Buying Mobile Broadband

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What is Mobile Broadband?
Mobile broadband is a means by which you can get a fast (>1Mbps) connection to the internet that is not necessarily tethered to one geographic location. Typically mobile broadband services are offered via telecoms providers (mobile phone companies) and you use a supplied SIM card in a USB dongle. Mobile broadband can also be referred to as a 3G data connection because 3G is the network type used to deliver the faster speeds.

Who would use mobile broadband?
Generally, more and more people are finding mobile broadband useful for the simple reason that they enjoy the convenience of accessing the internet anywhere. It could be the case that you rent property and are unable to install a fixed landline for ADSL broadband or you don't know when you are moving out and cannot therefore commit to a, for example, 12 month contract. Mobile technicians may find accessing the internet out onsite particular useful in order to investigate hardware problems on the internet.

Mobile broadband is used to transmit data and usage is measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) like a mobile phone would measure usage in terms of minutes. Terms of usage are determined by your contract. A modem is the physical hardware used to get broadband access and this can come in the form of a USB dongle, PCMCIA data card or even be built directly into a notebook or netbook computer.

Contract Types
Similar to purchasing a mobile phone, many types of contracts are available. The simplest is pay-as-you-go (PAYG) where you basically buy a modem and a SIM card and pay in advance for your usage. When you have used all your pre-paid data allowance, you simply 're-top-up'.
A traditional contract often involves a fixed monthly subscription charge and a data usage provided. For example you may pay £20 per month for 5GB usage. Any data used after the included amount will generally be billed at a different rate per MB used.
Some operators are offering 1-month rolling contracts now, which are, in effect, pay-as-you-go but often at a cheaper rate per MB.

Buying Considerations
When weighing up which provider to use, make the following considerations...
  • For what purpose would you use mobile broadband (e.g. the odd email or downloading movies)? This should indicate how many megabytes or gigabytes you expect to use per month.
  • What UK coverage (signal strength) do potential providers offer. Many major providers offer coverage checkers so you can type in post codes to see if you will get a good enough signal in that particular area.
  • Do you want to commit to a contract (e.g. 12/18/24 months) or do you need the flexibility of pay-as-you-go or the 'hybrid' 1 month contracts.
  • Is there a charge for the data modem or is it included free?
  • Are there any bundles offered such as a laptop? If so, how much are you paying in the long-term compared with buying the laptop and data plan separately?
  • What does the cost per MB work out as and how does this compare with other providers? Bear in mind that the cost per MB outside of (i.e. in addition to) any contracted data usage can be expensive.
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