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3G laptops explained

3G or 4G laptops allow you the freedom of mobile broadband on your laptop. We show you what to look out for in 3G or 4G laptops.

Not so long ago, laptops needed a separate card to connect to the internet. This was a chunky piece of plastic that plugged into the PCMCIA slot on the side of your laptop and gave you a connection to either wireless or 3G internet.

As wireless became better and more popular, wireless internet cards were built into laptops to remove the need for the separate hardware. All modern laptops have a built-in wireless internet card, so all you need to do is turn your wireless on, and all the networks in range show up in your network list. If you have the password, off you go!

Built-in wireless - 3G laptops

The demand for mobile internet has brought about another stage in laptop evolution: Some laptops now have USB mobile broadband technology built in, giving you 3G laptops, or even 4G in some cases. This means that the technology from a USB dongle is mounted inside your laptop, so you always have a 3G or 4G mobile connection available, depending upon which laptop you purchase.

  • Wireless internet access wherever there is a mobile phone signal
  • 3G or 4G access so no wireless network needed
  • Internet connectivity direct from your laptop - no dongles or modems
  • All-in-one portable high-speed broadband access

Pros
As with all laptops, 3G and 4G laptops are portable, so your internet connection moves with you. Since everything is integrated, you don't have to worry about losing your dongle or MiFi. 3G laptops and data can be cheap, especially if you haggle with your mobile operator for better data charges.

Cons
Although 3G laptops and data can be cheap, it isn't the fastest speed on the market anymore. 3G offers an average speed of 3.6Mbps and an absolute max of 21Mbps, which may not be quite enough for the most demanding users. 4G speeds are faster but also more expensive. Another potential strike for heavy users: These plans are often subject to low monthly data allowances. While your connection is portable, it's limited to areas within coverage zones, similar to your mobile phone.

Data allowances

Data is probably the biggest decider, and the small data rates don't make USB internet the ideal choice for home connections.

Compare the best-selling mobile broadband deals at our dedicated USB internet comparison page.

How does it work?

The 3G or 4G SIM card and software are already installed on the laptop, so when you turn it on, it's all ready to go. Built-in mobile broadband laptops use:

  • High Speed Mobile Broadband (HSDPA)
  • 3G or 4G
  • GPRS networks

This means that when you are using a laptop or notebook with in-built broadband, you can rest assured that you are getting the fastest possible mobile connection.

You are not always online even if you have a laptop with built-in mobile broadband. Almost all notebooks and laptops with in-built mobile broadband have one-click access to the internet, so connecting is quick and easy.

Built-in broadband laptops have been optimised for mobile broadband access. This means that in-built mobile broadband laptops will generally have improved battery life.

Which providers offer laptops with built-in mobile broadband?

Broadband laptops used to be available from a host of providers, but these offers have entirely disappeared in recent years and have been replaced by broadband tablet deals. This reflects a wider shift in consumers' buying habits, as tablets are replacing laptops as the mobile computer for most people.