Mobile Broadband - The Buyers Guide - Tech Spartan

Mobile Broadband – The Buyers Guide

October 24th, 2014

Lightening fast speeds are starting to appear for mobile broadband in the UK. We no longer have to worry about 2G and all those cables or infrared that hooked them to computers. With 3G technology it became easier to setup a computer connection, and with the most recent launch with 4G things are getting better and better. Now with Wi-Fi hotspot technology mobile broadband can be wireless.

Why Choose Mobile Broadband and How it Works

Mobile broadband has a huge appeal in that one can move around as they need to. There is more freedom than using a home broadband system that requires the computer to stay hooked up through the Ethernet cable. Of course with routers it is possible to have a limited connectivity for wireless devices. Still “mobile” implies more range such as going with you wherever you go.

Mobile phone networks are used by mobile broadband systems. The network is a data connection allowing any data including Internet to be sent. It just takes a dongle outfitted with a SIM card for access to be gained for the Internet. As long as there is a signal it is possible to connect.

  • Business personnel can use mobile broadband for commuting.
  • Students can have flexible contracts, get their homework done, and be mobile at the same time.
  • Holiday goers can use the Internet if they travel abroad or around the UK.
  • It also helps people access faster Internet speeds that do not have ADSL connections for fixed broadband.
  • If you would like to know more about fixed line services please feel free to click on our home and business services links.

3G or 4G?

There is a choice in the service available in terms of generation. “G” is the generation of mobile technology the UK has. In prior years 4G was not accessible in the UK, but with great strides in the last two years more areas outside of London are now tapping into 4G. This gives you a choice between 3G and 4G service. The main distinction between the service generations is speed.

Currently due to the technology in place 3G offers faster data speeds. It is possible to have up to 7.2 megabytes per second, but the reality is generally around 2 to 3 mbps. 3G has been in the UK for over a decade, but 4G has only recently started spreading with any type of distance throughout the UK since 2012. This means that while mobile data speeds are supposed to exceed or match ADSL broadband services, the true performance is about 10 to 20 mbps, with some areas offering greater speeds.

The speed is all down to how close you are to the signal and how many people are also using that same pathway. With talk of speed it seems like you would want 4G only because it is the newest, fastest, and better. Yet, things are never uncomplicated.

There is another little cog in the wheel of choice, which makes it perhaps even greater to choose 3G. There is an ultrafast 3G network often called LTE in other countries, but the most important factor is that it uses HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA allowing speeds of 10 to 20 mbps on the 3G network.

So the most important factor that remains is not speed, but how easy is it for you to connect to the 3G, turbo 3G or 4G network? Currently most tablets, dongles, and Smartphones support 3G because of coverage and price. 3G devices are still the least costly in the UK, which makes it an affordable alternative to 4G. There are also some carriers who have yet to upgrade their technology to support 4G.

It is your decision on whether you go with 4G technology to prepare for the near future and enjoy fast speeds while you are in 4G areas or if you wish to go with the more affordable 3G connection. What you should realise is that 3G is the least you need for good mobile broadband. You may drop to 2G in areas that do not have 3G, which makes it hard to get online, but overall 3G is going to establish the best connections UK wide. Your phone will show a G when you are on the 2G network, versus the 3G symbol when you are in the right area.

You should be aware that there are still some 2G spots that can drop your speeds and even your connection. If you live in an area that has mostly 2G then you may wish to save yourself from purchasing 3G since you need the mobile broadband setup that best fits your area.

By examining each network you can get a fairly accurate concept of whether 3G or 4G is better suited to your area and usage areas. Bear in mind that buildings and other things can block signals and create dead spots. If you have a mobile phone, you can accurately assess the areas you will be in most to ascertain mobile broadband strength.

How to Connect To Mobile Broadband

For a mobile broadband connection you need a dongle. A dongle works like a mobile phone just without a keypad, screen, or the ability to call someone. It is like a USB memory stick in its shape connecting its hardware so that you can communicate with a network. In fact there are two types of dongles:

You have the USB dongle like the memory stick, which slides into a spare USB port on your computer or device allowing you to connect to the Internet.

The Wi-Fi dongle or Mi-Fi is a little bigger because it can connect your computer as well as multiple computers as long as you share the password.

USB dongles are the cheaper choice and definitely suitable if you just need to connect to one computer. If you have several tablets, computers, game consoles, and other mobile devices then the Wi-Fi dongle is best so that all your friends and family can connect at once.

Mobile Broadband Deals

You never have to worry about mobile broadband deals because there is never a shortage. Each network has at least one package if not several to help fit the needs of UK residents.

There is a comparison table to help you determine the network you like the best with regard to certain specifics like price, setup and speed. Check out the text explanation here for further details


The setup is the upfront fee you will be charged. With contracts you can usually find free setup, but you may need to examine the packages in detail since some require you to purchase the dongle. The purchased dongle is more advanced in many cases than the pay as you go. Pay as you go deals vary in set up fees based on the dongle you wish to have and the data allowance you want.

Monthly price

Again if you have a contract deal you will have a set monthly fee, based on data usage limits. The monthly fee can go up if you go over your usage limits.


Typically you can get a contract for 12, 18, or 24 months which ties you to a specific service provider. If you go with the longer agreements and wish to stop service there is usually a huge cancellation fee versus the rolling monthly contracts or shorter contracts. Still the longer contracts provide you with better value for your money.


Speed is the maximum allowable speed on the network, which varies and it is always “up to” a certain speed, which means you may have a slower speed than you originally thought. It comes down to:

  • Network congestion, which is how many people are using the same network in your area.
  • The cell mast and your distance from it.
  • If your home, building, or area is blocked by buildings or has thick walls.
  • Network infrastructure- in which you may have some networks like Three that have worked on improving their speeds versus others.

Data limits

Data limits are set by the contract you purchase. You do not want to go over as there will be additional charges or possible restrictions. Pay as you go simply requires you add more data usage to your device. You should examine the top-up costs table to determine the fees.

Be Aware of Mobile Broadband Issues

Tech Spartan has reported some issues regarding mobile broadband use, which often hail from misunderstandings on how mobile Internet networks work. Mobile broadband is quite useful, but you should not expect it to be like a fixed line service.

You always need to be aware of background issues. You might have something running on your computer that is slowing down your speeds. It is also important to note that anti-virus updates and system patches can affect your speed. These silent data transfers are known to use your limited data allotment making it hard to use your mobile Internet, thus you should have your system update at home on a hard line connection.

You do not want to disable your security tools, but you can certainly stop auto updating or make sure updates occur when you are on a fixed connection. You can also terminate background programmes that you are not using.

Uploading Also Counts

Data limits are not specific to downloads, meaning if you upload a photo, send an Email, or put a file on Dropbox you are transmitting data and using your data allotment.

Overseas and Mobile Broadband

It is possible to use your mobile dongle overseas, just like you can use your mobile phone. You need to be aware of any costs that might affect your usage. Also EU has set regulations to cap any charges you might experience. You can see about your provider and their European packages which can be used overseas. Be aware that even with capped prices your bill can increase quickly if you are outside of Europe. You might spend as much as £6 to £10 per 1mb.

Always ask your network provider about roaming costs before you travel abroad. It can be easier and cheaper to use Wi-Fi locally such as at hotels and bars where it is free versus using your dongle. Check out our guide on mobile broadband overseas for further details.

Data Usage with Mobile Broadband

Data usage is about the trickiest thing you will come across in your mobile broadband, in terms of managing it. You want to be able to do everything you need to on the Internet without exceeding your limit or using your PAYG too quickly. You could shell out way too much on data usage in either plan, unless you understand how data is used. You do need to be vigilant when using your mobile broadband with regard to the megabytes your actions use.

The information below shows you how much you might use for IM, Skype, streaming music, video, or just browsing the web. Take note that some like streaming video uses much more than simply browsing websites.

  • 1 hour of instant messaging   0.25-1MB
  • Streaming 1 hour of video (standard definition)   100-250MB
  • 1 hour of web browsing   1.5-25MB
  • Streaming 1 hour of video (high definition)   1-2GB
  • Download 1 photo   0.05-2MB
  • Download 100 emails   1-10MB
  • Streaming 1 hour of audio   60-200MB
  • Download 1 film trailer (720p)   50-100MB
  • 1 hour Skype call   180MB
  • 1 software download   5-800MB
  • 1 hour Skype video call   219MB
  • Download 1 film   700MB-1.5GB
  • Download 1 MP3   3-8MB

With the above table you should be able to roughly calculate the gigabytes of data you need to purchase. Always remember that you use more with HD Video, YouTube, streaming than with an email or web browsing.

To help you learn all this information there is an infographic below. It is a comprehensive guide to your mobile broadband and usage issues that need to be considered as you look at plans.

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