• Mobile Broadband

    What is Mobile Broadband?

    Mobile broadband is a fairly new addition to the broadband market, only arriving in recent years. It allows users to receive a broadband connection over the mobile phone networks via 3G technology, removing the need for a fixed broadband connection or a phone line.

    How Does it Work?

    Mobile broadband is different from standard fixed-line broadband because it works via the mobile phone networks. Whereas fixed lines run on copper wires or fibre-optic cables, mobile broadband is a wireless solution. It is also different from WiFi because you can access broadband from anywhere that provides mobile coverage, which is the vast majority of the country.

    Mobile broadband relies on 3G technology which provides download speeds of up to 7.2Mbps, but this is rarely attainable in real life. 3G is also the technology used in smartphones such as the Apple iPhone.

    For you to access mobile broadband, you must purchase a dongle or USB stick from an ISP (Internet Service Provider). You plug this into your PC or laptop and the software automatically downloads, providing you with high-speed broadband immediately. You will then either be able to top up your download limit or pay for a monthly contract (more of which later).

    Who Uses Mobile Broadband?

    Mobile broadband is ideal for anyone on the go who needs to stay connected to the internet but doesn’t always have access to a fixed line. This has made business people and students two of the biggest user groups, and it has also been successful with people living in short-term rental accommodation, as it removes the need to pay for a phone line.

    On top of that, mobile broadband is increasingly being used as a backup internet connection for people who already have a regular fixed-line connection as it provides extra security should the connection fail.


    There are only six mobile broadband providers currently operating in the UK:


    Mobile broadband has excellent coverage across the UK, with 99% of the country connected. However, the speed of the connection varies depending on the quality of the mobile phone reception. Overall, better reception and speeds are available in towns and cities.

    Connection Devices

    Dongles are the most common connection devices. These are small devices that plug straight into the USB socket on your computer. They are small and portable and have even become fashion accessories for some people. Other than that you could use a USB modem, which is smaller than a dongle but works in the same way. The other less-common alternative is a mobile data card, which can only be used with laptops with ‘plug and go’ software.

    Data Allowances

    With mobile broadband you are given a data allowance. Every time you browse the internet, send an e-mail or watch a video on YouTube you are using up data, and you will have a limit of how much data you can download in a month.

    The data allowances available usually range from 1Gb to 15Gb. 1Gb will provide up to 30 hours of surfing, and 5Gb will allow up to 150 hours. Sometimes you will see mobile broadband deals with an ‘unlimited’ data allowance. However, these are subject to a ‘fair usage policy’, and there will always be a limit.

    If you are on a contract and you go over your data allowance, you will be charged – often quite steeply – for each Gb of extra data. These charges range from nothing (T-Mobile) to £204 (O2). This may seem steep, but it is to prevent people taking advantage of the networks and overcrowding them, which would affect performance levels.

    If you are on a Pay As You Go contract then, like with a mobile phone, you will simply not be able to connect to the internet once your data allowance has run out. In each case, you will be able to check how much of your allowance you have used up online, and some companies even send you text messages when you reach certain milestones.

    Using Mobile Broadband Abroad

    You can generally use mobile broadband abroad if your ISP provides reception in that country. However, hidden charges can add on huge amounts to your monthly bill. In EU countries, the most expensive extra charge is £3.00 per Mb from Orange, going up to £8 per Mb outside the EU. That means if you go just 1 Gb over your limit, you will find yourself with a bill of £8,000.

    Choosing a Mobile Broadband Package

    The package you choose will depend on how often you are going to connect to the internet and what you are going to use it for. Mobile broadband is not generally recommended for people who download a lot of data, but it is great for people constantly on the go. You should also take into account the reception that different ISPs provide in your area. Below are the two major types of mobile broadband package:

    Contract Mobile Broadband

    Mobile broadband is available on a contract just like a mobile phone. Contracts generally last for between 12 and 24 months, and each will come with different data allowances, speeds and prices. Most, however, will include a free dongle.

    You should really shop around to find the best deal for you because competition is increasing and there’s the possibility of picking up some real bargains. At the time of writing, the cheapest contracts include:

    • Orange: £9.79 per month on an 18-month contract (data allowance 1Gb, speed 3.6Mbps)
    • O2: £9.79 per month on a 24-month contract (data allowance 3Gb, speed 3.6Mbps)

    However, you may want to pay slightly more and take out a longer contract to receive better speeds and increased data allowances.

    Many contracts are also available now with free laptops and netbooks included. At the time of writing, the cheapest deal is from 3, which is providing an Acer Aspire A150b (worth £265) on a 24-month contract with a 15Gb data allowance and speeds of up to 3.6Mbps for £22.50 per month.

    Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband

    The concept of Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband is just the same as with a mobile phone. You are not tied into a contract and instead top-up your data allowance as and when you need it. You will need to buy your own dongle, but you don’t run the risk of going over your limit and paying any extra fees.

    Starter kits are also available. These are similar to PAYG packages, but they come pre-loaded with a data allowance. They are for people who want to try out mobile broadband for the first time.

    At the time of writing, the cheapest PAYG mobile broadband deal is from Vodafone, which is offering a USB modem stick for £39, and charging £15 per GB. But there are numerous different types of deals on the market. For example, O2 is offering free unlimited access to its 5,000 WiFi spots across the country as part of its package.

    Benefits of Mobile Broadband

    • Convenience
    • Excellent coverage
    • No need for a phone line
    • Can be used with multiple computers
    • Very easy to use, no difficult installation
    • More secure than WiFi

    Disadvantages of Mobile Broadband

    • Limited data allowances
    • High fees for going over data-allowance limits
    • High fees for overseas usage
    • Could experience weak signal in some areas
    • Generally slower than fixed-line broadband
    • Not as much competition as fixed-line broadband