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Mobile broadband explained

All you need to know about internet on the move

While home broadband is one of the most common ways to connect to the internet, there are other ways to get online. One such alternative is mobile broadband; unlike your home WiFi, it uses mobile networks to keep you connected wherever you are.

Read on to learn more, including how mobile broadband works, the pros and cons, plus how to get the best deal.

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband works the same way as home broadband, except it uses a mobile 3G or 4G network instead of cables to send data. 

The below all fall under the umbrella of mobile broadband:

A dongle

This fun-sounding little device plugs into a USB port on your computer, connecting it to the internet.

A MiFi device

Also known as a personal WiFi device, pocket WiFi or portable hotspot, this miniature machine is essentially a tiny router. It'll connect to the 4G network via a data loaded SIM card and turns into a WiFi hotspot so you can connect any compatible devices while you're out and about.

In-car Wifi

Ideal for road trips, plug this gadget into a car to stream your favourite playlists from your mobile.

Data-only SIM cards

Just like ordinary mobile SIM cards, these only supply data – no calls or texts. Pop one into the SIM card slot of your tablet to get connected.

I can’t get WiFi at home – will mobile broadband work?

If you have mobile phone coverage, mobile broadband will definitely work. As it uses a 3G or 4G mobile phone signal rather than traditional phone lines, your internet use isn't at the mercy of wires and cables. It's the perfect solution if you're unable to get standard broadband at home.

How fast is it?

There are several data services that will affect your mobile broadband speed:

4G – this is the quickest, most up-to-date technology available. With a top speed of up to 150Mbps, realistically you can expect an average speed of 14.7Mbps – comparable to faster home broadband packages. If you need an even zippier mobile broadband option, some providers offer double-speed 4G in certain areas.

HSPA+ – ever noticed a little H or H+ at the top of your phone or tablet? That’s HSPA+ or the older HSDPA (represented by an H). They’re available in more areas than 4G but you’ll only see speeds of around 6Mbps.

3G – with a maximum speed of up to 7.2Mbps but an average speed of around 3Mbps, 3G is considerably slower than 4G or HSPA+.

Is mobile broadband any good, though?

With mobile broadband, you're not desk-bound and you don't even have to be indoors to get online. You have the freedom to stay connected wherever you are.

That means no more time-consuming searches for a hotspot in a café or hotel. Plus, there's no risk of sharing speeds with other people – as long as you password protect your connection it's safe, secure and all yours.

A mobile broadband USB dongle is a great choice if you're often out and about, or you don't have broadband at home but want to connect a laptop to the internet. 

With mobile WiFi, you can connect up to 10 different devices, including PCs, kids' laptops, iPods and more and still expect a decent connection speed.

What are the disadvantages?

While there are plenty of benefits to mobile broadband, there are some pitfalls to be aware of:

 

  • As you're dependent on having a robust phone reception, if your mobile is struggling to pick up a signal, internet access can be patchy.
  • People who need to regularly download big files or stream shows and music may feel too limited by small download allowances.

How much does it cost?

Mobile broadband works in a similar way to mobile phone contracts. You can buy a device outright and then pay as you go. Or you can buy a device on a contract and pay a fixed monthly amount.

How do I set it up?

Mobile broadband connections are similar to your normal WiFi in that your mobile WiFi device has a name that you can find in the WiFi settings on your other devices. Click on the name and then enter the password to get connected.

With a USB dongle, there's often a simple sign-in process that you'll need to complete whenever you plug the device into your PC. You'll find full details in the instructions.

How long will my data last?

If you're on a contract, your data will reset each month. But with some operators, you can buy a package of data and then use it over a longer period.

Deals are available on pay as you go and pay monthly normally offering a 1 month, 12 month or 24 month contract.

Who offers the best mobile broadband deal?

Choosing the best mobile broadband package is completely down to your specific needs. If you'd like to match each provider like for like, then head over to our website where you'll see deals from the biggest names in broadband.

How secure is the connection?

Overall, mobile broadband is as secure as your home computer. So, if your machine has the right virus protection and firewalls in place, your connection should keep you safe from harm. 

If you're worried about someone else using your mobile broadband data without permission, aptly known as piggybacking, rest assured that this can't happen if you're using a dongle as these only connect a single computer to the internet at any one time. If you're using a MiFi device then password protection will soon keep out any unwanted guests. Fortunately, mobile broadband providers should automatically issue you with a name and password to keep your connection private.