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 and hotspot devices so you can get the best out of a mobile broadband plan.
What's a dongle?
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, stream, and download files from virtually anywhere. As long as you're within range of a mobile phone mast, you should be able to get online.
It works in much the same way as a mobile phone, connecting you to your chosen 3G or 4G network. And just as the SIM in your phone dictates the amount of minutes, texts, and data you can use, the SIM in your dongle gives you just 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 hotspots
A dongle isn’t the only way to access mobile broadband on a laptop or PC.
For instance, most 4G-enabled smartphones can be tethered to computers or used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Of course, that’s not sustainable - and isn’t designed to be used for several hours at a time - so a designated mobile hotspot device from a mobile network may be a better plan.
Mobile Wi-Fi is a technology that lets multiple devices share a single mobile broadband connection. It is rapidly growing in popularity, as many of us now have two or more devices we want to connect at the same time.
It basically means having a portable Wi-Fi hotspot in the form of a little gadget. With a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, you'll be able to connect wirelessly wherever you go - provided you've got a mobile broadband signal.
You can get mobile Wi-Fi deals from most of the main mobile broadband providers operating in the UK:
When you sign up, you'll get a handy little device which computers and phones can connect to wirelessly - just like the public Wi-Fi hotspots you get in airports and cafes.
The major benefits are that several gadgets can be online simultaneously, and that you can take your hotspot anywhere you go. On certain providers, such as Three, your mobile broadband can even be used when you’re abroad.
Mobile broadband deals
There are three different types of mobile broadband deal to choose from when it comes to dongles:
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 £15.
Mobile providers sometimes 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. Remember that you may only be saving a few pounds.
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.
Some providers offer mobile broadband on a rolling 30-day contract, giving you the freedom to cancel anytime you like, though you'll usually have to buy the dongle or device 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. And it means you have a device that you can pop a SIM in again another time if you need to.