Whether you’re looking for a mobile broadband contract or pay-as-you-go plan, you’ll want make sure you're clued up on dongles so you can find the best deal and get more from mobile broadband...
What's a dongle for?
A mobile broadband dongle allows you to connect to the internet wherever you go. It's essentially a small modem you plug into your computer like a USB memory stick.
With a dongle you'll be able to browse the web and send emails from virtually anywhere. As long as you're within range of a mobile phone mast, you should be able to get online.
How does a dongle work?
A mobile broadband dongle works in much the same way as a mobile phone, connecting you to your chosen 3G or 4G network. And just as the sim card in your phone dictates how many minutes and texts you can use, the sim card in your dongle gives you an amount of 'data' to use on browsing and downloads.
Dongle download allowances
The amount you can download each month will depend on the mobile broadband deal you've signed up for. Allowances usually range between 500MB and 15GB a month, although some providers offer unlimited mobile broadband contracts.
If you have a data limit, you should always monitor your downloads - once you've used up your allowance you'll have to pay extra to top up your dongle if you want to keep using it.
Mobile broadband deals
There are three different types of mobile broadband deal to choose from:
Pay as you go
Although you may have to pay for the dongle upfront, a pay-as-you-go mobile broadband plan is one of the most affordable means of getting online, as you can simply top-up your dongle as and when you need it.
This makes paying as you go the most flexible option for occasional users or anyone on a tight budget. You can now pick up a pay-and-go dongle for about £10.
Mobile providers will usually offer a free dongle when you sign up on a monthly contract.
While this saves you money upfront, you should ask yourself whether it's worth being tied to the same tariff for 12 or 18 months. You might only be saving £10 remember.
However, if you do find a good deal that suits your needs, then you might want to secure it for a full year or so by locking it down with a pay monthly contract.
If you want an inclusive download allowance, which is normally better value than pay as you go - especially if you use the internet a lot - but don't want to sign a pay monthly contract, there's a third option for you to consider.
Some providers offer mobile broadband on a 'rolling' 30-day contract, giving you the freedom to cancel anytime you like, but you'll usually have to buy the dongle upfront.
This is a great way to get online temporarily if you find yourself without home broadband for a while - when in the process of moving house, for example.
Mobile broadband without a dongle
A dongle is still the standard way of accessing mobile broadband on a laptop or PC, but there are other ways of getting online if you have a smartphone or tablet.
Mobile providers offer data plans alongside calls and texts, and some now give you 'superfast' 4G mobile broadband for a little extra each month. This is only an option if you have a compatible 4G device, though.
You can also get mobile broadband routers that turn your connection into a mobile Wi-Fi (or Mi-Fi) hotspot. This allows multiple devices to use it at the same time.