What is 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
4
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 1 MARCH 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. An internet dongle is ideal if you take your laptop everywhere and need constant access to the internet. On the downside, it can only be used to connect one device. Dongles are gradually being phased out and only one or two providers - Vodafone for example - still offer them.
  • 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. More versatile than a dongle, a MiFi box allows multiple devices to connect to the internet, as long as they have the password and are within range of the MiFi signal.
  • 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’. (A hotspot transmits an internet connection.) Like MiFi, various devices can use the personal hotspot as long as they have the password. However, some plans will cap the amount of data you can use for tethering, so it’s more of an ‘occasional use’ mobile broadband option.
  • 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. You can access the internet when you’re on the go, but you can’t make phone calls or send an SMS text.

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.

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.

What’s good about 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’s bad about 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

Contract or pay-as-you-go?

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.

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