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Mobile broadband and dongles go together like tea and toast. The dongle is our key to accessing the internet on the move, enabling us to get broadband speeds wherever we are.
If you've only ever used home broadband, prepare for the tiny, humble dongle to completely change your web experience. Better still, getting your hands on a dongle could help you cut your home phone and broadband costs and might even mean you can ditch your home phone line altogether.
When it comes to making choices about broadband packages, dongles and dongle deals are popping up everywhere, yet many of us are still wondering, what exactly is a dongle?
The term 'dongle' or 'mobile broadband dongle' refers to a device that you plug into the USB port of your laptop or PC and which provides you with mobile internet access via a 3G mobile network or using more recently available super-fast 4G technology.
Although dongles have been around for years now, you still often see 'dongle' misspelled as ‘dongal’, ‘dongel’ or ‘dongall’. Although only relatively recently applied to mobile broadband portable modems, the term dongle has been used in the IT world for years, where it traditionally refers to any small piece of hardware that connects to a computer via a USB port.
However, as the mobile broadband revolution took hold, the term dongle became more widely taken to mean devices that plug into USB ports but which are specifically for getting you online on the move.
Dongles are usually connected to the USB port using a short connector. The dongle itself works exactly like any other modem but gives you the freedom to access broadband speeds wherever you are, provided there is mobile phone coverage.
Most dongles use 3G mobile technology, or third generation mobile technology. You can find out more about 3G in our guide ‘What is 3G?’
However, faster 4G services are now available in the UK. These combine new network technology with special dongles to offer speeds up to five times the average 3G connection.
Both 3G and 4G dongles are designed to make life easy and, with that in mind, they often require little or no installation. Most dongles are simply ‘plug and play’ so, provided there is 3G or 4G network coverage where you are, you can start surfing the web straight away.
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Dongle deals are available from almost every mobile broadband provider, whether that's pay as you go mobile broadband dongle deals or longer-term pay monthly offers.
As competition for your custom hots up, you will find you can get a deal on a mobile broadband package and dongle for around the same as you can get a home broadband deal.
Compare cheap mobile broadband deals here cheap mobile broadband.
Dongles come free with many mobile broadband packages. Providers currently offering free dongles with a mobile broadband contract are:
Each mobile broadband provider offers their own dongle with their own mobile broadband packages. So you need to consider which could be the right dongle for you, as well as which package will best suit your needs.
EE 4G dongles are the quickest around and deliver speeds of up to 40Mbps. That makes it, by some distance, the UK's fastest mobile broadband provider.
Three dongles use HSPA+ technology for broadband connection speeds of up to 21Mbps. Choose between the Huawei E3231 Standard Dongle or the Huawei E3256, which features a handy rotating head for improved performance.
Vodafone offers a range of dongles, all of which offer a maximum speed of 21.Mbps.
O2's dongles are sleek, small and very portable, with a choice of colour options. O2's 3G network will provide users with a headline connection speed of up to 21Mbps.
Virgin Media's mobile broadband dongle is in a cool matt black and stands out for its amazingly compact dimensions and maximum speeds of 7.2Mb.
A BT dongle offers a great pay as you go dongle, with connection speeds of up to 7.2Mbps.
If you want to use your dongle to get mobile broadband when abroad, it is worth checking with your individual ISP. In theory you can access the internet using your dongle wherever there is mobile phone signal, however are sure to additional charges involved.
Find out more about using your dongle abroad in our guide Broadband abroad.
2012 saw the arrival of the UK's first-ever 4G dongle and 4G mobile broadband service courtesy of EE. Since then 4G speeds have grown faster and faster on EE, while rivals have come to market to competing 4G services.
As competition heats up and 4G connections become more available, mobile broadband dongles could yet replace fixed-line broadband as the primary way most people get online.
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