What is a 4g dongle and how does it work?

4g dongles provide easy plug-and-play mobile broadband but are becoming harder to find as MiFi devices grow in popularity.

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A 4g dongle is a small device, which resembles a USB stick or “key” and likewise is about the same size as a packet of chewing gum or a lipstick.

Like a USB key, the dongle fits into the USB port of a device such as a laptop. Some dongles are for adding wireless capability, while others provide added security. 4g dongles give you access to the mobile 4g network enabling you to connect to the Internet from your device from wherever you are. This is of course providing you have access to the network and, as with your mobile phone, have paid for access to the network.

How does a 4g dongle work?

4g broadband dongles are easy to connect. Plug one into your USB port and you’re connected. It’s this plug-and-play capability that makes them popular.

What is the best 4g dongle?

A better question is possibly, “where can I buy a 4g dongle?”
The increasing popularity of MiFi devices means USB-style dongles are increasingly rare but you can still buy them.

Where can I buy a 4g dongle?

Dongles are still available from a limited number of mobile providers. Notably Vodafone’s K5160 4G data dongle connects to the company’s 4g network. It is available as a PAYG and Pay Monthly plan. All the Pay monthly options include Vodafone Global Roaming, which the company says means you can use the device in 77 destinations outside the UK including the USA and Canada. The dongle also has an additional SD card memory slot so you can use it for extra storage. For PAYG options you’ll be charged an upfront fee for the dongle, and can then opt to pay for a range of data options from 2GB to 15GB. All data packs are valid for 90 days only.

O2 is offering the Huawei 4G Dongle with Wi-Fi. As with Vodafone the dongle is available as a Pay Monthly or PAYG option. There is no upfront cost for the pay monthly option but you will need to sign up for 24 months. The monthly data cap is 75GB. For PAYG there’s a £35 upfront cost and you’ll need to buy a data plan.

Mobile provider Three no longer has a mobile dongle offering and has replaced this with a Mobile Wi-Fi or MiFi device, which enables multiple devices to connect to mobile broadband. The MiFi offering is available as a Pay Monthly or PAYG plan.

Similarly, EE’s broadband devices are larger and more akin to MiFi devices than USB-style dongles. These connect multiple devices wirelessly to its 4G network, and the devices come with data plans included. EE has two devices available: its 4GEE WiFi and 4GEE WiFi Mini. Both are available as PAYG and Pay Monthly offers, with higher upfront costs if you PAYG.

You can still find some dongles available to buy, including those that are unlocked, on websites such as amazon and Currys PC World but be aware that their costs are for the dongle only and you’ll need to buy a separate data plan.

Can a dongle be used as Wi-Fi?

Vodafone’s K5160 4G data dongle includes Wi-Fi. For those looking to connect wirelessly to the 4G network, you might be better off looking at the growing range of MiFi devices – small portable router-style devices – that come with their own battery power and that are available from multiple broadband providers. Three offers Mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) contracts for a range of pricing plans including some with unlimited data and no upfront costs but you’ll be committing to a 24-month contract.

What are the pros and cons of the 4g dongle?

Pros

  • Enable you to access the Internet from anywhere.
  • Are lightweight, portable and easy to carry.
  • Can be used abroad.
  • Are plug-and-play and so easy to use.
  • Can be purchased for short-term use.
  • Provide a secure connection to the 4G network, unlike Wi-Fi hotspots.

Cons

  • Portable USB versions are increasingly hard to come by.
  • You may find there are restrictions on daily downloads.
  • For PAYG contracts you’ll have to pay for the device upfront.

What are the alternatives to 4g dongles?

Mobile providers are offering MiFi (pronounced my-fy) devices, which are mobile devices, capable of connecting multiple devices to the 4G network – up to as many as 10 at a time. These are larger than 4g dongles; typically slightly thicker than the width of a standard credit card and even wider across; in short, not pocket-sized. However, for those who regularly travel they are a good alternative to a 4g dongle, and for some, might provide an alternative to fixed-line broadband at home.

Data Sims are another alternative if you have a device with a Sim card slot. They are the mobile broadband equivalent of a Sim-only plan. You can also choose to “tether” your mobile device to your laptop or other portable devices wirelessly. Check your provider’s policies for hidden charges. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are also available but be careful if sending secure data.

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