How to find the best mobile broadband deal

Mobile broadband has improved dramatically in recent years, with higher data allowances and improved equipment allowing for a better mobile broadband experience. Major mobile networks now offer a variety of mobile broadband packages to help everyone from the data hungry all the way down to the light users.

On this page, you'll find mobile broadband deals to suit your needs, whether you're looking for an extra few GB to take on the road or a full replacement for your home broadband. All brought to you without vested interests or any sales tactics.

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Search by lowest price mobile broadband deals, data allowance or special offers to find the right mobile broadband for you and your needs. You can also filter search results to compare offers from individual networks or only show deals with a certain data allowance.

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What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband is broadband delivered through mobile networks rather than being delivered through fixed cables at home. So, a mobile broadband device connects to the mobile network and provides internet access in that way.

There are two distinct types of mobile broadband equipment on the market: dongles and personal wi-fi devices, also known as mi-fi devices or portable hotspots.

Mobile broadband dongles have been around for a while, and they're still used by some operators to provide mobile internet access. Dongles are the size of a large USB stick and they plug into the USB port of a computer or laptop to enable it to connect to the internet.

Personal wi-fi devices are different in that they don't need to be physically connected to a computer or any other device to provide internet access for that device. Instead, the device acts as a hotspot for several devices at once and is more portable than a dongle.

Whether you choose a dongle or a portable hotspot, the basics of what you're getting are the same: a device to help you connect to the internet using mobile 4G or 5G data.

Why choose mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband offers portable internet access which can be used across a range of devices. For a user with a laptop, tablet and mobile device, they can connect them all to one hotspot and use the data allowance on the portable wi-fi to serve several devices at once. They're also useful for car journeys and working outside of the office.

People who only use the internet to check email and other light tasks may use mobile broadband instead of a fixed line internet connection or others may choose mobile broadband solely for using outside of the house. Others may use a hotspot to supplement a low data allowance on their pay monthly mobile.

Customers who may benefit from mobile broadband:

  • People who can't get fixed line broadband at home
  • People who don't use the internet very much but want a connection
  • Commuters who spend lots time on public transport
  • Anyone in short-term accommodation who doesn't want to - or can't - sign up to a fixed broadband connection such as students or short-term renters
  • Those who have meetings or spend a lot of time working in public places

Mobile broadband is an alternative internet access for many groups, although it's important to understand the limitations as well as the benefits.

Is mobile broadband a replacement for home broadband?

In some circumstances, mobile broadband can be a viable replacement for fixed line broadband at home. If a property can't be connected to traditional copper or fibre broadband, the mobile network connectivity of a dongle or mi-fi is a good alternative.

However, there are some things to bear in mind:

  • Mobile broadband can be expensive compared to fixed lines
  • There are often data caps on usage
  • Networks may not be as robust and reliable
  • You're limited by network coverage
  • Speeds can vary wildly

So, while mobile broadband is not, in many cases, a full replacement for fixed line broadband, it can be valuable to those unable or unwilling to install a broadband connection at home for a fixed contract.

Is mobile broadband on a contract?

Mobile broadband can be accessed via contract or you can choose a pay-as-you-go dongle for greater flexibility. We cover pay-as-you-go options here.

While some people may choose mobile broadband because they're not looking for a fixed line contract, it's worth remembering there are some major differences in the way mobile broadband works which may make a contract worth it.

For example, the very nature of mobile broadband devices mean that they move with you. So, signing up to a fixed term contract for a dongle or mi-fi device isn't as limiting as home broadband, and it can be taken with you if you move home or travel a lot.

Reasons to choose contract mobile broadband instead of pay-as-you-go:

  • No (or lower) upfront fees when you first purchase the device
  • A regular data refresh similar to pay monthly mobile data deals
  • Often more generous inclusive data allowance
  • You're regularly using plenty of data

However, anyone who doesn't plan on using their dongle or personal hotspot regularly or is looking simply for a backup when their pay monthly mobile runs out of data may be better suited to pay-as-you-go.

Are there upfront costs for mobile broadband?

It depends which provider, contract and data allowance you choose. The general rule is that the more data you're paying for monthly (i.e. the more expensive your contract), the lower the upfront costs will be as the network is gaining more from your custom in the long-term.

So, cheaper contracts with only a few GB of data may come with upfront costs, but these will generally be lower than the comparable pay-as-you-go options.

Similarly, if you choose a shorter contract length, there may be higher initial costs. It's no surprise that mobile broadband providers want to tie you into a longer contract, but only choose that option if you believe it works for you in the long-term rather than to save a few pounds now - a monthly bill for two years can be an unwanted expense if you're not using the data allowance.

Which networks offer mobile broadband?

The four major mobile networks all offer mobile broadband deals, along with several of the smaller operators. This means there's plenty of choice on the market, allowing you to find a personal hotspot deal that suits you and has optimal mobile coverage for your needs.

Choosing mobile broadband from a network where you already have, for example, a pay monthly mobile comes with positives and negatives. If part of the reason you want a mobile broadband device is because your pay monthly mobile coverage is patchy in the places you need it most, it makes sense to choose a different provider. On the other hand, if you're happy with your pay monthly provider, there may be discounts for sticking with them.

When trying to compare mobile broadband, remember that its effectiveness is based mainly on the quality of the coverage. This can vary wildly from place to place, even when a network's website says they have good coverage in a location. It's not unknown for buildings to be considered not-spots by users of one network when the coverage checker says it has a good signal. So, it might be worth checking with friends or colleagues in a location to see if there are any known issues.

How to compare mobile broadband providers

Comparing mobile broadband providers can be broken down into a few different elements: coverage, data allowance and contract terms.

The most important element of this is network coverage, since you don't want to be paying for a service you can't access because the signal is poor. When you're beginning to compare mobile broadband providers, look first at the coverage checker offered by each network for the places where you expect to use the personal hotspot: home, work, commuting, favourite cafes or friends' houses, for example.

Secondly, thinking seriously about how much data you might need is important. It can be tempting to choose a higher (or even unlimited) mobile broadband contract, but this could be an unnecessary expense. Consider how much data you really need and add a buffer to that figure - we're all becoming more data-hungry as the years go by, so what might be enough data now might not be by the end of your contract.

Finally, cost may be an important consideration for you. Compare mobile broadband options from all major providers to get an idea of how much you should expect to pay for the contract length and data allowance you're looking for.

Can I get unlimited mobile broadband?

Yes, unlimited mobile broadband is available - but it's often priced at a premium. In practice, this means a longer contract length of 24 months and a higher monthly cost. It's worth working out whether this is economical for you.

If your personal hotspot is designed to replace a fixed home broadband connection, unlimited data may be important. On the other hand, if you're using the hotspot as a supplement when you're out and about, it might prove to be more expensive than necessary.

Remember, too, that unlimited broadband is only as good as the strength of the connection, so be sure to check coverage maps to work out whether you'll be able to take full advantage of unlimited data on your personal hotspot.

How much data do I need?

Every mobile broadband user is different, and it generally depends on why you've chosen mobile broadband in the first place.

For customers opting for mobile broadband instead of home broadband, unlimited data or a high data allowance may be important. This is because the charges for extra data on top of your contract can be costly and, if you rely on your mobile broadband device for home broadband, you may feel compelled to pay these extra costs to maintain uninterrupted internet access.

People who only intend to use their mobile broadband to check email, look at web pages and occasionally access social media are considered to be light data users. If you access the internet for around an hour a day, you may not need much more than 1GB of data.

Medium data users will usually download emails using a dedicated client like the Gmail app and will spend more time browsing the internet including a small amount of online streaming and gaming. These users will need at least 3GB of data per month and possibly more.

Heavy data users will be very active on the internet, watching videos and streaming music and may use upwards of 5GB per month. This is increased if you're using your mi-fi for several devices or as a hotspot for multiple people such as roommates and friends.

Remember, think carefully about how much data you need when you compare mobile broadband deals as choosing either too little or too much could prove uneconomical.

What mobile broadband extras should I look out for?

As you compare mobile broadband using our free comparison tool you may find some extras listed. The most common of these is free Wi-Fi access in certain locations.

Some networks provide free Wi-Fi to all customers in various public hotspots, whether that's a shopping centre or a transport hub. If this is important to you or you spend a lot of time in public places, it's worth seeing whether free Wi-Fi access is available there and that may influence your choice of network.

There are also network specific deals which may include zero-rated websites or services usually offered by the mobile broadband provider to their pay monthly mobile customers. It's worth noting, though, that deals for mobile broadband customers may not be the same, so check an offer is included before choosing a network provider based on that consideration.