What is Mobile Broadband?

Post by sharat | March 25, 2010 | Broadband, Guides, Mobile Broadband, Mobile Broadband Guides | Comment

Mobile internet access is the latest development in broadband, and obviously because of the sheer convenience of being connected wherever you may be, is an increasingly popular option.

Mobile broadband allows users to access the internet using mobile phone networks using 3G technology and the latest development 4G also known as Wi-Max, which is wireless internet service provision (without mobile phone coverage and much faster than 3G.)

In the purest sense of the word mobile broadband forgoes the need for a fixed line connection to the internet, and there are a few competing technologies, but for the purposes of this guide, we confine it to internet access provided by mobile phone networks.

How Does it Work?

As we explained earlier, mobile broadband uses mobile phone networks to provide internet access, contrasting with fixed line broadband which either uses copper telephone wires, or fibre optic cables.

Mobile broadband is a wireless solution, and should not be confused with Wi-Fi, which only allows wireless connectivity to the internet when the user is in range of their router. Mobile broadband allows users to access the internet wherever there is a mobile phone signal.

3G technology in theory provides internet speeds as high as 7.2 Mbps. However that speed is a theoretical and is rarely if ever achievable in practice, when there are many users connected to the network.

3G is responsible for the explosion in smartphones that almost everyone seems to own now, and is the technology that drives internet access for the Apple iPhone.

Mobile phone companies who offer internet access provide their customers with a USB stick also known as a dongle, which is plugged into the laptop or computer. The dongle picks up the signal from the mobile phone companies and also installs the software required, allowing virtually instant access to the internet as soon as it is plugged in.

Who Uses Mobile Broadband?

The most obvious answer to that is mobile broadband is suitable for anyone who wishes to stay connected to the internet no matter where they are, rather than be limited by a fixed line. Alternatively it is ideal for people who live in areas not served by a fixed line internet service provider.

This has meant that the two biggest user groups that have emerged are business users and students, groups which place high value on mobile internet access. Another group of people for which it is extremely suitable are those who live in short term rental accommodation, since it does with the requirement for having a fixed line telephone.

Mobile broadband is increasingly be used as a backup internet connection, in the event that the regular fixed line internet connection fails.


There are only six mobile broadband providers currently operating in the UK:

  • O2
  • Orange
  • T-Mobile
  • 3
  • Virgin
  • Vodafone


The coverage provided by mobile broadband in the UK is outstanding, with 99 per cent of the country covered by a network. It should be noted that connection speeds tend to depend on the quality of reception, and in general the better reception and speeds are available in cities and towns.

Connection Devices

The most common connection device is the dongle, which is a small USB device that plugs into the USB socket of the computer. They are extremely small, and very portable, and some have even begun to use them as a fashion accessory. The other alternative is a USB modem, which is similar to a dongle and works in much the same way.  The other less-common alternative is a mobile data card, which can only be used with laptops with ‘plug and go’ software.

Data Allowances

Mobile internet service providers usually provide data transfer limits, that is to say there is only a certain amount of data that can be downloaded as part of the monthly subscription bill. Every time you browse the internet, send emails, stream a You Tube video, you are using part of your monthly allowance. If you exceed the allowance it won’t mean that you are cut off from the internet, but the mobile phone company levies data charges which are quite steep per unit of data (most commonly measure in megabytes).

The data transfer limits are in place to prevent people taking advantage of the networks and overcrowding them, which would affect performance levels.

The data transfer limits usually range from between 1GB to 15GB, with 1GB allowing about 30 hours of surfing, and 15GB allowing 150 hours of surfing.

Some plans offer unlimited data transfer, but those plans are usually accompanied by fair usage policy, which means if you hog the bandwidth, downloading tons of movies for example, the mobile phone provide will begin to choke the speed you can obtain from the service, dramatically slowing it down.

Some plans are Pay As You Go, and as is the case with mobile phone services, once you have used the data transfer that you have paid for, you will no longer be able to access the internet.

In each case, you will be able to check how much of your allowance you have used up online, and some companies even send you text messages when you reach certain milestones.

Using Mobile Broadband Abroad

Generally if your mobile phone company offers roaming, then in theory you should be able to access the internet abroad. However roaming is expensive, even for just mobile phones, and can cost anywhere between £3.00 per MB in the EU going up to £8 per MB outside the EU. That means if you go just 1 GB over your limit, you will find yourself with a bill of £8,000. So do be careful.

Please Note - All Prices Quoted Are Correct at Time of Posting


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