Mobile Broadband Internet

Is your mobile broadband better than the broadband through your home phone? Believe it or not, in some parts of the UK BT struggles to provide more than 1MB for an Internet connection, but mobile broadband speeds are far faster in exactly the same place.

If you are in the countryside though BT are usually the monopoly in the area and offer a poor service through antique copper cables. The cable broadband companies are still not prepared to lay miles of fibre optic for a few residents to take up the service.

There is another way though to get your Internet needs catered for and in the massive increase in 3G and 4G services it would surprise you to find that you can get a stable and fast Internet connection from your mobile phone or data dongle.

I quite often make use of my mobile broadband connection when I am out and about, even when there are wi-fi hotspots nearby and so I speak from experience as I have traversed from mobile tethering to 3G dongles and now a wireless 3G portable hotspot.


With mobile phone providers trying to coax new subscribers there are a deluge of offers in the marketplace. There are three different types of device that you can use the mobile network to access the Internet; handsets, “wired dongles” and wireless dongles.

Connecting via a Handset

If you are going to use your mobile phone as a modem, check that your service provider allows this. Most of the major players do this but “virtual providers” who piggy back on someone else’s infrastructure will terminate your account.  A quick search of the Internet helps you find out who does and who doesn’t.

Most mobile users now have a phone handset that is capable of Internet access whether it is a slow EDGE service, full 3G or the latest 4G technology. A lot of the phones developed recently will also offer a way for you to turn that data connection into an ad-hoc modem, letting you connect devices to it and connect them to the Internet as well. I remember doing this many years ago on my Nokia E65 and it had a crude USB connection that would move slightly if you knocked it and it would break the connection to the Internet.

More modern phones might make use of a mini (or micro) USB connection on your phone handset to connect the phone to the computer, others even produced cradles so that you could simply slot your phone into place and it looked like a part of the office. The problem with either of those methods though is that when you want to use your phone as a…. telephone then you have to make a decision; do you use the phone or continue using the Internet.

Once we head into the last few years of new mobile phone handsets, some of these will make your browsing easier by using software to turn your handset device into a portable wireless hotspot. We will come onto wireless methods shortly.

Wired Dongles

All of the mobile data providers in the UK offer a USB dongle option to access the Internet. The price plans that come with these will be almost exclusively for data use although some will also offer text message bundles with this. Setting up your USB dongle to work with your computer is as easy as plugging it into a USB port and letting the built in software install onto your computer or laptop.

The problem with these dongles is that if you need to connect and disconnect them on a regular basis then they are likely to break as the USB connection is usually soldered directly to the circuitry in the dongle; very fragile indeed if it is in your pocket and continuously being plugged in and unplugged!

When I realised that I would be using my data connection for my laptop more, this was the first way that I became introduced to pay as you go broadband and I still use three mobile broadband today, albeit with a wireless device.

Wireless Devices

The latest development in portable data is the use of wireless portable “hotspots”. What you get is often a small battery powered box which contains both the 3G mobile broadband for your Internet connection and a wireless connection for your computer or laptop (or any other device) through their wi-fi connection.

If you are somebody who likes to work around the house but maintain your mobile data connection then this is a great idea because just like when you connect to a wireless router, you are able to move around while staying connected; your wireless dongle can be left on the window where signal is strongest and you can be sat in front of the TV.

If you have a number of different devices all needing an Internet connection then this is ideal as most of the devices on the market now support multiple connections and if battery power is an issue you can either leave it plugged in or find a provider that offers a mains powered adapter.

Almost all recent mobile phones have the capability to turn your mobile device into a portable hotspot as well. In the same way as your wireless dongle; you can configure your phone to connect to your devices using a password. Beware though that this will deplete your battery quicker than it reduces your phones data allowance.

You should also be aware of what speed your dongle can provide. There are two levels of 3G Mobile Broadband speed; 3G which at a 3.6MB data connection is around half the speed of HSDPA which offers around 7.2MB. Of course this is dependent on where you are in relation to the mobile phone network and if you have coverage then you might also want to consider whether a 4G connection is even better for you.

Data Providers

Almost all of the mobile data services in the UK are provided by the main mobile phone providers. Unlike the traditional mobile contract you can get data-only 3G and 4G services which exclude the use of phone calls and texts. The problem is though that many of these providers offer a very small data allowance as part of either your monthly contract or your pre aid top-up; high data consumers and Internet gamers should beware then because those allowances can go very quickly.

Pay As You Go

Just like with a mobile phone you can buy a mobile Internet dongle and then use that service provider on a Pre-Pay basis. This is good for people that do not need a consistent mobile connection every month. You can expect to pay around £30 for the device and a sim card that comes pre-loaded with 1GB of allowance across a 30 day validity. You can then top-up in the normal mobile phone fashion which varies from operator to operator for 1GB or much more.

If you are looking for a bigger data allowance then it is more cost effective to purchase something with a larger data bundle. 3 mobile broadband offer a 12 month/12GB pre-paid package – there are no limits as to how quickly you use the 12GB.

If you choose to carry on with Pay As You Go on a longer term basis then you can expect to pay between £3 a day and £25 a month depending on how much data you need and who you choose to go with. You know what though, both Amazon and eBay are always awash with Three mobile broadband sim cards which you can swap out of dongles at will and can work out much cheaper!

Contract Mobile Broadband

If you are going to be using your mobile broadband connection a lot more then you should consider buying into a contract which runs in a very similar way to your mobile phone. Here the deals are much better priced for you and usually come with a free basic device as well.

The usual contract terms and conditions apply to mobile broadband contracts and that means that you will be subject to a credit check. On the plus side though there are quite often discounts that can be had and cashback if you buy you contract online. I cover this more when I talk about buying your computer cheaper but the principle is the same and  you can get cashback through Quidco when you take out one of their contracts.

Contracts across the mobile providers range from 1GB per month to 25GB per month and expect to pay anything up to £50 a month for the bigger data packs.

Mobile Broadband Frees Your BT Line

We all know how time consuming it can be to start the process of changing Broadband providers but using mobile Broadband you might find that not only do you have less hassle, but also a faster speed. When I told my father-in-law about 3 mobile broadband and showed him how fast the connection was in his village; the 0.75MB BT “Broadband” was very quickly looking like snail mail.