Choosing a mobile broadband deal
Looking for a great mobile broadband plan? Whether you're ready to buy or just want information, you're in the right place. In this guide, we'll talk about the different mobile broadband options out there, and pick out some great deals.
What would we do without mobile broadband? Imagine a world where we couldn't access our email on the go, or couldn't stream the latest episode of our favourite show on iPlayer. Why, that would be awful.
…well, awfully inconvenient at least. The point is that mobile internet is awesome, and whether you have a dongle, personal Wi-Fi device, 3G/4G-enabled tablet, or just tether your phone, it makes life so much easier.
But finding a mobile broadband plan isn't quite so easy - with all that choice, how do you find the best deal? Well, that's why we're here. In this guide, we'll talk about some of the ways to get online on the go, and pick out the best deals we can find.
Mobile Wi-Fi / Mi-Fi deals
A mobile Wi-Fi device - sometimes referred to as 'Mi-Fi', though technically that's a Three trademark - lets you create a personal wireless internet hotspot.
The advantage of this type of device is that you don't have to plug anything in, and it lets you quickly and easily get online with any Wi-Fi-enabled gadget you have to hand. The downside is that you'll have to keep it charged - if it runs out of battery, it's useless.
You can read more about mobile Wi-Fi in our full guide, or use the grid above to find a great deal.
A mobile broadband dongle plugs into your computer like a USB memory stick, and lets you get online wherever you are. Well, so long as you have network coverage anyway.
It works similarly to a mobile phone, connecting you to your chosen 3G or 4G network. Inside the dongly device is a data-only SIM, and the accompanying plan determines how much data you can download each month before having to reach back inside your wallet.
You can find out more about dongles, and compare all the best deals, in our guide:
Data-only SIM deals
If you have an iPad or other tablet, or already have a device you want to use, a data-only SIM is what you need.
These plans just give you the SIM card, so they're typically cheaper than other mobile broadband plans, with nothing to pay upfront.
For the full ins and outs, and all the best deals, read our full guide to data-only SIM plans.
Car Wi-Fi deals
Car Wi-Fi devices are similar to personal Wi-Fi gadgets, except they're designed to plug into the 12V socket in your car. Most are really easy to use - a few button presses, and you have a hotspot set up in your motor.
Of course, if you're on the move, your signal will vary depending on network coverage, but they're hugely useful gadgets nonetheless.
Tethering / phone hotspot
If you have a mobile phone, you can turn it into a mobile hotspot, similar to the afore-mentioned mobile Wi-Fi device. You can also physically connect it to a laptop and access the internet that way, but it's honestly easier to just use the hotspot feature. Some normal contract deals come with a set amount that can be used as a personal hotspot.
Once the hotspot's active (you can find the option in your phone's settings - check our guide for full details on how to turn the hotspot on), you can connect to that hotspot with other devices and start getting online.
It's great if you only use it occasionally, but if you do it regularly be very careful, as your monthly data allowance could get eaten up very quickly.
In addition, not every mobile plan lets you set up a tether or hotspot. For example, the Three unlimited data plan requires a paid add-on to be used for tethering, and even then there's a data limit put in place so you can't overuse it.
For more information, check out our complete guide to tethering:
Frequently asked questions
Here are some of the most common questions we get about mobile broadband:
Can I get unlimited data mobile broadband plans?
Want the short answer or the long one? The short one is…
No. Nobody currently offers unlimited data-only mobile plans. And yes, that is a little annoying for those of us who'd like to binge-stream Netflix on their commute to work.
Instead, you're better off looking for big data plans, which are available, but do tend to sit on the wrong side of pricey. If you go online a lot though, they may well be worth it.
As for the long answer, check out our Ask Our Expert article on the subject, which goes into much more detail and lays out some alternative options.
Which is faster - mobile broadband or Wi-Fi?
However, in some rural areas that are underserved for fixed line broadband, a mobile connection could be the faster connection.
As a rule, we'd advise using home broadband over mobile broadband where you can though. The speed of a mobile broadband connection is much more variable than fixed line broadband - it can be affected by all kinds of things, from the weather to geography.
In addition, the data allowances on home broadband packages are considerably greater than on most mobile deals. In fact, using mobile broadband as your primary way of getting online could be very restrictive for all but the lightest users.
Who has the best mobile broadband coverage?
Most operators have decent coverage in the UK, though EE has the widest 4G coverage.
The best thing to do if you're concerned about signal strength is to use a coverage checker to see what the signal will be like at home, and in the areas you think you will use your mobile broadband device.
While coverage checkers aren't perfect, they will give you an indication of whether you can get 3G or 4G in different areas, so they're worth checking.
We have a full guide with easy links to all the major operator and mobile virtual network operator's coverage checkers. Click the button to skip straight to it.