When you want broadband on the go, you need a dongle. They’re portable, easy to use, and, best of all, mean you can get online wherever you are. All of which means they're ideal for anyone looking to connect their device on the go.
Read on and we’ll take you through exactly what a dongle is, whether or not you should get one, and how to find a deal on a dongle plan.
What is a mobile dongle?
A dongle is a handy gadget that plugs into any computer with a USB port and lets you connect to the internet.
They're usually the size of a USB drive, and they look identical too.
Some dongles are used to give your computer Bluetooth capabilities, Wi-Fi, extra security, multimedia, and so on - but usually when we say 'dongle', we're talking about the mobile broadband kind.
How does a dongle work?
A dongle is essentially a tiny modem with the ability to connect to wireless or mobile broadband - 4G or 5G, the same as the data connection on your smartphone. When you plug one into your computer, it’s connected to a modem and can get online.
And, unlike an awkward cabled connection, a dongle doesn't dangle - it plugs in securely straight into your USB port.
You'll find a comparison of the best dongle deals above. We're sure you'll find one that fits the bill.
Compare 4G and 5G dongle deals
You can get dongles that are 4G only, as well as those that support both 4G and newer, rapid 5G networks.
4G speeds are still excellent and, as the tech is older and more widely established across the country, they are cheaper too.
It may be a cost-effective way to get online on the go, but it’s worth being aware that the connection will not be as fast as 5G.
We strongly recommend you choose a 5G dongle if you can afford it. 5G is often as good as some home broadband connections and can serve up connections that allow for smooth remote working, as well as speedy, buffer free video watching and music streaming.
You can compare 4G and 5G dongle deals right here on this page - simply use the filters to choose the options you want to see.
Pros and cons of using a dongle
- They let you use the internet from anywhere: on holiday, in a café, on a train, in a park, at home. As long as there’s a mobile connection, you’re good to go.
- Very portable - they're small and handy enough to take anywhere
- Can be used abroad if your dongle plan allows it
- Easy to use - they're the very definition of 'plug and play'
- Ideal for flexible, temporary broadband, with short-term contracts and pay-as-you-go plans widely available
- Powered by your computer, so no need to charge
- Great for working on the go
- Useful to have around for broadband emergencies
- Can give you an internet connection in areas where fixed line broadband is slow or dodgy
- Require a USB port on your device - so a dongle can only really connect to a laptop, and not a tablet, ebook reader, or mobile
- …and it means they can only connect to one device at a time
- More expensive than fixed line broadband, and often a lot slower too
- Download limits can be restrictive
- Portability is limited to where you can get adequate 4G or 5G signals
Alternatives to dongles
Mobile broadband devices: Also known as Mi-Fi, pocket Wi-Fi hotspots. These are very similar to dongles - they're little portable gadgets that connect to mobile broadband wherever you are.
However, unlike a dongle, they do it by emitting a Wi-Fi signal. That means you can connect multiple devices at once, including smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, and more, but you'll need to remember to keep the battery charged. Read more about them here.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots: The UK has a huge network of Wi-Fi hotspots that you can connect to - often for free - so you can get online when you're out and about.
Speeds can be iffy though, and you can't always guarantee there's one nearby, not to mention the fact that open networks often lack decent security protocols, meaning sensitive tasks like banking are a no no.
Smartphone: Pretty much all smartphones can connect to mobile broadband, provided you've got 4G or 5G data included in your plan.
Some can even be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots so your computer can 'tether' to it and use the internet. Keep a close eye on your usage if you do this, though. Read more about tethering.
Mobile broadband router: If you're thinking of getting a dongle for temporary broadband, there are other options.
Some mobile broadband providers - such as Relish in central London - offer proper routers for your home with much more generous download limits.
Dongles are generally available from all major mobile networks. You can buy one outright or opt for a pay-as-you-go plan if you only intend to use it occasionally; or take out a contract. They're mostly 30-day contracts, but longer ones - 12 or 24 months - can work out cheaper if you use your dongle often.
Networks that offer dongles and mobile Wi-Fi devices include:
Contract plans can range from 4GB of data per month, which is just enough for occasional browsing, all the way up to unlimited plans, meaning you can - enough to comfortably work in a café for a couple of weeks, or watch a whole season of your favourite Netflix show in HD.
Still, be mindful of your data usage and don't go downloading lots of huge files as some dongle deals have fair usage limits.
How does a dongle compare to standard broadband?
Dongles with 5G compare favourably with standard broadband, often offering similar speeds to some of the standard fibre optic connections currently available.
However, 5G is still rolling out across the country and, as such, doesn’t reach nearly as many places as a standard connection. Likewise, if you have a 4G dongle, it’ll only work where there’s 4G coverage, meaning in some very rural areas it won’t work at all.
Then there’s the fact that a long term dongle deal is more expensive than a basic broadband package. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you just want fast internet at home, a normal broadband deal is a much better bet.
Can you get unlimited data dongles?
Absolutely. These deals tend to be available on long term contracts of 24 months, much like a smartphone plan.
If you’d rather have unlimited 4G, you can get it cheaper than 5G. Three has it for £21 a month for 24 months.
Which networks have mobile dongle deals?
All major networks have dongle deals. Three, however, remains one of the most prominent, having pioneered the offering over 10 years ago.