A beginner’s guide to mobile broadband - Everything you need to know

ByKim Staples
Dongle in a laptop

There are different kinds of broadband out there, and one of them is mobile broadband - so called because it uses mobile networks. And because you can carry it around with you, of course. Want to know more? Read on and we’ll take you right from the beginning.

What is mobile broadband?

While normal fixed-line broadband is delivered through cables, mobile broadband works a bit differently. It connects to a mobile network and sends data through 4G or 3G services - exactly the same as the internet you get on your smartphone.

Mobile broadband can come in the form of…

  • A dongle - A little thumb-sized gadget that plugs into the USB port of your computer and connects it to the internet.
  • A personal Wi-Fi device - Also known as a mi-fi device, pocket Wi-Fi, or portable hotspot, this is a small gadget that acts as a mini router. Switch it on, and it'll connect to 4G and broadcast Wi-Fi so you can hook up your computer, tablet, or phone while you're on the go. See our guide to mobile Wi-Fi for more.
  • In-car Wi-Fi - A special Wi-Fi device designed to plug into a car. Perfect for streaming music on your phone on a long journey.
  • Data-only SIM cards - These work exactly like SIM cards for your mobile phone, except they only have a data allowance with no calls or texts. Put one in the SIM card slot of certain iPads and tablets, and it'll get it online.

The main advantage of mobile broadband is that it's portable. Once you have a dongle or Wi-Fi device, you can take it wherever you want, and as long as you have 4G signal you can use the internet. For very, very light users who only want to use the internet to check email every now and then, it can even work out cheaper than fixed-line broadband - less than a tenner a month in some cases.

It's not perfect though. Compared to fixed-line, mobile broadband tends to have much higher latency (lag), stricter download limits, and usually slower speeds. 4G also isn't as widely available, and, with the exception of those very light users, it's more expensive. See our guide to mobile broadband vs fixed line broadband for more info.

Dongle and data SIM

Why should I get mobile broadband?

  • To go online when you're out and about. Mobile broadband is useful as a supplement to your 'main' broadband connection at home if you often work in cafes, stream music in the car, or want to use the internet while travelling, for instance.
  • As an alternative to fixed-line broadband. If broadband options in your area simply aren't good enough, but mobile signal is a-okay, mobile broadband is a good solution.
  • For temporary broadband. The good thing about mobile broadband is that it's very plug-and-play - all you need to do is sign up and switch your device on. That makes it ideal if you're having broadband issues at home, or if you just moved in and haven't got connected yet, or if you're in temporary accommodation for a few weeks.

Compare mobile broadband deals

How to choose a mobile broadband deal

When you're picking out a mobile broadband plan, remember to think about the following things. Once you're sure of what you want, compare deals and pick something that fits everything you need - at the best price you can blag, of course.

Where do you want to use it?

Before signing up to a deal, always use mobile networks' coverage checkers. You don't want to risk getting your new gadget home only to find you can't get signal where you want to use it.

What do you want to use it for?

Different kinds of mobile broadband gadgets are useful for different purposes, so this is important.

If you want an alternative to fixed-line broadband in your home, for instance, take a look at full home routers like ones from Relish or EE. For using a laptop or tablet while you're on the go, a dongle or personal Wi-Fi device is your best call. If you just want mobile broadband for your iPad or tablet, a data-only SIM card is most convenient; or if you'll only really use it in your car, an in-car Wi-Fi device is super useful.

Man using laptop in cafe

 

How long do you want your contract to last?

Are you absolutely certain you'll use your mobile broadband every single month? If so, you could save money by going for a longer-term contract, such as a 12-month one. On the other hand, if you prefer the option to change your plan month by month, a 30-day contract will suit you better.

How much data will you use?

Mobile broadband allowances can span from 500MB per month up to 100GB - but higher tariffs are more expensive, so it's not always worth the cost. If you're not sure how much you're likely to use, go for a 30-day plan for now and see how much you end up using - you can always sign up for a longer-term, cheaper plan with enough allowance later.

Compare mobile broadband deals

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