What is mobile broadband – and do you need it?

Here’s what you need to know about mobile broadband and how to get connected

Wi-Fi. Mobile data. Mobile hotspots. Mobile broadband. Whether you’re using your smartphone, laptop or tablet, there are many ways to get online. They all have different benefits and different situations in which they’re most useful. This means it can be tricky to understand the difference between them all.

We’re here to help. Today, we’re talking mobile broadband. In a nutshell, if you regularly want to connect laptops or tablets to the internet while you’re on the move, a mobile broadband dongle or pocket hotspot could be just what you need. Read on to discover how they can work for you.

person working at home

What is mobile broadband?

Chances are, you’ve got broadband in your home. Mobile broadband is very similar. The key difference is that it sends data through 4G or 5G mobile networks rather than fixed cables. These mobile signals are transformed into a unique Wi-Fi network to which other devices can connect. This is a different process to using mobile data on your smartphone – your phone won’t automatically give you access to mobile broadband.

children in a car playing on tablets

What are the benefits of mobile broadband?

It’s helpful if you want to use the internet on a device other than your phone, such as a laptop or tablet, while on the move. Imagine you want to do some work in a cafe, but there’s no Wi-Fi – or even worse, a questionable access point with pages of forms or terms and conditions to register. Or you’re on a long drive, and the kids want to use the internet on their tablet in the back seat. Mobile broadband comes into its own in situations like these. You can get online with a 4G or 5G signal.

person holding a phone with a laptop

Hang on – couldn’t I just use my mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is where you share your phone’s data with another device, such as a laptop. This can be a useful hack if you need to get a gadget online and have no alternative, but we don’t recommend making a habit of it. In the short term, hotspotting drains your phone’s data and battery. In the long term, regularly tethering devices to your phone via a hotspot can permanently damage your handset’s battery health. If you often need the internet on a laptop or tablet when you’re out and about, use a dongle or pocket hotspot instead.

person holding a dongle

What is a dongle?

A dongle is a portable device about the size of a USB stick that offers high-speed internet access. Simply plug it into your laptop, and you’ll be online before you know it. Dongles are lightweight and pocket-sized, which makes them a great option if you regularly use your laptop on the move (catching up on emails on the train has never been easier). You can only connect one device to a dongle at a time. But if it’s just your laptop you want to connect, a dongle should suit you just fine.

pocket hotspot on a table with laptop

What is a pocket hotspot?

A pocket hotspot is a small device that creates a Wi-Fi hotspot using a mobile network. Often multiple devices can securely connect to some pocket hotspots simultaneously, so your friends and family can use it to get online too. It’s a great option if you’re travelling, working in a group or moving house and will be without Wi-Fi for a while. Pocket hotspots let you avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi networks, which can pose a security risk while on the go. They also feature USB ports, allowing you to charge smartphones and small USB devices. They’re bigger than dongles but still lightweight and portable.

person working at home holding phone to ear

What mobile broadband device should I buy?

If you think mobile broadband would be useful, why not browse our Wi-Fi dongle and pocket hotspot deals? The Netgear Nighthawk M1 Mobile Router is a pocket hotspot that can be used all day and shared with up to 20 Wi-Fi devices – providing an internet connection that’s strong and fast enough for gaming. It even features an Ethernet port that can be used to connect wired devices that don’t support Wi-Fi. Then there’s the Alcatel Dongle 4G, offering download speeds up to 150Mbps, and Pocket Hotspot 4G, which connects to up to 32 devices simultaneously. You’ll never be without internet access again.

Published: 6 Mar 2023