How to use a mobile broadband dongle with a Nexus 7 and other tablets

Google Nexus 7One very common query we get from visitors is how exactly they go about using a mobile broadband dongle with a tablet such as the popular Nexus 7, Sony Xperia or Apple iPad, and as tablets increasingly replace laptops as the portable device of choice for travellers it's something that will continue to crop up.

The answer is...maybe?

It is sometimes possible to use a dongle with your tablets, however this is generally unsupported by the manufacturers and networks and can be technically tricky to accomplish.

One major problem is that neither Android nor Apple provide native support for USB mobile broadband dongles, so when you plug it in your tablet has no idea what the dongle is or how to use it. That's assuming you can plug it in at all, of course.

Only a minority of tablets have full size USB ports, as most use microUSB or a proprietary connector like the Apple Lightning port. However, microUSB-USB adapters are available for very little and can provide an interface for devices like portable hard drives and digital cameras, or perhaps even a mobile broadband dongle.

There is an app on the Google Play store called PPP Widget which claims to solve this problem, and there are numerous positive reviews claiming success, but you have no guarantee it will work with a particular tablet and dongle combination (good news for Steve though as it seems to work well with the Nexus 7).

PPP Widget is free so it can’t hurt to try, but it does require your tablet to be rooted (which means we get access to system files normally locked to users). The rooting method differs for each device; we have a guide to rooting the original Nexus 7 and that’s very easy (most Nexus devices should be simple), otherwise you’ll need to Google for a rooting tutorial for your particular tablet.

If this isn’t possible, or PPP Widget does not work, then you could try searching to see if anyone else has managed to get a dongle working on your model. Unfortunately even if a solution does exist it is unlikely to be straightforward.

There are some easy alternatives, however.

3G tablets and mobile Wi-Fi

If you know you’ll be using mobile broadband a lot and haven’t yet purchased a tablet, look for one with mobile data support built in. This will have a SIM card slot and the necessary hardware to access mobile data networks just like a smartphone, that way you can just drop in a SIM card and not have to worry about using a dongle.

If you already own a tablet which lacks 3G mobile broadband, consider a mobile Wi-Fi dongle (sometimes called a MiFi) rather than a USB model. These devices generate a Wi-Fi hotspot which allows anything with wireless networking support to connect to the internet, so it’ll work with absolutely any tablet including the Nexus 7 and iPad.

Another similar option is using the Wi-Fi hotspot function on your smartphone to turn it into a Wi-Fi dongle (what’s known as tethering). Since most smartphones from the last few years support this you may not need to purchase any new hardware.

Only thing to be careful of when doing this is that your mobile phone contract allows tethering; because it has the potential to use a lot more data it is often forbidden unless you pay an additional fee. Speak to your network provider to find out if this is allowed. A notable exception is the Three One Plan, which not only expressly permits tethering but has an unlimited data allowance, too. 


  • neutral

    by Amer at 20:55 on 2 Jan 2013

    Can I just say if you had purchased a unbranded China make tablet of eBay then you could have gotten a tablet and dongle for £90 no more and most of these tablets come with otg cable and can connect USB to also a mobile dongle would also work fine with these as I have some and have tried it. So the system always it. It's just the manufacturers do not add USB ports and take it off the system to make money why well because they can charge around a £100 extra for a 3g version of the tablet instead of spending £20 on a dongle

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  • happy

    by TheObserver at 08:43 on 3 Jan 2013

    The other option would be to buy a mobile wifi and connect that way.. looks much better than a dongle sicking out the side of your shiny new tablet!

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  • neutral

    by Chris K at 12:07 on 10 Jan 2013 | registered | 167 posts

    The problem of using dongles with tablets is not just to do with USB ports support as my old Advent Vega (sadly broken screen now. R.I.P.) used to accept 3 network dongles 100% of the time and my Vodafone dongle 50% of the time and all other network I tried just would not go. I don’t why the Vodafone one is or was so hit and miss but sometimes it worked sometimes it did not, never got my head around that one.

    The past year or so I have used a Wifi dongle and all such connects problems have been history so other than buying a 3G Tab I recommend the Wifi dongle way as it slips into your pocket and nobody would even know your Tab is not a 3G one and besides a dongle hanging out of your Tab has a tendencies to get knocked about a bit and causing damage to your expensive bit of kit.

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  • happy

    by GK at 04:14 on 22 Nov 2013

    Excellent information and discussion. Thank you.. :)

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  • happy

    by Nitin at 17:01 on 6 Feb 2014 | registered | 1 post

    Excellent Information with links Thank you (: (: (:

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  • neutral

    by Jacqui at 01:02 on 22 Sep 2014

    I have a Samsung G/Ace (with B/T switched on) but my Nexus 7 tells me 'NO nearby Bluetooth devices found' its not as easy as your article suggests. Which is a great shame.

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  • neutral

    by pennipistle at 13:28 on 18 Apr 2015

    No trouble connecting my iPad and Hudl2 to Huawei mifi With EE data sim but cannot connect my wife's Nexus 7 tablet. It says "Authentication Problem".

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