deals are available, but they’re usually more expensive, even compared to cable broadband deals.

If you’re needing mobile broadband for a truly mobile connection, then you probably won’t be using as much data. If that’s the case, you might prefer to save money by limiting the data available to you. Some packages start from as little as 500MB per month, so you can tailor your package to suit your needs.

How long do you want your contract to last?

If you know that you’ll need mobile broadband long term, or you're using it for your home connection, you might want to choose a 12-month contract. This will lock your price in for the year and usually offers the best prices. However, if you want some flexibility, or know that you won’t need a mobile broadband connection year-round, then you might choose the shorter 30-day contracts. They’re slightly more expensive on average, but offer you the ability to cancel or change providers when you need to.

What are the benefits of mobile broadband?

  • Ideal if you want an internet connection on the move
  • 4G can often be faster than standard ADSL services
  • It can be a cheaper option if you don’t use the internet much and don’t want fixed-line broadband
  • Easy to set up – no engineers and no waiting – just connect and you’re ready to go
  • A good option for students who tend to move digs more often
  • Mobile broadband has pay-as-you-go options - something fixed-line broadband doesn’t offer
  • If you live in a remote area, it could be a cheaper option than satellite broadband

What are the disadvantages of mobile broadband?

  • If fibre broadband is available in your area, then home broadband will typically be a faster and cheaper option than using a MiFi device as a home router.
  • The speed you’ll get depends on where you are, what the network coverage is and how many people are connected in the same area
  • It’s easy to go over your data limit and you could end up paying a fortune in extra data usage charges
  • 4G drains your battery far more quickly than WiFi

How fast is mobile broadband?

As long as your device is compatible, you’ll always be connected to the fastest mobile network wherever you’re using it. For example, if you have a 4G device, you’ll be on 4G speeds in a 4G area. If you’re in a 3G area, your device will automatically be put on the 3G network and slower 3G speeds.

If you get a 5G-ready device and data plan, you’ll be able to enjoy much faster speeds and better performance if you’re in a 5G area. 5G is now available in more than 100 major towns and cities across the UK.

Can I get unlimited mobile broadband?

Yes, you can get unlimited mobile broadband packages, but these are less common. Most mobile broadband deals come with a data cap, but some providers will offer packages with unlimited data.

When getting a mobile broadband deal, you need to think about how you’ll be using it. If it’s an alternative to a standard cabled connection, then an unlimited package would probably be best. However, if you’re only using it for when you need a connection on the go, you should think carefully about how much data you really need, to avoid paying for data you won’t use.

Should I get contract or pay-as-you-go with mobile broadband?

You’ll probably end up paying less per gigabyte on a 12-month or 24-month contract than with pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. But you’ll be committed to a long-term contract.

Monthly price plans often have a choice of higher data allowances. If you end up using the internet a lot, you might need to constantly top up with pay-as-you-go to get the same amount of data allowance.

If you want to use mobile broadband regularly, a monthly contract may be a better option. But if you only use it every now and then and don’t intend to download much, pay-as-you-go might be more suitable for your needs. Just be aware that top ups can expire, so make sure you make use of them when you can.

Can I use mobile broadband abroad?

It depends on your provider. Some mobile broadband services restrict you to the UK only, but others will support a connection abroad. If you’re unsure, ask your mobile broadband provider which countries you’ll be able to connect in.

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