If you have 4G, you're probably pretty impressed with the internet you get on your mobile. 4G's faster and more widely available than ever, and sometimes, in some cases, you can get a faster connection through your smartphone than through home internet. So it would make sense to forsake your home broadband altogether and just use 4G, right?
Sadly, it's not that simple. It's certainly possible to get a good connection through 4G, but for most of us it isn't necessarily a practical, long-term replacement for fixed-line broadband just yet.
What is 4G?
4G is the fourth generation of mobile communication tech, and the successor to 3G. Its mobile internet can deliver speeds comparable to those you get with some home broadband packages.
The majority of the UK's mobile networks - including BT Mobile, EE, giffgaff, iD, O2, Three, and Vodafone - all offer 4G as part of their mobile deals, though speeds and coverage vary from network to network. According to Ofcom, however, speeds average at 15.1Mb and can reach up to 30Mb.
For all the juicy details, take a look at our full guide to 4G.
How can you use 4G as home broadband?
There are three main ways to do this.
- With a router from a wireless broadband provider, such as Relish.
- With a mobile broadband hotspot device. This could be a little gadget - basically a tiny portable router - that you switch on and connect to when you want to get online, or a dongle that you plug into your computer's USB port.
- By tethering from your smartphone. If you've got a relatively up-to-date phone with a 4G mobile plan, you can likely tether from it. This essentially turns your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot that you then connect to from your other gadgets.
Can 4G replace home broadband?
Well, maybe… but not entirely. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of 4G.
Pros of 4G over home broadband
- Packages are often far more flexible - 30-day contracts abound that can be cancelled whenever you want.
- Speeds can be pretty darn fast, sometimes faster than home broadband connections.
- A mobile broadband device is portable, so you can take it wherever you take your laptop or tablet.
- It eliminates the need to pay for home broadband, line rental, and a mobile plan - using 4G for your home connection could potentially cut out some bills completely.
Cons of 4G over home broadband
- Mobile broadband, whether from a hotspot or your smartphone, usually has far stricter download limits than even the cheapest of home connections. A notable exception to this is Relish, which offers unlimited downloads but only operates in central London and Swindon.
- Tethering from a mobile isn't always possible. Not all smartphones have it as a feature, some networks don't allow it, and some have narrow download limits for tethering. An unlimited data plan from Three, for instance, has a separate Personal Hotspot allowance of just a few gigabytes.
- It's more expensive than similar home broadband packages… which often give you unlimited downloads, comparable speeds, and extras like internet security or TV.
- It's less reliable. A lot of things can get in the way of a wireless signal, and if it goes down or starts being slow, there's very little you can do about it. Those fast speeds have also been known to be pretty inconsistent.
- 4G can reach good speeds, but fixed line broadband can reach even higher ones - up to 300Mb with Virgin Media, for instance.
See our mobile broadband vs fixed broadband guide for more detail.
Generally, a wired home broadband connection is preferable over a 4G one. It's more reliable, it works out cheaper for heavy users, speeds are pretty good most of the time, and it's likely you'll get unlimited downloads too. For general internet use there's not much better, provided you can get decent speeds.
It's only worth using 4G for your home broadband if you absolutely need internet right now for a period of less than a few months - and can stand an unreliable connection, of course. If you're a very light user and only use the 'net for a bit of browsing and email, you may well be fine with just 4G too… although it won't be quite as good for streaming video or playing games.