Best mobile broadband for the home

Last updated: 14 January 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Mobile broadband for the home has often been touted as a replacement for fixed line home broadband.

Three of the UK's four major networks offer 4G and 5G mobile broadband router deals, although there are huge differences in price and inclusive data.

Of all the networks, it's Three who offer the cheapest unlimited deals for both 4G home routers and 5G deals too.

If we're considering performance above price, EE's 4G speeds are better than their rivals', plus 4G coverage is more widespread to give customers the option of using a mobile broadband router in the first place.

mobile broadband home router

In this guide:


What are the best deals for mobile broadband routers?

EE, Vodafone and Three all offer 4G and 5G mobile broadband router deals. O2 are the outlier, although they do offer 4G and 5G pocket hotspots.

If we're looking for true replacements for fixed line broadband, here are the cheapest mobile broadband router deals:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
4G Hub Unlimited data on 4G £22 Free 24 months
GigaCube 100GB on 4G £30 Free 24 months
4GEE Home Router 2 100GB on 4G £35 £50 18 months

Although Three offer unlimited data with their 4G home broadband router as standard, the cheapest options from Vodafone and EE are both capped at 100GB per month.

For many customers, this won't be enough, so let's take a look at the most comprehensive 4G home broadband deals from EE and Vodafone:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
GigaCube 300GB on 4G £50 Free 24 months
4GEE Home Router 2 Unlimited on 4G £55 £50 18 months

Unfortunately, Vodafone don't offer any unlimited data options with their 4G GigaCube, and a 300GB cap may still be too little for customers who plan to stream a lot.

All three providers do offer 5G home broadband router options too, and Vodafone's 5G GigaCube does offer a comprehensive replacement for fixed line broadband with unlimited data.

Here are the largest data options for 5G home routers from Three, EE and Vodafone:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
5G Hub Unlimited data on 5G £27 Free 24 months
GigaCube Unlimited on 5G £40 £50 24 months
5GEE WiFi 200GB on 5G £100 Free 24 months

EE are the only one of the three to cap their home router data plans on 5G, perhaps because they're keen for customers to take EE's fixed line home broadband instead.

There are huge differences in pricing on both 4G and 5G mobile broadband router deals, yet there are other differences to be aware of too. We look at that in more detail below.

For more information on the above mentioned providers see the below reviews:

Rolling contracts for home routers

All three networks offer 4G home routers on rolling monthly contracts, although the upfront costs are high.

Here are their rolling deals with the highest data allowances:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
4G Hub Unlimited data on 4G £30 £49 1 month
GigaCube 300GB on 4G £50 £100 1 month
4GEE Home Router 2 500GB on 4G £50 £150 1 month

Again, Three provide an unlimited option while Vodafone and EE don't. The upfront costs for Three are far lower too.

EE and Vodafone also offer 5G plans on rolling contracts:

Device Data Monthly price Initial price Contract term
GigaCube Unlimited data on 5G £60 £325 1 month
5GEE WiFi 100GB on 5G £75 £275 1 month

The upfront costs associated with these rolling contracts, plus EE's 100GB cap, may make them financially prohibitive for many households.


Choosing the right mobile broadband router

While price and the amount of data on offer plays a big part in choosing the best 4G or 5G home broadband router, there are other major considerations.

Let's look at three important elements: network coverage, mobile broadband speeds, and customer service records.

Which mobile broadband router has the best coverage?

4G coverage across the UK is generally very good, meaning most customers will be able to benefit from a 4G home smart router as a replacement for fixed line broadband.

However, Ofcom's Connected Nations report published in December 2020 showed variations across the four nations of the UK:

Nation 4G coverage inside premises 4G total not spots
England 90% to 95% 3%
Northern Ireland 76% to 92% 3%
Scotland 89% to 95% 19%
Wales 85% to 93% 10%
UK 90% to 95% 9%

The data range for coverage indoors takes all four mobile networks into account, so customers may be able to receive 4G signal from one operator only.

This graphic shows more clearly how the coverage of the networks varies across the nations:

mobile operator 4g coverage by nation

From this, we can surmise fewer customers in Scotland would be able to use a 4G home router effectively, especially those with Three.

Coverage is also patchy in Wales, while England is the only nation where all three networks pass the 90% coverage mark.

All four networks have committed to the Shared Rural Network (SRN) plan to deliver 95% mobile coverage by the end of 2025, but this will still leave some truly hard-to-reach spots behind or limit network options.

Customers considering 5G home broadband are even more constrained by coverage issues, limiting it so far to customers in urban areas in major cities and a growing number of towns.

There's more detail on 5G coverage from the different mobile networks in our guides to the best network for 5G broadband and the best network for coverage.

The key point when comparing 4G and 5G home router options is to search for a precise postcode and check whether the operator lists the coverage as good indoors.

Which is the fastest network for mobile broadband?

Using a 4G home broadband router instead of fixed line broadband will limit the speeds customers can expect to receive.

Research from Opensignal published in October 2020 shows EE delivering average download speeds of 35Mbps, far above Vodafone and Three:

Network Average 4G speed
EE 35.0 Mbps
Vodafone 20.4 Mbps
Three 19.0 Mbps

RootMetrics also undertook research looking at aggregate median download speeds across networks. EE were again in the lead by a substantial amount:

Network Aggregate median download speed
EE 42.6 Mbps
Vodafone 19.0 Mbps
Three 14.1 Mbps

While the exact speeds vary between tests, the ranking of EE as the fastest followed by Vodafone and then Three is a common theme.

5G speeds are much faster than 4G, making them a viable alternative for households used to superfast speeds and more. That said, 5G speeds are yet to reach their full potential, and research on how well the networks are doing is patchy too.

Another piece of research from RootMetrics in September 2020, this time on 5G services, found Three was the fastest network across the cities they tested:

Network Fastest median download speed Location
Three 193.7 Mbps Leicester
Vodafone 181.8 Mbps London
EE 145.9 Mbps Newcastle

Three also recorded the single fastest test in Liverpool, hitting 478.1 Mbps, demonstrating the potential of 5G to rival many fixed line home broadband contracts in the future.

Additional data from speed testing company Ookla also shows Three leading the pack in their most recent figures for Q3 2020:

Network Median download speed
Three 201.12 Mbps
Vodafone 152.17 Mbps
EE 134.76 Mbps

So far, then, Three is leading on 5G speeds while EE remain the fastest at a 4G level.

Which network is best for customer service?

As major networks, all three mobile providers are analysed in Ofcom's annual customer service reports.

The latest full year report we have is from 2019 and the full results can be found in our guide to the best mobile network for customer service.

Here are some of the highlights for EE, Three, and Vodafone:

Measure EE Three Vodafone Industry average
Satisfaction with overall service 93% 89% 90% 93%
Satisfaction with reception or signal strength 84% 75% 89% 85%
Satisfaction with value for money 84% 87% 83% 87%
Customers with a reason to complain 2% 6% 3% 3%
Overall satisfaction with complaints handling 59% 60% 52% 58%
Average call waiting times 57 seconds 2 minutes 37 seconds 1 minute 12 seconds 1 minute 18 seconds
Percentage of calls ended before being answered 4.5% 24.9% 4.9% 6.5%

As we can see, although there are variants, EE tend to be the best performing network for customer service while Three are generally last.

If we look at complaints data, EE are one of the best performers. In 2019, they registered 7 complaints per 100,000 customers compared to Three's 15 and Vodafone's 26.

The most recent quarterly complaints data we have is for Q2 2020. This is how the three networks compare against an industry average of 3 complaints per 100,000 customers:

Network Complaints (per 100,000 customers)
EE 1
Vodafone 4
Three 6

Again, we can see Three performing poorly in comparison to EE, with their 6 complaints per 100,000 customers ranking them as the worst pay monthly mobile provider in that quarter.


Networks: a closer look

Finally, it's worth just looking at the three networks we've looked at closely in this guide and their priorities for home broadband routers and 5G in general.

EE

EE's focus seems to be on pay monthly mobile and fixed line broadband, with home routers something of a sideshow.

That said, they are intent on rolling out 5G services to as many locations as possible, with another 12 areas switched on in October 2020.

Their 4G speeds are unparalleled and their customer service record is good, plus they frequently win plaudits for availability and performance too.

Read more about EE mobile broadband.

Three

Three have traditionally been known as the network of unlimited data, and their 4G home router packages bear that out. In addition, though, they are really taking the lead on 5G with faster speeds, increasing coverage and low prices compared to their rivals.

As Three lack a fixed line broadband arm, they supplement their mobile broadband router deals with Apple TV 4K. This is also available alongside their 5G home router too.

Three are certainly one to watch when it comes to 5G mobile broadband, although it will take more sustained coverage around cities and towns to fully realise 5G's potential as a home broadband replacement.

Learn more about Three mobile broadband.

Vodafone

Vodafone are so far the slow coach when it comes to their 5G roll out, and that impacts how many customers can take advantage of their 5G home broadband router.

Like EE, Vodafone also provide fixed line broadband, so that may explain why their 4G home smart router is capped at 300GB. Although there is an unlimited data option with their 5G GigaCube, it is expensive compared to fixed line broadband.

Find more information on Vodafone's mobile broadband performance in this guide.


Conclusion: almost a home broadband replacement

4G and 5G mobile broadband routers can offer a good alternative to fixed line broadband, especially for those in fixed line broadband not-spots or short-term accommodation.

Both Three and EE offer 4G home broadband with unlimited data on fixed contracts, although EE's pricing and upfront costs are more than Three's.

On the flip side, EE's speed performance is consistently better than Three's. It acts more like a superfast connection, while Three may offer just half the speeds in some areas.

5G home routers have the potential to be a game-changer for home broadband, but we aren't quite there yet for several reasons:

  1. Coverage is still patchy for all networks
  2. Some networks are still capping data
  3. Pricing is still high in some cases

The exception to these last two points is Three, and their performance on 5G so far is impressive.

As more areas are covered with 5G, we can expect to see networks pay more attention to the potential of 5G mobile broadband for the home. Hopefully, more affordable competition will follow.

Read more on what is 5G mobile broadband and how does it compare to other forms of technology?

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