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Wireless internet plans
If you're unable to get a physical broadband connection, a wireless internet data SIM could be your best option.
Wireless internet connections use the same wireless networks that 3G and 4G LTE 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 internet network for data access on the go.
How fast is wireless internet?
Wireless internet 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. That’s why you’ll often see providers quoting “up to” figures when it comes to the speed of internet service – they’re theoretical maximums that can vary a lot depending on location, local usage figures and device compatibility.
Where is wireless internet available?
Mobile internet services map almost exactly to the coverage maps that mobile providers offer for their voice services, which is intentional. As we’ve seen voice become much more of a commodity product, with many telcos offering unlimited national call packages, the race is on to provide better data services.
The catch here is that while mobile internet 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 internet availability, actual accessibility can vary widely.
How can I compare wireless internet plans?
Mobile internet 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 connection, and especially with an LTE-Advanced 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 typically more expensive than comparable home phone fixed-line services. Data cost is a key comparative criterion. So while those prices differ by provider, many services now offer a flat pricing charges for any excess usage above your quota.
Will I need a new modem for wireless internet?
If you’re transferring from an ADSL or Fibre connection, then you’ll need a device to act as your mobile hotspot. Most providers who sell specifically “mobile internet” plans will typically 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 internet 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 internet 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 internet 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 wireless internet?
Aside from the obvious advantage of being able to access the Internet when you’re on-the-go, mobile internet offers plenty of other benefits over a traditional fixed-line service. Prime among these is the ability to share a single mobile internet 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 like the Nintendo Switch.
This also highlights another benefit of wireless internet: 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, wireless internet can even deliver faster Internet speeds than you could achieve through a fixed-line broadband package. 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 around 50Mbps.
What’s the downside to wireless 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 video call 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, you’ll find it hard to find an equivalent unlimited mobile internet plan available in South Africa. 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.
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.
- 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, wireless internet is susceptible to a range of environmental factors that can lead to frequent interruptions and performance drops.
- Data-constrained. Wireless internet 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.
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