Mobile broadband and dongles go together like tea and toast. The dongle is your key to accessing the internet on the move, enabling you to get broadband wherever you 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.
But 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 which provides you with mobile internet access via a 3G or 4G mobile network, depending upon coverage in your area.
Although dongles have been around for years now, you still often see 'dongle' misspelled as ‘dongal’, ‘dongel’ or ‘dongall’. While 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 wherever you are, provided there is mobile phone coverage.
Some 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 widely available in the UK, so most dongles these days tap into 4G networks. 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.
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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 60Mbps. 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 42Mbps.
Vodafone offers a range of dongles, all of which offer a maximum speed of 21Mbps.
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.
If you want to use your dongle to get mobile broadband when abroad, check with your individual ISP. In theory, you can access the internet using your dongle wherever there is mobile phone signal; however, there may be some additional charges involved.
Find out more about using your dongle abroad in our guide Broadband abroad.
Ofcom has invited UK internet providers to state their interest in becoming suppliers for the Universal Service Obligation.
Virgin Media has introduced an option for customers to add Netflix and pay for the service through their TV bill.
Plusnet is running a short-term trial of bundles combining broadband with free evening, weekend and mobile calls.
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