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What is a mobile internet dongle?

What is a mobile internet dongle?

Dumbfounded by dongles? Read on to learn all about mobile internet dongles, including the various pros and cons.

Mobile broadband may not be something you’d thought much about, especially considering many of us aren’t very mobile at the moment. We depend on the internet more than ever these days to keep us connected with friends –– as well as allow those of us able to work from home to do so –– and mobile broadband has some great benefits you may not have considered.

Mobile broadband allows you to get online quickly and connect to broadband services without the need for an engineer to visit your home. It’s typically accessed via a dongle which, though it sounds ridiculous and a little bit rude, is an incredibly simple and helpful piece of equipment that will keep you connected.

What is a dongle?

internet dongle

A dongle is a small USB device that allows you to access the internet.

It can also be referred to as a Wi-Fi 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.

How does a Wi-Fi dongle work?

A Wi-Fi dongle is, in effect, a small modem you can plug into your computer or laptop. It connects to the internet in the same way your smartphone does, via 3G, 4G, and (soon) 5G networks. You simply plug it in and you’re good to go.

Do I need a mobile internet dongle?

A mobile internet dongle is no substitute for a fixed broadband line in your home, but its versatility makes it still incredibly useful for some certain customers.

Why you should get a mobile internet dongle:

  • If you travel a lot and need to be able to access the internet on your laptop without having to rely on free Wi-Fi from Starbucks or airport lounges.
  • Similarly, if you like to work in locations that don’t have reliable internet access, such as coffee shops or workspaces, you could save yourself time, effort and money by always having access to the internet via a mobile internet dongle.
  • If you can’t get fibre broadband at home and you’re only able to get ADSL broadband to your property, you’ll find yourself limited to broadband speeds of 11 Mbps or less. However, if you have a strong 4G or 5G signal, mobile broadband is a great alternative and could even give you access to faster speeds for less.

Pros and cons of dongles

Pros

The introduction of 5G mobile broadband means a dongle is now a serious alternative to fixed line home broadband. This will depend on the coverage of 5G which, unfortunately, has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Mobile broadband is quick and easy to set up and doesn't require an engineer appointment
  • Dongles are supplied for free when you take out a contract
  • USB dongles give you greater flexibility, allowing you to access the internet when away from home or the office
  • Developments in mobile broadband technology have seen mobile dongles become smaller, sleeker and faster in recent years
  • Mobile broadband dongles run on the battery of your computer or laptop, meaning you don’t need an additional charger for them

Cons

  • 4G is still the most common type of mobile broadband connection but it has comparatively slower speeds than most normal broadband packages. This would make it difficult to do high-data activities like running certain applications or streaming media
  • Coverage is dependent on the mobile phone reception in your area, so the mobile blackspots that have you cursing your provider might also affect your mobile broadband connection
  • Unlike home broadband connections, mobile broadband usually has monthly data limits
  • Overseas charges have come down, but it's still not cheap to use a dongle abroad

What is MiFi?

Like a mobile internet dongle, a MiFi unit connects you to the internet over 3G, 4G or 5G networks. Unlike dongles — which only offer a connection for just one PC or laptop — a MiFi acts like a router by creating a localised wireless mobile broadband signal that can be shared between multiple mobile broadband-enabled devices.

One major consideration for those opting for a MiFi is that if you share your monthly allowance between multiple devices, such as consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops, so you're likely to get through your download limit a lot quicker.

For more information on MiFi, visit our more detailed guide.

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