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Mobile broadband hardware explained: hotspots, dongles and more

How to choose the right gear to get connected on the go.

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband connects users to the Internet through a portable modem, like a dongle or a pocket WiFi device. Modems, dongles and built-in solutions – which are all forms of mobile broadband devices – get you connected the same way a phone does: through a mobile network.

What are my options?

Finding the perfect device for you can be a challenge, but if you’re looking for a robust solution to your on-the-go Internet woes, we have a few different options to choose from.

Modems, hotspots and pocket WiFi

Mobile-powered modems, hotspots and pocket WiFi devices are a well-balanced solution, offering portability, multiple connections and freedom from a wall socket. These battery-powered devices allow on-the-go usage anywhere you can get reception, so long as you’ve kept the device charged.

Bigger data allowances and faster speeds have made using a newer mobile broadband modem as your or your family’s primary connection to the Internet a more viable solution.

Some providers offer larger, not-so-portable modems which are plugged into the wall for power but utilise their mobile networks rather than a wired connection. This still gives you some degree of mobility, because you can travel from place to place with the same home broadband, but you won’t be able to make use of it during everyday travel.


USB modems, commonly known as dongles, plug straight into the USB port on a device like a laptop or tablet to get you online. Some newer dongles can also operate as a mobile hotspot when plugged in, providing your other devices with a connection as well.

These typically-small devices have declined in popularity over recent years, but are still readily available online from major carriers and stores.

Built-in solutions

Like phones, tablets and laptops can come with a SIM slot built in on some models. While they are not all that common, some mobility-focused devices like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Go (LTE models) feature integrated mobile connectivity for simple and easy connection to the web when you’re out and about.

What should I choose?

As with much of the technology space, what device you should choose depends on your use case. If you’re looking for the most portable solution, having a SIM that lives in your device 24/7 is optimal, but a smaller dongle might also suffice.

If a dongle is the mobile broadband medium of your choice, you might want to look out for newer Wi-Fi enabled models on the off chance that you want to share your connection with other devices. But if you’re hunting down a convenient solution for connecting the whole family, a modem or pocket WiFi device is probably the best pick thanks to its versatility.

Looking for a plan to power your new mobile broadband device? Check out some available offers below, or head to our Mobile Broadband page to see what else you can get your hands on.

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