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What is mobile broadband?

4G and 3G mobile broadband is provided to customers through mobile phone signals, and, as with mobile phones, the strength of the signal determines the quality of the connection.

Mobile broadband can be accessed with a number of devices, including mobile phones, mobile dongles, MiFi units and data cards. Dongles are USB-compatible and plug into the laptop, PC or device.

Mobile dongles are essentially portable modems, and are also referred to as mobile USB sticks and USB modems.

The main difference between older 3G mobile broadband and 4G mobile broadband is speed. Choose 4G and you can expect a connection that's up to five times faster than the UK 3G average.

Compare the best mobile broadband deals at uSwitch now.

For more information on mobile broadband dongles see our what is a mobile broadband dongle? guide page.

Mobile broadband providers:

You can get the best mobile broadband deals from these providers:

Who is it for?

Students, commuters, travelers can all benefit massively from a mobile broadband connection. But so does anyone looking to access the internet outside their home or office (though mobile broadband can be used here too).

mobile broadband

Advantages of mobile broadband:

  • Competitive pricing from under £10/month for 3G. 4G is more expensive, but still cheaper than home broadband.
  • Convenience to use the internet on the bus, train, park or coffee shop.
  • You don’t have to be plugged into an ethernet connection or even be in range of a hotspot because this technology provides you with your very own portable modem. The modem plugs directly into one of the USB ports of your laptop and it doesn’t require a source of electricity, which makes for hassle-free internet access.
  • Mobile modems are small and discreet - meaning you can pop them in your laptop bag, handbag or indeed your pocket and be ready to connect wherever you go.
  • The speeds of 4G mean that mobile broadband is becoming an ever more viable alternative to fixed-line, home broadband.

Disadvantages of mobile broadband:

  • You are at the mercy of mobile phone signal
  • Limited download allowance (more on this below).
  • Slower speeds than some home broadband packages.

How it works

Mobile broadband uses 3G or 4G services. These connections are made possible by two complimentary technologies; HSDPA and HSUPA (high speed download and upload packet access, respectively).

In theory, these technologies enable 3G mobile broadband users to access of up to 21Mb speed downloads and uploads with speeds of up to 1.76Mb. In practice, however, such speeds are only available in certain areas of cities and selected UK airports. It is likely that access to these speeds will become more wide-spread in the future, however.

4G might be the newer technology, but because it's delivered the same way as 3G, the speed it offers is also massively affected by location.

Though mobile broadband dongles, USB sticks and data cards are currently the norm for people accessing mobile broadband, laptops embedded with a SIM card are also a popular option.

Mobile broadband and download allowances

Download-savvy users will have noted that mobile broadband deals generally have quite restrictive download limits. Reasons for the relative lack of "unlimited broadband" packages in mobile broadband include:

  • High costs - transferring data across 3G and 4G networks is more expensive than across ADSL or cable (the technologies used in home broadband).
  • System overload - providers are concerned that if all users were on unlimited download limits, the system would be overwhelmed very quickly causing lost connections and slow service across the mobile network.

If you are only likely to only use mobile broadband occasionally, then a £10 3G package offering 1GB of downloads a month will serve you perfectly. Heavy downloaders should look most closely at the allowance tab and sort packages by this criteria to avoid incurring extra costs.

Compare mobile broadband packages and learn more about mobile broadband now.