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Mobile Broadband

Get a cheap mobile broadband deal for data on the move

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Nick and Weleid | Edited by Steve N

Updated 13 Aug 2018

mobile broadband Wi-Fi subscriptionIf you want internet on the go and Wi-Fi browsing on your phone just doesn't cut it for you, a dedicated mobile broadband subscription for your laptop or tablet may be the solution. This guide explains what to consider if you're thinking of making that move - and where to find the best deals.

Do you really need mobile broadband?

mobile broadband Wi-Fi subscriptionThere are three ways to get internet access when you're out and about: via mobile broadband, Wi-Fi hotspots – which you can often find for free – or tethering through your mobile.

Mobile broadband

This uses your network provider's 3G or 4G mobile signal to get you online. It requires a Sim card which commonly plugs directly into a tablet, or alternatively either a wireless hotspot device or a USB dongle – see more info below.

Much like a phone plan, you'll usually pay a monthly fee for a set allowance of data. Pay-as-you-go deals are also available, but they tend to be pricey.

Wi-fi hotspots

You'll find Wi-Fi hotspots for accessing the internet dotted around most towns and cities, at cafes and restaurants, bars, shopping centres and even some supermarkets. These tend to be public hotspots that anyone can join (under certain conditions) and are often free. See the Free Wi-fi guide for the full lowdown.

mobile broadband Wi-Fi hot-spots

These hotspots might be free but they have their drawbacks:

  • You can't find them everywhere. Some places inevitably won't have a hotspot. Many trains don't, for example (or if they do, it's likely to be in first class or can be very expensive). Also, if you're moving from place to place, you'll have to keep connecting to a new hotspot, which can be time consuming and disruptive.

  • Most require you to register. While access may be free, you'll still have to sign up to access most hotspots.

  • There are restrictions. Often hotspots will have restrictions on how long you can use them and what you can use them for. Certain websites may be blocked, for example, and downloading via one may prove difficult.

Tethering

There's also a third way to get online from your tablet or laptop – by sharing your phone's data to your laptop or tablet, a process known as 'tethering'. Consider this before stumping up extra for mobile broadband.

Even if you do have mobile broadband or plan to tether, try to use free hotspots where they're available to save your allowance for when you really need it.

House connect to the internet

    10 mobile broadband need-to-knows

    Here's what to consider when you're looking at taking out a mobile broadband subscription.

  • You'll need the right hardware

  • Your device may need to be unlocked to work

  • Check coverage before signing up

  • Watch out for download limits

  • If you don't commit to a contract, you'll usually pay more upfront

  • Using it abroad can cost BIG

  • Existing customers may be able to haggle

  • Consider tethering through your smartphone

  • Minimise data usage

  • Mobile broadband is no replacement for home broadband - try our Broadband Unbundled tool

Best buysData Sims

Data Sims are ideal if you've already got a device with a Sim card slot (such as 3G/4G-capable tablets). They're the mobile broadband equivalent of a smartphone Sim-only plan – no upfront cost, just pop it in and go.

Contracts tend to give more bang for your buck than pay-as-you-go deals. It's worth knowing that you'll be credit-checked, though, as with any rolling contract.

If you take out a contract, you'll have to keep it for the minimum term, too. Currently, it's better value to go for a 12-month plan but you won't have the flexibility of cancelling with 30-days' notice as you do with a 30-day contract.

These deals are not updated frequently, so MobilePhoneChecker*HandsetExpert and Ctrlio are also useful for when you're ready to locate the best deal.

Three Mobile Broadband

10GB allowance for £14/mth*

Three – good option for higher users

This 10GB/mth plan from Three* is one of the cheapest for the allowance we've spotted on the market at the time of writing. It's £14/mth, and on a 12-month contract.

If that sounds like more than you'll need, Three offers a variety of other 12 and 1 or 24 month contracts*, including 1GB for £7.50 on a 12-month contract.

Key info
  • Monthly cost: £14
  • Data allowance: 10GB, enough to download over 2,600 songs and browse for 1,100 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: 1p/MB
  • Contract length: 12 months
  • Sim compatibility: Works in smartphones, tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.
02 refresh

6GB allowance for £16/mth*

O2 – one-month rolling contract

This 6GB/mth plan from O2* is a decent option if you want the freedom of a short-term contract. It's £16/mth, and on a one-month rolling contract – just give 30 days' notice if you want to opt out.

If you think you'll need more than that, O2 offers a variety of other 30-day rolling contracts including 30GB/mth for £26/month*.

Key info
  • Monthly cost: £15
  • Data allowance: 6GB, enough to download over 1,300 songs and browse for 550 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: N/A
  • Contract length: One-month rolling
  • Sim compatibility: Works in smartphones, tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.

There aren't as many pay-as-you-go options out there, and they tend to be pricier. However, you won't be credit-checked, and you won't have to give any notice if you don't want to continue service.

Plus, once you run out of data, you won't be charged any more if you've no credit left, making it ideal for those who want to keep to a budget.

Barclaycard Platinum 34 months

500MB allowance for £5/mth*

Giffgaff – if you don't want to be credit-checked

If you're surfing on a laptop or tablet, 500MB won't go far, but this Giffgaff Gigabag* is the cheapest pay-as-you-go data Sim we found when we checked.

There is a 2GB/mth Gigabag available for £7.50/mth. All of Giffgaff's bundles are 4G, including its Gigabags.

Key info
  • Monthly cost: £5
  • Data allowance: 500MB, enough to download 60 songs and browse for 15 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: 5p/MB
  • Contract length: Pay-as-you-go – bundles last 30 days.
  • Sim compatibility: Works in smartphones, tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.

Best buysMobile Wi-Fi device plans

Mobile Wi-Fi devices are useful for connecting several devices to the internet at once. They take a data Sim and create a wireless hotspot out of it, sharing the allowance on the Sim's plan with anything connected to it.

Contracts that bundle devices with a Sim tend to be longer-term – 12 months or 24 months, usually. There are rolling contracts out there, but you expect to pay more for the device upfront then, and more overall.

Three Mobile Broadband

10GB allowance for £15/mth and no upfront cost*

Three – cheap plan on a 24-month contract

This 10GB/mth plan from Three* comes with a decent allowance and no upfront cost.

It costs £15/mth and comes bundled with the Huawei E5573 4G Mobile Wi-fi unit. It's 4G-capable so will emit Wi-Fi at top speeds – perfect for fast surfing – and will allow you to connect up to ten devices at any one time.

Key info
  • Monthly cost: £15
  • Upfront cost: None
  • Bundled device: Huawei E5573 4G Mobile Wi-fi unit (locked to Three)
  • Data allowance: 10GB, enough to download over 2,600 songs and browse for 1,100 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: 1p/MB
  • Contract length: 24 months
  • Sim compatibility: Works only in tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.
Three Mobile Broadband

15GB for £23/mth and no upfront cost*

EE - short-term contract

This 4GEE WiFi mini unit from EE* comes with 15GB/mth with no upfront fees.

It costs £23/mth on a 1-month rolling contract.

Key info
  • Monthly cost: £21
  • Upfront cost: £40
  • Bundled device: EE WiFi Mini (locked to EE)
  • Data allowance: 15GB, enough to download 3,900 songs and browse for 1,650 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: 1p/MB
  • Contract length: One-month
  • Sim compatibility: Works in smartphones, tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.

Best buysUSB dongle plans

USB dongles are designed to be plugged directly into your laptop. The plans below come bundled with a USB dongle and a Sim, but once they run their course, you can always get your own Sim to put into the dongle (so long as it's unlocked).

Three Mobile Broadband

3GB allowance for £9/mth and no upfront cost*

O2 – cheap plan on a 24-month contract

It's £9/mth* on a 24-month contract with no upfront cost, and gives you 3GB a month.

It comes with an O2-branded device – the Huawei 4G Dongle. The plan is £8/mth for the data and £1/mth for the hardware.

  • Monthly cost: £9
  • Upfront cost: None
  • Bundled device: Huawei (locked to O2)
  • Data allowance: 3GB, enough to download 345 songs and browse the internet for 60 hours.
  • Additional usage costs: N/A
  • Contract length: 24 months
  • Sim compatibility: Works only in tablets, hotspot devices and dongles.

How to complain about your mobile provider

The mobile industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include limited network coverage, slow data speeds, unexpected charges and more. It’s always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool if you’re having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It’s totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services (or CISAS if you're complaining about EE or Virgin Mobile).

Important: if your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then instead just let us know by emailing voucherhelp@moneysavingexpert.com as that’s usually quicker.

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