When you're choosing a mobile broadband provider, it's essential you check the network coverage in your area. Read our guide to find out how you can check availability online...
Mobile broadband coverage
The strength of your mobile broadband connection will usually depend on three things:
- Which network you're on
- Where you live
- Whether you are on a 3G or 4G connection
With 3G connections, even if you're using a the latest dongle and live within a "turbo charged" area, you still won't normally get the top advertised speed.
This is because distance and "obstacles" - like trees and tall buildings - between you and the nearest mobile mast, as well as the number of users on the local network, have an impact on the actual speeds you get.
To give you a rough idea of what you can expect, each provider lets you check coverage in your postcode area online or in their retail stores.
If you sign up to a mobile broadband deal only to find that your coverage is poor - and your connection weak as a result - providers will usually give you a full money back guarantee, ranging from 14 days to a month.
But it's still best to check your coverage before signing up.
4G connections are still subject to interference, but will still provide significantly faster connections than 3G - in fact, 4G speeds can be comparable to the lower speeds offered by fixed line broadband.
If you are using mobile broadband at home, you can get the most out of your mobile broadband connection by making a few adjustments. Check the speed of your connection from different locations in your house. Try putting your receiver or dongle & device near a window, and testing the speed you get upstairs rather than down, and see what works best. The impact can be significant.
You could also try getting an external 3G aerial.
EE mobile broadband coverage
EE ( www.ee.co.uk ) is a mobile network operator and broadband provider also known as Everything Everywhere. It was formed as a product of the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. EE launched its 4G mobile broadband connection in 2012 - the first provider to offer a 4G mobile service in the UK - providing superfast mobile broadband.
EE's 3G network covers 98% of the country, it's 4G network is considerably smaller but EE plans to expand its superfast mobile broadband network to the whole of the UK.
Three mobile broadband coverage
The 3G network Three (www.Three.co.uk) has more than 97% coverage for calls, texts and mobile internet across the UK. Three was a successful bidder in the 4G spectrum auction - so should also be releasing some 4G products on the market soon.
To make sure Three has sufficient coverage in your area, run a postcode search on the provider's website.
Orange mobile broadband coverage
Orange (www.Orange.co.uk) operates phone masts in practically every corner of Britain, and has more than 17 million customers in the UK.
In July 2010, Orange UK and T-Mobile UK merged to become the country's largest communications company, Everything Everywhere (EE).
Check your mobile broadband availability on the Orange website before signing up.
T-Mobile mobile broadband coverage
Now part of Everything Everywhere (EE), the company formed through a merger with Orange UK, the T-Mobile (www.T-Mobile.co.uk) 3G network covers the vast majority of places in Britain.
For more details and a dedicated postcode tool, visit T-Mobile.co.uk.
Vodafone mobile broadband coverage
Vodafone (www.Vodafone.co.uk) offers one of the fastest and most reliable mobile data services in the UK. Vodafone was a successful bidder in the 4G spectrum auction - so should also be releasing some 4G products on the market soon.
It's the network of choice for many of Britain's emergency service teams. Ambulance, police and fire crews depend on communications, so they need a network they know they can trust.
Visit Vodafone.co.uk/Coverage to check Vodafone's level of coverage in your street.
O2 mobile broadband coverage
Over the last few years, O2 (www.O2.co.uk) has ploughed more than £1billion into building its 3G mobile network. O2 was a successful bidder in the 4G spectrum auction - so should also be releasing some 4G products on the market soon.
In fact, the company claims to invest the equivalent of £1million a day in continually improving its service. To find out what coverage is like in your area, run a postcode search on the O2 website.
Mobile broadband coverage checkers
Available from all major UK networks, mobile broadband coverage checkers give you a decent idea of signal strength and speeds in your postcode.
But remember, the results will usually be for outdoor coverage alone - though some ISPs, like Vodafone and O2 do claim to offer very detailed results that will show you what your coverage is likely to be inside your home.
The coverage you are likely to receive indoors will depend on your distance from the mast, the thickness and density of your property's outer walls and the number of people online in your area.
Use the broadbandchoices price calculator to compare mobile broadband deals for your laptop, iPad or tablet.