MiFis or MiFi dongles are compact, wireless devices, usually a little smaller than a smartphone, that create a localised Wi-Fi signal that you can use on the go.
A mobile broadband router, on the other hand, is a much larger Wi-Fi device that plugs into a mains socket. It much more closely resembles a normal home broadband router and essentially functions like one.
The main benefit of both is that, like a router, they enable multiple devices to share a single mobile broadband connection. However, depending on how you plan on using your mobile broadband, one will be more suitable than the other.
Read on to find out how they differ and what option would be best for you.
MiFi vs mobile broadband router: how do they work?
Both MiFis and mobile broadband routers require a SIM card to work, And just like with your smartphone, it allows them to connect to the internet through mobile data on a specific network.
The main difference comes in the way they’re built, and where you can use them.
How MiFi devices work
A MiFi is a portable, battery-powered wireless device that taps into 3G, 4G or 5G mobile phone networks to create a mini broadband hotspot.
Its signal can be shared between multiple internet-enabled devices — such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and even games consoles — that are within its range. They can be used anywhere that has a mobile network connection.
Can data be stored on a MiFi?
Both MiFis and mobile broadband dongles have storage capabilities, and they’re typically compatible with microSD cards if you want to increase the amount of storage available.
How mobile broadband routers work
Mobile broadband routers — which can also be called 4G or 5G home broadband routers — are a lot more fixed. They’re a lot larger, and are powered by a mains socket rather than a battery.
This means that they’re a lot less portable than a MiFi device, but they have a larger range and can handle more devices at once. As a result, they could technically replace your main home broadband connection.
How fast is mobile broadband?
With the upcoming rollout of 5G networks across the UK, both devices are now able to access faster mobile speeds than ever before — provided they have a compatible 5G SIM card.
If you have access to a 5G connection, both MiFi devices and mobile broadband routers could connect you to speeds faster than some fixed broadband connections.
Strong 5G connections could regularly achieve speeds of 150-200Mbps, putting it in direct competition with many ultrafast fibre packages.
However, your speed is very dependent on your connection and can fluctuate throughout the day based on where the device is located, what objects surround it, and how many devices are sharing the network.
4G has a much more established mobile network across the UK right now, and is capable of a more consistent connection. Its speeds usually rest around 24Mbps, which is significantly slower than 5G but still double the speed of traditional ADSL home broadband.
The benefits of mobile broadband
- More flexible contract options than normal fixed line broadband. There are many monthly rolling deals where, if you're unimpressed with the service, you can just cancel your contract with 30 days’ notice.
- Lower setup costs than fixed broadband. You don’t need any installation equipment to get connected such as new lines and sockets, so you won’t be charged any upfront fees.
- If you live in an area with poor fixed broadband options, you could find a faster, more consistent broadband speed with mobile broadband.
- If you've already got a mobile internet dongle, you won’t have to pay for another one. At around £30, this is a healthy saving. You should be aware, however, that if you want to access 5G SIM-only mobile broadband you'll need a 5G-compatible dongle. Older dongles may only work with 4G and 3G.
For more information on mobile broadband dongles, read our guide on mobile broadband dongles.
Which providers offer MiFi and mobile broadband products?
If you don't have a dongle yet, compare mobile broadband packages and learn more about mobile broadband here.
At the time of writing, EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 all offer MiFi units that are 4G capable, as well as 3G models.
5G mobile broadband looks to be an important alternative that could potentially challenge standard home broadband again.
While it’s inevitable that all networks will look to provide some sort of 5G coverage, the first providers out of the gate for mobile broadband are Three, Vodafone, EE and O2.
Mobile broadband routers
Mobile broadband routers have become a lot more popular of late. Thanks to the introduction of 5G, many households who have 5G coverage could actually replace their fixed broadband connection with a faster 5G mobile broadband one.
Vodafone and Three are leading the way with this technology, both offering ultrafast mobile internet through a Huawei 5G router. Vodafone offers a product called GigaCube, and Three dubs its service ‘5G (or 4G) Home Broadband’.
You can read more about Vodafone’s offering in our GigaCube 5G mobile broadband review.
How to set up a MiFi router
One of the biggest advantages of MiFis is that they require very little setup. You simply make sure it’s charged-up, insert the SIM card you were provided with and switch it on.
Within a few seconds you should be able to find the available signal on your computer, tablet or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device. Then, it’s just a case of selecting it and inputting a password (if applicable).
There’s no software to install and you can be online in a matter of seconds, so it’s a lot quicker than many home broadband installations — especially ones that require an engineer to visit the home.
How to set up a mobile broadband router
As is the case with MiFi routers, you’ll need to insert your SIM card into the router for it to pick up any signal.
Mobile broadband routers (or 4G and 5G home broadband routers) need to be plugged into a mains socket. So firstly, you need to find an area in your home that is best placed for a mobile internet connection. Try to find a place that’s near a window and clear from a lot of objects, so the signal is as strong as it can be.
You should then be able to find it as an available Wi-Fi network in your device’s Wi-Fi settings. Once you select it there, you’ll likely have to go through a few steps online to finish setting it up.
MiFi and mobile broadband routers vs mobile internet dongles
A mobile dongle is a good option for laptop users as you can connect to the internet just by plugging your dongle into your laptop. There’s no need to charge it and setup is still very easy.
However, you will only be able to connect one device at a time, and your dongle needs to be compatible with the device you want to use (i.e. it might need a USB connection, so you couldn’t use it to connect most tablets to the internet).
MiFi units and mobile broadband routers, on the other hand, let multiple users connect to a signal simultaneously, making them handy for families and groups. If bought with a monthly rolling contract, they can also serve as a cost-effective option for students living in shared accommodation who don’t want to take out a long-term contract.
But as with mobile broadband dongles, MiFis and mobile broadband routers are also offered on monthly or yearly contracts as well as on pay-as-you-go tariffs.