Mobile Broadband Plans
If you're on the go or can't get a good fixed-line internet connection, a mobile broadband plan could be your best option.
How does mobile broadband work?
Mobile broadband connections use the same wireless networks that 3G and 4G mobile telephone networks use, but without the call/text technology, to deliver broadband services over the air using a dedicated data SIM card.
This has the distinct advantage against what is generally called “fixed line” services in that they’re truly mobile – as long as you have a compatible device, whether that’s a USB modem, Wi-Fi hotspot device or a smartphone hotspot, you should generally be able to insert a data SIM and connect to a mobile broadband network for data access on the go.
How fast is mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband speed is highly relative because it’s a shared spectrum, meaning it’s dependent upon multiple factors: how much broadband other users in the same mobile radius are taking up, what your device’s technology capabilities are and the network itself.
As an example, Vodafone’s 4G network is capable of typical download speeds up to 100Mbps and in some 4G areas 300Mbps.
Where is mobile broadband available?
Mobile broadband services map almost exactly to the coverage maps that mobile providers offer for their voice services, which is intentional. As we’ve seen voice is much more of a commodity product, with many telcos offering unlimited national call packages, but the race is on to provide better data services.
The catch here is that while mobile broadband is mobile, it’s subject to significantly more variance than any fixed-line product, whether it’s a matter of transitory congestion due to user overload or more permanent issues such as buildings or natural features inhibiting radio transmissions.
So while carrier maps give a good broad general overview of mobile broadband availability, actual accessibility can vary widely.
Mobile broadband coverage maps
How can I compare mobile broadband plans?
Mobile broadband networks speed is always referenced with the qualifier of “up to” and depends upon network, infrastructure and equipment modifiers. Typically speaking you should get better data throughput via a 4G or 5G connection, rather than via a 3G connection. The flipside there is that many providers on 3G-only connections may find that the relatively low speed is offset by the cost.
Mobile data is seriously more expensive than comparable fixed-line services. There’s no such thing as an “unlimited” mobile broadband plan at this stage in New Zealand and it’s unlikely that we’ll see such plans emerge in the near future.
Data cost is a key comparative criterion. So while those prices differ by provider, many services now offer a flat fee for any excess usage above your quota, such as Vodafone which charges $2 per GB.
Will I need a new modem for mobile broadband?
If you’re transferring from an ADSL, fibre or cable connection, then you’ll need a device to act as your mobile hotspot. Most providers who sell specifically “mobile broadband” plans will include a hotspot in the contract either at a reduced price or free, although this isn’t universal. If you need wider Wi-Fi spread for your hotspot, some models can optionally be placed within larger antenna arrays to expand their local Wi-Fi reach or improve overall mobile broadband reception.
Your other option here if you have a reasonably recent smartphone is to put it on a charger, throw a standard SIM in it and find a mobile plan which includes enough data for your needs. The one notable downside here is that the Wi-Fi broadcast range of most smartphones is lacklustre, as it’s presumed most people using them as hotspots will probably have them within proximity of their tethered devices.
What other extras should I consider?
- Included hotspot. If you’re going on a mobile broadband contract, it’s worth checking if your provider will cover a hotspot in your plan and what its maximum speeds will be.
- Bundling discounts. Most mobile broadband services sit within the general mobile category of each provider. If you have multiple services with the same provider, check for discounts.
- Quota-free content It’s pretty rare for providers to offer quota-free mobile broadband areas, but it’s not unheard of for certain types of content. Knowing what that content is and whether it interests you is another factor to consider.
Why should I get mobile broadband?
Aside from the obvious advantage of being able to access the Internet when you’re on-the-go, mobile broadband offers plenty of other benefits over a traditional fixed-line service. Prime among these is the ability to share a single mobile broadband connection with multiple devices, both through the use of a wireless hotspot and by physically swapping SIM cards from device to device. This can be handy for quick online collaborations with your colleagues while catching a train or taxi to the office, or for impromptu multiplayer gaming sessions with a portable console.
This also highlights another benefit of mobile broadband: it requires no dedicated equipment or complex installation. So long as you have a smartphone, you can use it as a mobile hotspot and connect any Wi-Fi-compatible device to it for quick and simple Internet access. Even with a dedicated wireless modem or USB dongle, the setup process is far less messy than with a standard fixed Internet connection.
In some cases, mobile broadband can even deliver faster Internet speeds than you could achieve through a fixed line. If ADSL is the only technology currently available where you live, you may see speeds no higher than 20Mbps. A solid 4G mobile broadband connection, on the other hand, can go as high as 100Mbps and you might even see speeds of up to 300Mbps.
What’s the downside to mobile broadband?
Though some mobile broadband connections can outperform fixed-line ADSL, you’re unlikely to see consistent speeds rivalling a decent fibre connection any time soon. Speeds on mobile broadband connections are inherently fickle with changes in weather, physical obstructions and other environmental factors often causing wild fluctuation speeds. In cases where you’re trying to stream a video or Skype someone, this can lead to disruptions that are less frequent when using a fixed connection.
Data is a concern for mobile broadband plans as well. Where most fixed-line plans now offer unlimited monthly data options, there is currently no equivalent unlimited mobile broadband plan available in New Zealand. The data caps that are available top out at around 100GB, which can be all too easy to chew through if you’re using your mobile broadband connection as your primary means of accessing the Internet. Though you can buy extra data blocks to avoid casual data pricing.
If you do decide to spring for the biggest data cap on offer, prepare to lay down a decent chunk of change for it because mobile broadband is expensive. The most generous plans currently available tend to work out around $1 per GB, with that increasing to $2 per GB on smaller data caps. This is a far cry from fixed-line pricing where unlimited data can be had for as low as $50 a month.
- Portable. No wires, no complicated equipment and the freedom to take it with you wherever you go.
- Easily shared. A smartphone can become a mobile hotspot at the tap of a button, allowing those around you to share Internet access quickly and easily.
- Fast. With good reception, mobile broadband can deliver higher speeds than some fixed-line connections.
- Unstable. Despite the ability to hit high Internet speeds, mobile broadband is susceptible to a range of environmental factors that can lead to frequent interruptions and performance drops.
- Data-constrained. Mobile broadband plans rarely offer caps in excess of 100GB and typically offer much, much less.
- Expensive. The per-GB rate of mobile broadband leaves a lot to be desired especially compared to fixed-line pricing.
Read more on this topic
Voyager Broadband Plans: Unlimited data without the fixed-term contract If you’re looking for unlimited data without being tied into a long term contract, check out what Voyager has to offer.
Nova Energy Broadband Review: Combine and save Sign up for broadband and energy with Nova Energy and enjoy an account credit, new TV or Plume Superpods.
Why is my Internet so slow? If you're suffering from slow download speeds or choppy Netflix streams, Internet congestion may be to blame.
Contact Energy Broadband Plans: Bundle and save Find out how you can save up to $25 a month on your broadband with a Broadband Bundle from Contact Energy.
VelocityNet Broadband Plans This Invercargill-based broadband provider has a range of plans from fibre to DSL and covers rural areas. See if VelocityNet is right for you.
WorldNet Broadband Plans Whether you are looking for ADSL, VDSL or lightning-fast fibre, WorldNet has something for everyone.
Netspeed Broadband Plans Netspeed can cover you if you live in a city or rurally and includes an optional phone plan. Find out more in our review.
Gravity Broadband Plans If you live in a remote area and want to get connected, Gravity broadband may have a solution for you.
Hotshot Broadband Plans With broadband speeds going all the way up to 900Mbps download and no-contract plans, Hotshot broadband might be right for you.
What is ADSL Broadband? If you can't get ultra-fast fibre yet, ADSL and ADSL2+ broadband might be your option to deliver internet to your home over your phone line.