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What is wireless broadband?

Wireless broadband (also known as WiFi) is a broadband connection to the internet that is accessed without cables. This is different to 3G or 4G mobile broadband, which uses mobile phone signals.

It is the connection between your computer and the router that is wireless, not the actual broadband connection itself.

Wireless broadband is made possible by a wireless router, so any ADSL (phone line) or cable broadband service can be turned into a wireless connection simply by changing the router - a new broadband package isn’t required.

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How do wireless routers work?

Using the same principle as a cordless phone, a wireless router converts incoming signals and broadcasts them around an area. This signal is then picked up by wireless-enabled devices, such as laptops and gaming consoles, giving them wireless broadband connectivity throughout the house.

Wireless broadband suits:

  • Families where multiple family members want to access broadband at once from different rooms of the house.
  • Gamers using PS3s, PSPs, Nintendo Wiis and other wireless gaming consoles.
  • Laptop users with no need to be tied down by the location of their telephone point.
  • Handheld devices, like smartphones, PDAs and iPads which have no cable input
  • Large houses or buildings, as well as places with gardens, where the distance between user and router might be too far for cable.

Wireless routers are commonly included in wireless broadband packages, and many ISPs supply customers with wireless routers free when they take out a new deal. New routers can range from £30 to £150 depending on range and technical specs.

Wireless may not be your best option if:

  • You solely connect to the internet on a desktop computer that is near a telephone point.
  • You mostly access broadband on the move as well as at home. In this case you should consider mobile broadband (described below) as it may give you greater flexibility.

How to ‘Go Wireless’

Most broadband providers will give you a wireless router when you sign up for a new contract. The ‘plug and play’ wireless equipment they provide involves little more than simply swapping the hardware. You may also need to run your ISP setup again, though, so double check with your provider before making any major changes.

Most ISPs provide excellent customer support to help you set up your home wireless network. Alternatively, you can always take a look at our guide to solving wireless broadband problems.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband, or 3G/4G, is a form of wireless broadband aimed at consumers who need a connection while they're on the move. It allows you to access the internet on your laptop at home, while out and about or abroad. All you have to do is plug in a dongle or hook-up a MiFi unit and you're away. You don’t need cables or wireless hotspots, just somewhere with mobile signal.

Mobile broadband dongles

  • Don’t require a source of electricity.
  • Are small and discreet.
  • Are perfect for transporting.

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