Want to stay connected to the internet wherever you go, but not sure you can hotspot for hours on end? 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. But 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? Mobile broadband sticks, explained
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.
What is USB internet?
USB internet is another term used for accessing internet services via an internet dongle, since most dongles are connected to your laptop via a USB connection.
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 5G networks. 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 can make it 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 public spaces but don't want to rely on poor, unrestricted Wi-Fi, you could save yourself time and effort with a mobile internet dongle.
- If you can’t get fibre broadband at home, and you’re only able to get copper broadband to your property, you’ll find yourself limited to broadband speeds of 11Mbps or lower. 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
Mobile internet dongle 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 in your area, which is constantly growing but only really available in urban areas right now.
- 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
Mobile internet dongle cons
- 4G is still the most common type of mobile broadband connection, but it has comparatively slower speeds than fibre broadband packages. This would make it difficult to do high-data activities like large file downloads or streaming media
- Coverage is dependent on the mobile phone reception in your area, so the mobile 'not'-spots that have you cursing your network 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
Which providers offer mobile USB internet sticks?
Broadband dongles use the same 3G, 4G and 5G technology as a mobile phone, so nearly all mobile providers offer mobile broadband. The market is simply too competitive not to.
- Vodafone offers a range of mobile broadband dongles with speeds ranging from 7.2Mbps to 21Mbps and generous download allowances, depending upon the plan.
- Three's 4G dongle provides speeds of up to 42Mbps.
- EE, the UK's 4G specialists, offers speeds of up to 60Mbps.
What is MiFi?
Like a mobile internet dongle, a MiFi unit connects you to the internet over 3G, 4G or 5G networks.
But unlike dongles — which only offer a connection for just one PC or laptop — a MiFi acts like a router by sending out a wireless mobile broadband signal that can be shared between multiple internet-connected devices at thr same time.
Just consider that if you choose a limited deal and want to share your monthly allowance between multiple devices such as consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops, you're likely to get through your download limit a lot quicker.
For more information on MiFi, visit our more detailed guide.