Mobile broadband is a way of connecting to the internet using the mobile network (4G or 5G) via a SIM card. You can also get a mobile network connection on other devices using a dongle or mobile hotspot.
Mobile broadband is sometimes called mobile Wi-Fi as you can take the internet wherever you go, instead of being tethered to using your home phone line or fibre optic cables. In this guide we cover each aspect of mobile broadband, from whether you should consider it, to what hardware you’d need.
- Mobile broadband uses a mobile phone network to provide an internet connection, and requires a SIM card, USB dongle or mobile hotspot.
- This can be useful for those who are seeking broadband when they're on the move.
- The signal provided by this type of broadband can be patchy, giving you slower access in more remote areas.
Why mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband is handy if you don't want a fixed landline and want access to broadband on the go
Your smartphone may give you access to the internet, but working on documents can be extremely difficult on a screen so small. Plus, it can be costly if you exceed your monthly data allowance.
Mobile broadband allows you to take the capabilities of a wired internet connection with you so you don’t have to rely on public Wi-Fi connections, such as in cafes or hotels.
Mobile broadband could be suitable for students, too. Unlike standard broadband it shouldn't require a contract and could help to avoid awkward conversations over bills or internet usage with housemates. You won't need to ask your landlord about getting a broadband connection to the house, either.
Is mobile broadband right for me?
Portable broadband access sounds great, but you’d be relying on a mobile signal to get it, which may not be ideal in rural areas or if you’re a heavy internet user.
If you don’t mind connecting to public Wi-Fi, many of these services may be free, offering a cost-effective alternative to mobile broadband.
But if you're going to a location where Wi-Fi isn't available or don't want to rely on someone else's service, mobile broadband could be for you.
Mobile broadband availability
Availability in your area depends on network coverage and signal strength. If the aerials haven't been upgraded, then speed and connectivity can suffer.
With the introduction of 5G, data transfers are now even faster, and you can maintain a speedy connection for mobile devices, provided you have 5G availability in your area.
When it comes to deciding whether mobile broadband is right for you, you firstly need to assess what sort of internet user you are. This will help you work out what you need in terms of the internet speed and most suitable broadband connection.
Mobile broadband at home
If you're considering mobile broadband for use at home, there are a few things to think about beforehand.
As with other types of broadband, the speed advertised isn't usually the speed you get. This is why speeds are promised as 'up to', because you might not get anywhere near the top speed offered.
If you're accessing the internet to use data-heavy streaming services like Netflix, or are a regular online gamer, the speeds offered by mobile broadband may not be enough and it's unlikely to be cost-effective.
Data allowances offered with mobile broadband tend to be more in line with what you find as part of a mobile phone package. But you might find a lot of providers offering unlimited data, just like with cable broadband.
What hardware do I need for mobile broadband?
To use mobile broadband you'll need a special type of modem-router - often referred to as a mobile hotspot - or a SIM card, like the one found in your mobile phone. Many new laptops have 3G or 4G broadband capability built in, so it's worth checking before getting in touch with your network operator.
A dongle is the most common modem used to access mobile broadband - it looks like a USB memory stick.
If you want to share mobile broadband across your household, a mobile hotspot router will be needed. If this is the case though, you may find fixed line broadband more appropriate for your family's needs.
Compare mobile broadband packages to find a broadband option that suits your household.