Mobile broadband vs fixed line broadband: Which is best for me?

ByKim Staples
Dongle and laptop

There are two ways you can connect to the internet: through a fixed line connected to your home, or through mobile broadband that you can carry around anywhere with you. But what exactly are they? And which one is best?

Well, mobile broadband works by connecting to a mobile network with a SIM card. It's the internet you connect to when you're out and about with your smartphone, either 3G or the faster and more reliable 4G.

You can connect to mobile broadband by using a dongle, portable Wi-Fi hotspot, a SIM card in a tablet or laptop, or by tethering from your mobile phone.

Fixed line broadband, on the other hand, is what we usually mean when we use the word 'broadband' - an internet connection in your home, delivered via your phone line or through the provider's network of cables. You'll get it as either standard ADSL or superfast fibre optic. It connects to a router, which you can then connect to all your devices through Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.

Advantages of mobile broadband

  • It's portable. You can take your dongle, Wi-Fi hotspot, or phone anywhere - whether you're travelling, moving home, or just popping to a local café to do some work. On the other hand, fixed broadband is, well, fixed, and can only be used at home.
  • It's a great way of getting broadband (or higher download speeds, or a more reliable connection) in areas where a fixed line is a bit iffy or difficult to reach - especially in rural areas.
  • There's no need to pay for line rental. All you need is a SIM and a compatible device.
  • Mobile broadband plans are usually a lot more flexible. Some networks even provide monthly rolling contracts or pay-as-you-go deals - whereas fixed line broadband is almost always on at least a 12-month contract, and you'll be hard pressed to find it on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • In some areas, 4G speeds can be higher than those of the local fixed broadband. The average download speed on 4G in the UK is 15.1Mb, a lot faster than the measly 2Mb maximum you'll find on fixed broadband in some parts of the country.

Mobile broadband is probably the best option if you're averylight user and don't want line rental at home, or if moving your internet connection around with you is important.

And, of course, it's a solution you'll often see in those really rural areas that fixed broadband lines struggle to reach.

Advantages of fixed line broadband

  • It's more widely available. If you can get a landline, you can almost certainly get fixed line broadband. 4G coverage, however, is a lot more patchy, with most networks covering somewhere between 50% and 70% of the population. 3G usually has better coverage, but with far slower speeds. Use our postcode checker to see what fixed line broadband is available in your area.
  • It's more reliable. Fixed broadband has much lower latency (that's less lag, if you're a gamer), making it better for things like games and video calls.
  • In most areas, it's faster than 4G. This particularly applies to busy urban areas, towns and cities, and anywhere where fibre optic connections are available. The average broadband speed nationwide is 22.8Mb, quite a bit faster than the average 4G, and some providers can get you superfast speeds - up to 152Mb with Virgin Media's (www.virginmedia.co.uk) top-tier package, for instance.
  • Monthly download limits are usually far higher than similar-priced mobile broadband. Most providers even offer packages with unlimited downloads. Mobile broadband plans, however, almost always have restrictive usage caps with high costs when you exceed them.
  • If you already have line rental at home, it'll most likely work out cheaper to throw in broadband too, rather than getting a mobile hotspot. You may even be able to add TV as well, with a provider like BT (www.BT.com) or TalkTalk (www.TalkTalk.co.uk).

Generally speaking, fixed broadband is the best option for most of us. You can usually get a better deal, it's far more reliable, and you're less likely to be strangled by slow speeds and data usage caps. And it's an absolute must if you want to play games, stream video, or download files in a reasonable amount of time, or if multiple people need to use it at once.

Fixed line broadband deals

TalkTalk
Sky
Plusnet
BT
Post Office
SimplyBroadband Broadband Unlimited Unlimited Broadband Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend Calls Broadband Premium + Weekend Calls
Monthly cost £3.75 (for 18 months, then £7.50 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £51.75 Monthly cost Free (for 12 months, then £10.00 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £9.95 Monthly cost Free (for 18 months, then £9.99 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £6.99 Monthly cost £10.00 (for 12 months, then £26.00 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £176.95 Monthly cost £3.00 (for 18 months, then £10.00 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £42.95
Up To 17 Mb Up To 17 Mb Up To 17 Mb Up To 52 Mb Up To 17 Mb
Pay as you go Pay as you go Pay as you go Weekend calls inc. Weekend calls inc.
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Call TalkTalk on 0800 049 7843
Mon to Thurs 8am-10pmFri to Sun 8am-9pm
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Call Sky on 0800 151 2878
Mon to Sun 8am-10pm
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Call Plusnet on 0808 178 5954
Mon to Fri 8am-8pmSat 9am-7pmSun 9am-6pm
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Call BT on 0800 783 5390
Mon to Sun 8am-6.30pm
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