Mobile broadband helps you stay connected when you are on the move. You no longer need to worry about finding a Wi-Fi network, you just need a mobile signal and network coverage. This type of broadband is perfect when you are travelling, working away or don’t have access to home broadband.
Depending on your type of smartphone and mobile provider, you will be able to access the internet using 3G, 4G or 5G networks in several ways, whether it’s using MiFi, a dongle or a USB modem. If you are in an area with network coverage, mobile broadband makes you online on the move.
Mobile broadband works by accessing the nationwide signals that serve our mobile phones, most commonly using one of the four networks provided by the UK’s largest mobile operators, O2, EE, Vodafone and Three.
It uses the networks’ 3G, 4G and 5G data services to send and receive information wirelessly.
Speeds can vary depending on where you are in the UK. If your home is covered by a fast 4G or 5G network, it is possible you could take advantage of faster speeds than fixed-line connections. The average 4G speed is between 15Mbps and 30Mbps. With the introduction of 5G, there will be even faster speeds and higher bandwidth, allowing more devices to be connected at once. If you can only access the older 3G Network then speeds will unfortunately be a lot slower.
Another way of getting online if you are not within range of a Wi-Fi network is by setting up a personal hotspot, which allows you to share the data connection of your smartphone. However, not all network carriers support personal hotspots.
Below is a guide to the services that will get your mobile broadband connected:
A MiFi device is a small bit of tech that creates a Wi-Fi hotspot by connecting to a mobile network. Because it creates a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can connect a number of devices to the internet at the same time – like a laptop or tablet.
It works just like a mobile phone, using a SIM card to connect to the mobile network. It then amplifies that connection through a personal, secure Wi-Fi network that you join like any other Wi-Fi network.
Just like a mobile phone, MiFi can be bought on pay monthly and pay-as-you-go deals, as well as upfront.
Dongles are small gadgets that plug into the USB slot of your computer or laptop, which connects it to the internet through a mobile network. Dongles are popular because they offer greater flexibility than fixed line connections and can be used on the go.
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 you will be able to get online.
In-car Wi-Fi devices plug into any vehicle that has a 12V socket and gives a small range of Wi-Fi. This is perfect for streaming music on long journeys or operating Google Maps.
Mobile broadband has become a convenient and flexible way to access the internet. Changing lifestyles mean that many people need to have 24/7 access to the internet wherever they are.
While a fixed-line connection means you have to be within a certain distance of your modem, having mobile broadband allows you to access services almost anywhere – a big positive if you are regularly commuting into work and need to send emails on the move.
A lot of rural areas don’t have access to fast fibre broadband, and copper ADSL speeds are slower, so areas covered by 4G and 5G mobile networks can offer faster and more reliable speeds.
Another big plus is pay-as-you-go mobile broadband, giving you even more flexibility. Perfect for people who don’t use the internet enough to pay a fixed price each month, pay-as-you-go means you can simply pay for the exact amount of data that you use each month.
Mobile broadband comes in many different forms, but what will work best for you?
Frequent travelling: Having a MiFi will give you portable Wi-Fi wherever you go whether it is for business or pleasure, and you won’t have to rely on unreliable public Wi-Fi spots. Or, if you only need the internet on a laptop then a dongle will do the job too.
Families: Entertaining children on long car or train journeys can be a difficult experience at the best of times. Using a MiFi device, you can create a Wi-Fi hotspot in your car or train carriage that everyone can connect to, so they can stream films and music or play online games.
Remote working: Take the stress away when you are out of the office. Using a MiFi device and your laptop, you can turn any cafe, library or public space into your mobile office.
Broadband in the car: In-car Wi-Fi devices don’t only work in cars, but any vehicle with a 12V port will do. Perfect for streaming music on long journeys, keeping passengers entertained with movies or games, or for navigating using Google Maps.
For your iPad or tablet: All you need is a SIM card. You can get a data-only SIM which will give you a monthly data allowance but no minutes or texts.
At home: Finding a home broadband contract shorter than 12 months is tricky. So, having a pay-as-you-go MiFi could be a good solution if you have a strong signal. You can even buy fully fledged routers for mobile broadband, which have a much stronger Wi-Fi signal than pocket devices.
Students: Having MiFi in a shared house can be just the answer, travelling with you when you go home and also giving you the freedom to study wherever you want.
Both can give you mobile broadband, but there is a significant difference.
Mobile internet dongles typically plug directly into a device and will only provide an internet connection to the device they are plugged into. MiFi creates its own wireless hotspot that any device with Wi-Fi can connect to, making it easier to connect more than one device or have a few people using the mobile internet at the same time.
Data allowances on mobile broadband can vary depending on what you are prepared to pay for. They can range from 500MB up to 100GB, so it is important that you think about what you will be needing to use your mobile broadband for.
For example, if you are just planning on surfing the web a few days a month, then you will be able to get away with using 1GB or less; but if you plan on streaming multiple videos, listening to hours of music, downloading and playing online games or just simply using your devices every single day, then a larger plan would be needed.
If you are unsure about how much data you are going to use, opt for a 30-day plan on what you think will be best for you, then at the end of the month you can always move to a bigger or smaller tariff.
Here are some examples of data usage that might help you:
|Using online maps for one hour||around 5MB|
|Downloading a song||around 6MB|
|One hour of online gaming||around 40MB|
|Streaming an hour of music||around 80MB|
|Looking at 60 web pages||around 140MB|
|Watching one hour of Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer or Amazon Prime||around 650MB|
|Streaming a two-hour film in HD||around 4GB (4,000MB)|
Contracts come in all shapes and sizes to fit you:
A 12-month, 18-month or 24-month contract can save you money in the long run or help spread out the costs.
A 30-day plan, for data-only SIMs or devices that you buy outright, is perfect if you need short-term broadband, or want to be able to have flexibility to cancel or change your allowance later on.
There is a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a network for your mobile broadband deal. Mobile broadband devices and data-only SIMs are available from a host of providers including EE, giffgaff, O2, Three and more.
When picking a provider, make sure it offers the plan you want at the right price. It is also important to check with each individual provider on its coverage, you don’t want to find out later that areas are not covered by a signal, so go for something with especially wide coverage like EE or Virgin Mobile, especially if you are on the road a lot.
All of the major mobile networks offer MiFi options, from pay-as-you-go 4G options to full home broadband MiFi 5G routers. Contracts range from 30 days up to 24 months. Or, if you’d prefer to invest more upfront, you can buy a MiFi separately and use a SIM-card only deal for data.
Some areas of the UK can access 5G mobile broadband. This type of connection will use new 5G networks to connect via a data-only SIM – the same way mobile broadband connections work now. It can deliver extremely fast speeds that rival home fibre broadband.
However, while more areas of the 5G network are being rolled out, it is limited to larger cities and often comes at a premium cost and potential usage limits.
Using a MiFi device for home broadband is becoming more and more commonplace. Several networks now offer dedicated home broadband MiFi devices, which are designed to handle the increased number of Wi-Fi connected devices a house uses.
Even better, the rollout of 5G means that the internet speeds that some home broadband MiFi devices can deliver is the equivalent to fibre broadband – which means that your whole house can stream in high quality, game online, listen to music and browse the internet without any slowdown.
A lot of people rely on using public Wi-Fi hotspots when they are out and about to connect to the internet. Although they are often free to use, they do come with some major disadvantages.
Public Wi-Fi is far less secure than a private MiFi hotspot. When you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you are exposing yourself to more potential threats than if you are using a personal MiFi router.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots will typically slow down depending on how many people are connected to them. By connecting to your MiFi hotspot, you are giving yourself the best chance of fast internet speeds because you are not sharing your connection with lots of other users.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are notorious for their reliability issues – often dropping connections or slowing to a standstill. With a personal MiFi hotspot, your connection should be more reliable than a public Wi-Fi hotspot – depending on the mobile network signal.