A Guide To Mobile Broadband

Posted on: 20 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

A new technology generating a huge amount of press and general interest is mobile broadband. But what is it and how does it work?

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/33384/landscape_large.png?1359638523Mobile broadband is the new generation of broadband, in the same way that mobile phones were the new generation of phones; mobile broadband allows you to access broadband internet on the move on a laptop computer without needing to be plugged into the wall.

So you can use mobile broadband anywhere, just as you can use mobile phones anywhere.

The good news is that you no longer need all the hardware and cabling that comes with home broadband, you just plug a small device - about the size of a cigarette lighter - into your computer and it allows you to access the internet via the mobile phone network.

It works, in fact, in a very similar way to a mobile phone, except that it sends and receives data instead of people's voices.

The bad news is that mobile broadband doesn't generate quite the same speed and isn't quite the same quality yet as traditional home broadband. Again, a good comparison would be to early mobile phones which were lower quality and cut out frequently.

Despite that, mobile broadband devices, known as 'dongles', are proving massively popular. The big reason is convenience: with mobile broadband you are no longer tied to a desk, room or a house, you can take your laptop on the train, to the beach or to the relatives and be online in seconds.

Does It Cost?

Another reason for the popularity of mobile broadband is that it's not hugely expensive. A mobile broadband contract works in very much the same way as a mobile phone contract, and will typically cost you about £15 a month on a 12, 18 or 24-month contract normally with free setup. If you want the bells and whistles, you can spend more.

Even if you don't have a laptop, the great news is that many mobile broadband providers are giving away free laptops if you're prepared to commit to about £30 a month usually on a 24-month contract.

When you factor in the extra costs, the laptop is clearly not free, but this sort of deal can still represent an easy and cost-effective way to get online with mobile broadband and a new computer.

An alternative is pay-as-you-go mobile broadband, which is suited to occasional users who don't want the commitment of a contract. Just like with mobile phones, you do generally have to pay an upfront fee for the dongle, but then you just pay as you use it.

How Do I Get It?

Mobile broadband services are provided by the mobile phone networks: Vodafone, T-Mobile, 3, Orange, O2 and Virgin Mobile.

You can buy mobile broadband direct from the network shops on the high street, or you can buy it from the many high street and web-based resellers, such as Carphone Warehouse, PC World, and so on.

Who Do I Choose?

A great place to research mobile broadband, as ever, is the internet. You can quickly flick through the various provider websites, or you can view all the packages and prices in one place on a free-to-use comparison website such as Mobile Broadband Genie.

When you're comparing mobile broadband packages, remember to consider the following:

  • Contract type and length: Do you want a fixed-term contract or would you prefer just to pay-as-you-go? Both work on different pricing models. The rule of thumb is that contracts work out cheaper if you plan to use mobile broadband regularly, whereas pay-as-you-go works out cheaper if you're likely to be an occasional user.
  • Download limit: The amount of data you can download is one of the key differences between many mobile broadband packages - the mobile phone equivalent would be the number of free monthly minutes. Downloaded data is measured in Gigabytes (GB) and it can be tricky to plan how much data you're likely to need. Generally speaking, 1GB would be a light user and 5GB would be an intermediate user.
  • Speed. Different networks advertise different maximum  speeds, but - in truth - the speed you get all depends on how close you are to a mobile phone mast. Independent tests have shown that all networks generate similar speeds.
  • Free laptop: The number of mobile broadband contracts which include a free laptop is predicted to overtake the number of dongle-only contracts in the near future, so this is clearly a massively popular option.

About The Author

Ciaron Dunne is editor of www.broadbandgenie.co.uk, the independent comparison website for broadband and mobile broadband.

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