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Mobile broadband deals and providers

Mobile broadband allows you to go online anywhere there's mobile signal, so it's great if you're always on the go, or if you live in a rural area where standard home broadband is not available yet. Read this handy guide for help choosing a mobile broadband deal, or call Simplifydigital's free switching service on 0800 542 4704.

By on May 14, 2014 at 15:14 PM
Mobile broadband deals and providers

Call Simplifydigital's free switching service on 0800 542 4704 for help choosing a mobile broadband deal.

Mobile broadband deals

Mobile broadband doesn't require home phone line rental. You sign up to a data plan with your chosen mobile network, and they supply you with an agreed amount of internet data every month, via 3G or 4G connectivity. Mobile broadband signals are sent from satellite towers directly to your smartphone, tablet or to a mobile broadband dongle with a SIM card inside, depending on the type of mobile broadband service you sign up for.

Benefits of mobile broadband:

  • You get broadband speeds without a home phone line
  • Some mobile phone contracts already include unlimited data and the ability to 'tether' your smartphone or tablet's internet connection, creating a Wi-Fi hotspot that your other internet-enabled devices can see and access
  • Mobile broadband is available anywhere there's network signal, not just when you're at home near your router

Things you need to be aware of:

  • Mobile broadband speeds aren't as fast as home broadband speeds - 3G speeds are fine for web browsing, streaming YouTube videos and reading emails. 4G speeds are fast enough for you to stream or download multiple media files at once, but still can't compare with a superfast home broadband service
  • The faster mobile broadband variant, 4G, is still being rolled out across the UK and coverage is currently limited and pricey
What is mobile broadband and how can I get it?

Mobile broadband is a high speed internet connection that runs through a mobile phone network, like EE or Three (3). It doesn't require a landline, and can be accessed anywhere you have mobile signal, so it's very convenient for getting online while out and about. You will be able to connect your laptop, smartphone, or tablet wherever you can get a 3G or 4G internet signal - at home, or on the road.

Mobile broadband can be very good value - from as little as a few pounds per month with no landline rental cost.

Mobile broadband speeds
If you are considering the move to a mobile broadband package, please be aware that mobile broadband packages offer slower speeds than the faster home broadband alternatives and come with a smaller data allowance (the average monthly usage is at around 3GB cap).

There are several ways to access mobile broadband services from your chosen network:

  • You can take out a mobile data plan that includes a data allowance, or unlimited data. This will give you access to mobile broadband on one enabled device with a SIM card in it, for example a smartphone, or a 3G-capable tablet. Ask your mobile provider what allowance, if any, is included with your current package
  • You can opt for a mobile data plan that includes tethering. If you ask to have 'tethering' included with your mobile data plan, you can split your mobile broadband connection between many internet-enabled devices, for instance, you can use your smartphone's 3G data connection to allow your laptop to go online.
  • You can also get a mobile broadband "dongle". This little device comes pre-loaded with a set data allowance, that you can either top up as required on a Pay As You Go basis, or use with a monthly service agreement provided by your network - your data allowance will reset every month. The dongle plugs into your laptop or PC via a USB port, and you manage your connection via an application on your desktop. This option only allows you to connect one device to the internet, as opposed to several via the tethering option above. However, as you access your mobile broadband subscription through a "dongle" that you plug into the USB port of your laptop, it means that you can keep the dongle with you and plug it into any laptop or PC that may be handy at the time - so it is not tied to one device

Tethering has limits
While tethering your mobile broadband connection is certainly convenient, by splitting the connection you reduce your speeds, so this option isn't recommended for anything other than viewing emails, checking Facebook or browsing websites.

What is 4G and how can I get it?

4G is the latest version of mobile broadband, giving you faster internet speeds on your smartphone or tablet than standard 3G or 2G connections. It differs from the last generation, 3G, because it is based on a newer transmission technology and spectrum band, which gives you access to higher peak download speeds and a bigger data capacity. This basically means 4G allows you to do more on the internet on your smartphone, without as many annoying lags or breaks in service.

4G can be used whilst travelling in a car or on trains, but this will depend on whether signal towers providing 4G are in your local vicinity and rollout has only started recently in the UK. You can also use it to stream or download simultaneous multimedia content, for instance you can download a song from iTunes while watching a YouTube video.

The 4G revolution is now in full force in the UK, as the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands have been auctioned off by Ofcom and EE already provides a variety of monthly packages for subscribers, bundled with some of the latest smartphones. Take a look at what's available, but be aware that prices are considerably higher and data allowances lower than 3G mobile broadband plans at the moment.

What is 3G mobile broadband and how can I get it?

3G is still the most popular way to access mobile broadband in the UK. 3G mobile broadband speeds reach up to 3.6Mbps on average.

The quality and speed of your mobile broadband service heavily depends on your location in the UK. If you live in a major city like London or Liverpool you could expect to see faster mobile broadband speeds than if you lived in a rural area such as Cornwall. Even if your mobile broadband dongle says it's the fastest dongle in the UK it won't get you high speed mobile broadband in a rural area.

3G mobile broadband coverage is dependent on what is effectively a radio signal. And being a radio signal it can deteriorate if it has to travel through trees, mountains and tall buildings. Weather conditions can also play havoc with the signals. The better the quality of the mobile broadband signal, the better the mobile broadband internet service will be. With this in mind it really is important to check mobile broadband coverage before you part with your hard earned cash and sign up to a mobile broadband provider.

UK 3G mobile broadband providers:

Three (3) has one of the UK's biggest 3G mobile broadband networks, covering over 90 per cent of the UK, with speeds of up to 7.2Mbps

Virgin Media's mobile broadband covers over 85 per cent of the UK. Along with good UK mobile broadband coverage, Virgin Media offers surprisingly cheap mobile broadband deals. It offers a high-speed 3G network and its flexible mobile broadband packages will suit all surfing needs.

EE's 3G mobile broadband covers over 90 per cent of the UK. Better mobile broadband coverage exists in urban areas which can provide possible speeds of up to 7.2Mbps on 3G. The supplier also provides 4G mobile broadband which can give you access to superfast speeds when on the go.

O2 mobile broadband currently covers over 80 per cent of the UK. The O2 mobile broadband network gives its customers access to over 7,500 hotspots in the UK. You can browse the web in major airports, train stations and even in McDonalds. These Wi-Fi-hotspots give you access to the O2 mobile broadband network, your O2 dongle will choose the best service available in the area you are in. The O2 mobile broadband dongle will make use of either GPRS, 3G or HSDPA technology to get the best possible mobile broadband coverage.

Vodafone mobile broadband covers 80 per cent of the UK. Vodafone offers the fastest mobile broadband service in the UK and if you're in a major city like London you could get ultra-fast mobile broadband speeds of up to 14.4Mbps, other areas could get equally as ultra fast mobile broadband speeds of up to 7.2Mbps. Although this will depend on your location and the quality of the mobile broadband signal.

What is Mi-Fi mobile broadband?

Mi-Fi is a gadget that delivers a mobile broadband signal to your internet-enabled devices while you are out and about. The abbreviation stands for "my" or "mobile" and "Wi-Fi". It is after all, your own tiny wireless broadband hub which can be shared with friends and family on the go.

Do not be fooled by its small size, Mi-Fi is actually a powerful device. Inside it, there is a compact wireless router which is in fact a Wi-Fi hotspot. It then connects to a cellular data network which in turn gives you access to Wi-Fi devices that are situated within a 10 metre radius. What the device does is it creates a local relatively fast internet connection.

If you have a number of devices that you want to connect at the same time, then Mi-Fi could just be the device for you. It is worth noting that Mi-Fi is currently well established in the US, the UK however still has some work to do for the trend to catch on.

Simplifydigital's top tip: Using the device is only as safe as you make it. If you set up a complicated password (make sure to use numbers, symbols as well as lengthy words or even better - sentences), no one will be able to access your Mi-Fi network.

Mi-Fi mobile broadband providers

In the UK mobile operator and broadband provider Three (3) is offering the device as a pay monthly option as well as on a pay as you go (PAYG) basis.

Can I use mobile broadband abroad?

If you want to connect your laptop to the internet while you're travelling in Europe, the best thing to do is to get a mobile broadband bolt on to your existing mobile phone deal from Three (3), O2, Virgin Media, T-Mobile, Orange or Vodafone.

Orange (EE)

Orange offer a variety of European data packages for their mobile customers. Those with PAYG (pay-as-you-go) will pay 59p per 1MB, those on contract will pay 69.6p per MB.

Region: EU

Daily: £3
30 Day 30MB Bundle: £15
30 day 150 MB bundle: £50
30 day 500MB bundle: £150

Vodafone EuroTraveler

Pay Monthly customers can opt in for the EuroTraveller add-on, which costs £3 per day and will allow customers to take their current allowances such as calls, texts and mobile broadband abroad within Europe (excludes package extras).

Going over the limit while travelling with the add-on will result in UK price plan charges. Receiving calls and texts is free.

If you don't have the EuroTraveller add-on you will pay 28.8p a minute to call, 8.9p to text and 69.6p per MB.

Three - The Euro Internet Pass

Available to all Pay Monthly customers at £5 per day. Although Three has not called it "unlimited", the mobile operator suggested that customers could go wild. Three's PAYG customers will have to pay £1.28 per MB within the EU.

O2 - O2 Travel Package

Both contract and PAYG customers can get the O2 Travel package which comes with 25MB of data per Day for £1.99. Calling with contracts will include a one off 50p per call and minutes will be taken off from allowances. PAYG customers will call for 29p per minute and spend 8p to receive calls.

T-Mobile (EE) - Travel Booster

The Travel Booster gives you 3MB of data for £1 when travelling in the EU. Data lasts for 30 days or until it is used up. PAYG customers will see the money deducted from their credit while contract customers should expect a higher bill.

How can I make sure I don't get overcharged when using my mobile broadband abroad?

If you're planning a long visit to another country, it's worthwhile considering buying a short-term mobile broadband dongle deal from a provider at your destination as it will most probably offer cheaper prices, faster speeds and greater quality of connection.

Whether you want to make your current mobile broadband service work abroad or get a brand new deal, it will most probably not allow you great freedom in terms of data allowance or price range.

When it comes to mobile broadband, it is likely you will be charged on a per MB (megabyte) basis. This means you need to be really careful when using your mobile broadband because you may find that checking your e-mail and browsing a couple of pages every day can eat up a large amount of data.

According to regulations placed by the EU commission in July 2010, internet providers must disconnect their customers from their mobile broadband if they should reach the €50 (approx. £41) cap on their internet allowance. Providers are also obliged to inform their subscribers via text once they've used 80 per cent of their data limit.

Simplifydigital's top tips on using mobile broadband abroad:
When roaming, it is wise to download, stream or upload content moderately. Resist from partaking in any data-hungry activity while you're abroad because more often than not, you will end up paying incredible sums for the small luxury. Just stick to checking your e-mails and browsing web pages and you should be fine.

If you're considering the switch to a mobile broadband deal, give our Switching Support Experts a call and have them walk you through your options. Some home broadband deals now come with unlimited Wi-Fi that you can access from thousands of free hotspots across the UK, eliminating the need to have unlimited mobile broadband if you're within range of a free Wi-Fi hotspot from your provider. Give us a call and we can recommend the right solution for you.

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