What is a dongle?
A dongle - also called an internet dongle - is a small USB device that allows you to access the internet with a 3G or 4G mobile broadband connection.
It can be referred to as a dongle, USB modem, internet stick, USB network adapter or USB mobile broadband stick. Dongles are popular because they offer greater flexibility than fixed line connections and can be used on the go.
Compare the best dongle deals at uSwitch now.
Which providers offer mobile broadband dongles?
Dongles provide access to the internet using the same 3G or 4G technology as mobile phones. It's perhaps not surprising then that all major mobile phone providers also offer mobile broadband.
Which is the best broadband provider for mobile broadband, though? Below we've outlined some of the key features of the main suppliers.
- Vodafone offers a range of 3G mobile broadband dongles. Expect speeds of up to 7.2Mbps with dongles or 21Mbps with a Mi-Fi, as well as generous download allowances and a very competitive monthly asking price.
- Three’s mobile USB modem dongle comes free on many packages. Offering speeds of up to 21Mbps (depending on location) on 3G and up to 42Mbps if you choose a Mi-Fi, Three's 3G mobile broadband is among the fastest on the market. 4G dongles are along from Three soon and will provide even better speeds, but at a price.
- T-Mobile's USB dongles offer speeds of up to 21Mbps. T-Mobile mobile broadband dongle deals include one-month, pay as you go and longer contract options.
- Orange's dongle deals are no longer available. The company is now subsumed under the EE banner.
- O2 3G dongles get you online at speeds of up to 21Mbps, with some attractive offers available to suit all types of users. O2 also offers a 4G service.
- EE is a 4G broadband provider and delivers speeds well in excess of 3G suppliers. The fastest connection you can expect on EE if you live in area where its 'double speed' 4G is available is 60Mbps. Even customers on standard EE 4G can get up to 30Mbps.
Pros and cons of dongles:
- Dongles are often free when taken with a contract.
- USB dongles give internet users greater flexibility with the convenience to access the Internet when away from the home or office.
- Developments in mobile broadband technology have seen mobile dongles become smaller, sleeker and faster.
- Mobile broadband dongles run on the battery of your computer, therefore do not need to be charged.
- Mobile broadband dongles can be used in both laptops and computers making them ideal for regular use as well as in emergencies.
- The advent of 4G mobile broadband means a dongle is now a genuinely viable alternative to fixed line home broadband.
- Speeds are low, reaching a maximum of 21Mbps for 3G and having an industry-recognised average of 1.5Mbps. This is perfect for basic tasks like email, calendars and Twitter but for more demanding applications, or those involving media streaming, this probably won’t be enough.
- 4G is much faster. But this comes at a cost. And because the market is less developed than 3G, there is much less choice when it comes to provider.
- Coverage is dependent on mobile phone reception, so the mobile blackspots that have you cursing your provider will also affect 3G broadband.
- Data limits are small compared with home broadband. Again this is okay for basic tasks, but for mobile broadband to truly become an alternative to home connections there is a long way to go.
- Overseas charges have come down. But it's still not cheap to use a dongle abroad.
What about MiFis?
Like a mobile broadband dongle, a MiFi unit connects you to the internet over 3G or 4G. However, unlike dongles which a connection for just one PC or laptop, Mifi's create a localised wireless mobile broadband signal that can be shared between multiple mobile broadband-enabled devices.
One major consideration for those opting for a Mi-Fi is that if you share your monthly allowance between multiple mobile broadband-enabled devices, such as consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops, you're likely to find that you get through your download limit a lot quicker.
So you might want to track down a MiFi deal with a generous allowance.