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Thinking about what mobile broadband options are available for your smartphone or tablet or laptop so you can connect to internet when you are out and about? Confused about choosing the right mobile broadband provider and picking the suitable data plan to meet your needs?Here is our comprehensive guide to help you choose the right option from various mobile internet types – dongle, mobile wifi and SIM only mobile broadband.

Quick Check

  • EE
  • Three
  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • TalkTalk Mobile

Today most of us want to stay connected to internet even when we are on the move. It is not exaggeration to say that we live significant part of our life in cyber space or in online activities like browsing the websites, checking and replying to emails, watching videos & shopping online and even working from home etc.

Hi-tech mobile networks & WiFi networks and featured handsets like iPhone and smartphones have even made easier for us to carry on with these activities when we are on move, when we are traveling across Tube stations or sitting in parks or restaurants.

Mobile broadband and WiFi

Most of the connected devices like tablets, laptops and smartphones are wifi enabled so we can connect to wireless networks (WiFi) such as public WiFi hotspots of BT or Sky or Virgin Media in popular locations like restaurants, airports or Tube stations. This way of going online is a cheaper option when compared to mobile broadband through mobile networks, although the latter is more flexible as even it allows you to use internet wherever you are. Whereas, wifi network is limited to specific area.However, mobile broadband is a bit more expensive than WiFi and also the speeds and reliability of mobile networks depend on the quality of mobile signal received by the user, meaning you should be able to access mobile internet at a location which the mobile reception is fairly good.

UK mobile networks and 3G & 4G mobile broadband coverage

One should laud the efforts of mobile networks like Vodafone, EE and O2 for expanding their coverage to vast geographical areas in the UK over the years.Only networks which use 3G and 4G will let you get the required speeds to surf the net, stream music & videos and download files.

Currently, 3G mobile broadband which can deliver up to 14.4Mbps speeds can reach 90% of population, while Three UK claims it has 97% of 3G coverage in terms of population.

4G which comes with even faster speeds is currently available to 80% of population through EE network which launched the service by the end of 2012.

Other operators Vodafone (80% 3G coverage) and O2 (90% 3G coverage), which started their 4G a year later, have significantly covered the UK while  currently expanding the 4G coverage rapidly.

Mobile broadband types

Dongles or data card or USB modem stick

Dongle is a device just looking like a pen drive but has the feature to connect your laptop to mobile internet, once you plugged it into a USB slot.

You can use it to connect to specific mobile network only, if it is supplied with a data plan by your provider. If it is unlocked dongle, you can insert any SIM and use it to connect to multiple networks.

Dongles significantly vary due to their compatibility to 3G or 4G networks. 3G dongles can offer maximum speeds of 7.2Mbps or 14.4Mbps depending on specifications. Latest 4G mobile broadband requires you to use 4G dongles so you can access speeds of over 40Mbps.

All UK operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three UK offer their own dongles bundle with data plans. Again data plans which come with pay monthly tariff offer you FREE dongles, where as pay as you go (PAYG) and upfront plans require you to pay for the dongle cost and may include data depending on package or you may need to buy data for days’s or weekly or monthly usage.

EE dongle

EE offers Huawei E3533 mobile wifi dongle (up to 21Mbps) with two pay as you go 3G plans. The upfront £19.99 fee will offer you 2GB data valid for one month plus the device.  If you choose £34.99 upfront plan, you will get 6 GB data valid for 90 days.

Three 4G dongle plans

Three offers various data plans with ZTE MF823 4G dongle which can offer up to 100Mbps download speeds and up to 50Mbps upload speeds.  The Windows 8 certified dongle can be connected to PC or Mac ( compatible with Win XP, Win Vista, Win 7, Win 8/8.1, Mac 8.6+, IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome)

ZTE MF823 4G dongle data plans include free dongle and cost from £7.87 a month and includes up to 5 GB a month. 24 months and 1 month contract options are available.

SIM only mobile broadband

Mobile phone SIMs can be used to access mobile internet on 3G enabled smartphones, iPad or tablets. You need to buy data plans or combo plans which include voice calls & data for this.

Once activated your SIM for data access, you can browse internet, watch videos or shop online on your device. If you plan to use SIM only mobile broadband on tablet, make sure that it comes with SIM card slot.

As for superfast 4G access, not all the latest smartphones and tablets are upgraded for the new technology. If you live in areas where 4G network is available, make sure that your new mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices come with 4G feature.

Both 3G and 4G plans are available with the latter will cost higher.

SIM only plans from Three

You can choose from pay monthly or pay as  you plans with monthly data usage allowance varying between 1 GB an 10 GB.

Three’s SIM only data plans cost from 7.50 a month. Flexibile 1 month contract and 1 month/3months/12 months upfront options make it easy to plan your usage accordingly.

SIM only plans from EE

You can buy pay monthly or pay as you go data plans on EE’s 4G SIM.

Pay monthly options start from £9.99 a month and include up to 5 GB. You can get 250 call minutes – unlimited minutes plus unlimited texts on these packages.

Pay as you go options start from £10 and come with 500MB -4 GB data which is valid for 30 days.

Mobile WiFi

Mobile WiFi is a device used to connect to mobile network and share the connection among multiple users.

Unlike dongles, these compact and portable devices do not need USB slot and can be used anywhere you like. Switch on the device where the mobile signal reception is good. Like you connect your smartphone or tablet to a WiFi network, just connect to mobile wifi and share the data with others.

While 3G enabled mobile wifi devices are common, 4G enabled devices are available from EE.

EE Mobile WiFi plans

EE offers 4GEE (up to 40Mbps) and double speed 4GEE Extra (up to 80Mbps) mobile broadband with its mobile WiFi products – Osprey and Kite.

4GEE Pay monthly options  come with free device and offer up to 3 GB data a month and cost from £10 a month.

4GEE Extra pay monthly plans offer free device and offer up to 50 GB data a month and monthly tariff starts from just £20.

Pay as you plans require you to pay up front cost for the device which cost from £49.99 and allow you to buy data packs of 2 GB or 6 GB.

Using Osprey and Kite Mobile WiFi  which allow you to share the connection among up to 10 devices , you can get the best out of EE’s 4G and 3G networks.