Mobile broadband is a great way to get online while out and
about. It's an internet signal that's transmitted to your device
via a cellular tower, so you can access it on any device that has
Wi-Fi capability, and get decent 3G or 4G speeds that are fine for
browsing, chatting, Facebook or Skype.
There are several main mobile broadband providers in the UK, and
lots of plans to choose from - it can be tricky to choose the right
one. The key is matching your mobile broadband deal to your needs,
and ensuring that you get the data allowance you require as well as
decent network coverage.
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
30 Day 30MB Bundle: £15
30 day 150 MB bundle: £50
30 day 500MB bundle: £150
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
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
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
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
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
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
Simplifydigital's top tips on using mobile
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