Buyers' guide: mobile internet
Mobile internet is fantastic for anyone who wants to be able to access online services while they’re on the go. Where once you’d have only had the chance to browse the web or catch up with emails at home, you can now do this pretty much wherever you go.
And the only way you used to be able to get access to the internet while away from home was via places like internet cafes, airports and computers found in hotel lobbies. So for anyone who travels a lot, either for business or pleasure, the advent of mobile broadband has made life much easier.
The great thing about having a mobile internet connection is that it allows you to do all of the same things you'd usually do at home, via a traditional broadband connection, but it does away with all of the cables, modems and associated paraphernalia that comes with landline-based services. Mobile internet broadband is different in that all you need to get started is a laptop computer, or netbook device, which is the smaller cousin of a standard-sized laptop. Either way, get yourself one of these and then a mobile internet dongle for connecting the machine to the mobile network and you'll be ready to go.
Mobile internet dongles are plentiful now, and there are lots of deals available to suit users of mobile internet services, be they purely for sociable reasons or for heavyweight business needs. Mobile internet dongles simply plug into an available USB port on the computer you’re using, linking to the internet via mobile phone networks. Some laptops or netbooks now come complete with mobile internet broadband built-in to them, so you don’t actually need a dongle.
Mobile internet: the other options
As you'll see from the comparison pages within Broadband Genie, such as the one above, it's becoming increasingly popular for people to access their mobile 3G internet services via other devices that often pack the same sort of computing power as a standard laptop machine.
The smartphone is perhaps the best example of this. These small devices are everywhere now and boast computing power that is sometimes more beefy than home computers of just a few years ago. With the right smartphone it's now possible to do pretty much the same things with mobile internet broadband that you would have only previously thought of doing with a mobile internet-enabled laptop.
To cater for this, many of the mobile network providers have produced mobile internet plans that allow people who use a smartphone as their main source for accessing mobile internet to browse the web the ultimate in flexibility. There are mobile internet plans for all kinds of requirements, such as pay as you go mobile internet for folks with lightweight needs, such as looking up the odd web address or sending one or two emails.
People with the need to stay online for longer periods of time are probably better off looking at the contract mobile internet services that give greater freedom than paying by the hour, day, week or month in the way that pay as you go mobile internet works.
Mobile internet compromises
While smartphones will continue to develop, gradually offering a more complete mobile internet experience, many people still prefer the traditional laptop setup for accessing mobile internet services, mainly for comfort reasons. A smartphone is a great little device to have if you're on the move and don’t want to carry anything with you; they're small, lightweight and can do the job of accessing mobile internet services with ease. However, as a user-experience many people prefer the standard laptop because it not only gives you a larger screen area, but you’ll get a decent-sized keyboard layout too.
Trying to type up a letter or carry out other keyboard-dependent tasks can be tricky as well as frustrating on a smartphone, so using a mobile broadband connection through a laptop will ultimately result in a much more user-friendly laptop internet experience for people who have specific tasks to carry out.
Of course, you can browse the web and send and receive emails on a smartphone with a mobile internet connection without any problems, and some people choose to have both a smarpthone and laptop. But if you’re looking for a do it all device, that can supplement your home computing duties and landline based broadband, then the laptop route and mobile internet dongles is probably the better one to take. For now at least.
Mobile internet: the experience
Whatever device you decide to use mobile internet services on, you’ll soon find that being able to get online while you’re away from home can be a real boon. Now that coverage levels have been improved across the country it's often possible to access your online activities in many locations across the UK.
However a mobile internet connection may still sometimes struggle in areas less well covered by the mobile broadband networks, so use the coverage checking links in our comparison tables to get an overview of the areas that you plan on heading to. Similarly, there can be other factors, such as network traffic or the number of users, that can also impede mobile internet broadband from time to time.
You'll see from the comparison charts above that mobile internet plans always come with suggested speeds of the service they provide, but even the best mobile internet deals or clearest mobile internet connection can still be susceptible to reception problems. So quoted speeds are essentially not obtainable - be prepared for much slower connections, or in some cases to get no signal at all.
Cities and larger conurbations are generally much better at providing you with your mobile internet broadband services, but the downside in these locations can often be other users hogging the network or physical obstructions such as large buildings snagging things up a little too.
However, if the coverage checker says you should get a signal in your area, you should be able to get around 1-2Mb connection speed the majority of the time - more than enough to check your emails and surf the web. Due to restrictions on the amount of data you can use on mobile broadband plans, other activities (downloading large files, gaming etc) aren't really recommended on a mobile broadband connection anyway.
Mobile internet: where to get it
You can plump for two main options when it comes to accessing mobile internet services. There’s the pay-as-you-go mobile internet option, which means that you can have as much online access as you want but only need to pay for the time that you’re connected.
The other alternative is to arm yourself with contract mobile internet broadband and it's this option that is likely to be more useful for people who go online frequently and use a lot of mobile internet broadband airtime. With a contract you’ll have to pay a monthly charge for the duration of a contract period, which can be anything from one month through to 12, 18 or 24 months.
However, a package like this will probably give you much more mobile internet usage for your requirements.
There are important factors to consider with any of the mobile internet plans outlined in our comparison tables above, and you'll need to read up on the terms and conditions for data usage. This essentially covers the area of uploading and downloading data, and mobile network providers set out what you can and can’t do with these allowances in their small print.
So, spend some time getting an overview of these allowances from our tables and then check the fine print to ensure that any data allowances are likely to be suitable for your mobile internet needs.
You can sign up for mobile internet services online in minutes thanks to our comparison guides, and there should be a package to suit any kind of requirement. You'll also see a growing list of MiFi offers too, which not only allows you to get your mobile internet services, but it’s also share them with other members of your family, friends or work colleagues. And don't forget - if you buy online, you're covered by the UK's distance selling legislation, which gives you a seven working day return period if you're not satisfied with the product.
Mobile internet issues
With any emerging technology there are always going to be a few downsides. As we’ve already pointed out, you may experience connectivity issues with mobile internet services, and it’s also not cheap to use overseas, so keep a watch out for information on roaming when you read the terms and conditions.
A contract deal will obviously mean that you’ll stuck with any of the mobile internet plans that you plump for too, and while pay-as-you-go mobile internet doesn’t have the same sort of restrictions, you'll often find that performance is not quite as good as it can be with contract mobile broadband deals.
There are pros and cons for any kind of mobile broadband plan that you're interested in, so be sure to weight these up via our comparison tables in order to get a better idea of what to expect from mobile internet dongles, free laptop deals and all the rest of it. There's a lot to get your head around with in the world of mobile internet but a little bit of time spent doing your homework will hopefully end up providing a service that is tailor-made for your requirements.
You can also read and compare current customer reviews to find out about their experiences and find out which provider (Vodafone, 3 Mobile, T-Mobile, O2 and Orange) will give you the best mobile internet experience, as this may not necessarily be the cheapest with the lowest prices. The comparison table allows you to filter your results according to your particular needs to find the right wireless broadband option for you.