Buyers’ guide: Business mobile broadband
While the smartphone has revolutionised the way we do business, there are a lot of jobs those tiny screens simply can't do properly. But with demands on time being what they are, you need to be able to get on with your work 24/7 - which is where mobile broadband comes in. Whether on a laptop or tablet, on the move or just away from the office, a trusty business dongle or Wi-Fi unit can keep you connected when you need it most.
Most mobile broadband deals will tend to include a dongle or Wi-Fi (or MiFi) unit. These are simple plug-and-play devices that have a mobile broadband SIM inside. They're a doddle to use and cheap to buy, with your mobile broadband bill ranging from pay-as-you-go models up to £30 for the top-end packages. You can also find devices with mobile broadband built in, with both tablets and laptops/netbooks being popular choices.
Mobile broadband business services are improving in quality all the time, in terms of both speed and coverage, while the competitive nature of the market is seeing costs coming down. Add to this the introduction of new super-fast 4G mobile broadband services and you have all the ingredients for an exciting, competitive market.
The business argument for mobile broadband
A major consideration is measuring time against mobility. If staff are travelling during work hours, but can't do their job properly in the meantime, that really is money down the drain. But if you fix that member of staff up with a laptop or tablet, that unavoidable train journey can be as productive as an afternoon in the office.
You may also find your staff billing you for expensive Wi-Fi bills from airports, trains and hotels. Prices can be a massive rip-off, where a simple dongle can give your staff what they need when they need it, with the addition of flexibility. Just be careful if your staff are going abroad, as roaming rates can be off the charts! For details, see our guide to mobile broadband outside the UK.
In terms of providers Vodafone, Three and T-Mobile offer business specific tariffs. This isn't to say you can't still opt for O2 or Orange, as consumer deals are still viable - especially if you know you can get a strong signal from a particular provider.
Do you want an iPad with that?
These deals do tend to work out well in terms of overall value - but that's if you really need a shiny new tablet! You do need to ask yourself, are you getting this iPad Mini for you, or for your business!
Offers that give you a discounted Android, Windows or Apple tablet will invariably be two-year contracts. In the fast changing world of mobile broadband, let alone business, this is a long time.
For example, with 4G slowly trickling onto the UK market, do you really want to be tying yourself to a 3G deal with a company who may be slow to get its 4G product to market? Or, if your business moves, will there be adequate coverage from your ISP in your new location?
Prepay mobile business broadband options
Being able to conduct business online has revolutionised the way we work. That said, with the amount of Wi-Fi now available your staff aren't always going to need a paid mobile broadband connection. This where a prepay dongle can be a great choice.
With prepay you don't pay a monthly fee; instead, you simply top-up your account when you need to get online with your business dongle - perhaps at a conference, or on the move.
Also, it can be a great back-up for your office broadband. Many modems now have a USB slot, meaning you can plug a dongle in to the back and have cover for any possible fixed-line broadband downtime.
Which pay-as-you-go business deal is best for me?
As well as considering how much you think you'll use a dongle, you should also think about what you'll use it for (just email, or downloading large files - meaning you'd need a higher data limit). You can use the drop down menus in our comparison table above to help filter the results, so it’s easy to narrow down your search and compare your most likely options.
If you're still unsure, it's worth checking out some of the hundreds of reviews submitted here by other mobile broadband users. And remember, while it may be tempting to go for the cheapest deal you need to include enough data to get the job done!