If you can get fibre it’s a great choice, providing fast (sometimes gigabit) speeds at an affordable price.
But that’s if you can get it.
There are still areas where fibre is not available and the broadband can be very slow. This is a particular problem for rural homes, but there are also still urban locations that lack modern broadband infrastructure.
If you’re in a situation where internet access is very sluggish, you might be looking for alternatives, and one potential contender is 4G or 5G mobile broadband.
But can mobile broadband be used for home broadband? What are the pitfalls and advantages? How fast is it? And what will it cost? Let’s take a look!
Mobile broadband at home: the key points
Mobile broadband at home: pros and cons
- Mobile can be faster than home broadband
5G is even faster than that, capable of outpacing some fibre optic broadband services.
- It doesn’t need a phone line
Being able to get broadband without a phone line is a huge point in favour of any mobile or wireless broadband service.
The limited choice of service on a fixed-line is irrelevant, and you don’t need to worry about paying line rental if you don’t need a landline for calls.
- It's portable
Unlike a regular broadband service, a mobile link can give you internet access wherever you go (signal allowing, of course).
- Mobile broadband has flexible contracts
But mobile broadband is a great deal more flexible in this regard; as well as long-term contracts, you can also choose from rolling monthly and pay-as-you-go agreements.
- Mobile internet relies on a strong signal
Mobile broadband is absolutely reliant on a strong network signal. The weaker the signal, the slower and more unstable the connection will be.
- Performance can be unpredictable
Even if you have a strong signal, you may find performance fluctuates depending on network traffic and weather conditions. This may be problematic if you rely on a minimum speed as performance could change from one day to the next.
- Data usage caps can be restrictive
Aside from signal strength, the biggest stumbling block for anyone considering mobile broadband for home is that data usage caps are often very low in comparison to fixed-line deals, which can greatly impact how you use the broadband.
There are now some unlimited mobile broadband deals, but only from a few networks.
- 3G is (probably) too slow
3G is extremely slow compared to 4G and 5G, and in all likelihood is probably worse than any broadband you can get.
There may be some edge cases where your home broadband is very slow and there's a very strong 3G signal, but otherwise, it's probably not going to be suitable.
How fast is mobile broadband?
4G mobile internet can provide average speeds of around 20-25Mb, while 3G averages around 6Mb. 5G is much faster, with average speeds in excess of 100Mb.
With ADSL broadband promising an average 10-11Mb it is reasonable to assume that a 4G mobile broadband service will be quicker. Though even if you’ve only got a 3G signal it may still be faster than a fixed-line service if you live in a remote rural area.
What are 4G and 5G home broadband deals?
4G and 5G home broadband use mobile networks to provide home broadband. They can potentially be as fast or faster than many fixed-line broadband services, and you don't need a phone line.
These types of deals use the same network as a mobile phone or any other mobile broadband service, but there are two key differences that will matter for home users:
- They often include a Wi-Fi router or Wi-Fi hub.
- They can have significantly better data usage limits.
4G and 5G Wi-Fi routers
Unlike a typical mobile broadband package that includes a USB or Wi-Fi dongle, a 4G or 5G home deal will include more powerful hardware.
Often this will be something very similar to a home broadband Wi-Fi router, though some use compact Wi-Fi hubs with a more limited feature set than a full-blown router.
Unlike a dongle, these devices will support more Wi-Fi devices and may include wired network ports and other features which home users may need. But they will also be larger than a mobile broadband dongle as they're not intended to be portable.
Data usage limits
The other crucial difference is that 4G or 5G home broadband can have much higher data caps than mobile broadband. Some even have unlimited data.
EE currently has deals with up to 500GB per month, while Three provides unlimited data on all packages.
Do I need a 4G or 5G home broadband service?
Assuming you have a strong mobile signal in your home, then a 4G or 5G home broadband deal can make for a compelling alternative to home broadband.
Prices may be competitive, and the speeds can be impressive, especially if you're able to get 5G.
Plus, you don't need to have a line installed or pay line rental, and can easily take the broadband when moving home.
Another advantage is that 4G and 5G home broadband is extremely quick to set up: there's no waiting for an engineer, just plug in the hardware, and you're ready to go.
Compare latest 4G and 5G home broadband deals
Interested in purchasing a 4G or 5G home broadband deal? Here are a few of the best packages currently available:
|Network||Monthly £||Setup £||Data limit||Contract||Device|
|Three||£23||£9||UNLIMITED||24-mo||4G Hub||Buy now|
|EE||£35||£0||100GB||18-mo||4GEE Router||Buy now|
|EE||£50||£0||500GB||18-mo||4GEE Router||Buy now|
|EE||£50||£100||500GB||1-mo||4GEE Router||Buy now|
What do you need to use mobile broadband as home broadband?
To use mobile broadband at home you do not necessarily need any special equipment. However, depending on what devices you have and how many people are sharing the connection, you might need to choose some slightly different hardware to make the most of it.
Standard mobile broadband dongles use a USB connection, something you'll find on any reasonably modern computer.
That’s fine if it’s only going to be used by one person at a time and you only ever want to connect a laptop or desktop computer running Windows or Apple Mac OS. But sharing the connection with multiple systems or devices is not easy or recommended.
In that situation, it is far better to go with a Wi-Fi dongle.
Wi-Fi dongles — also known as pocket Wi-Fi or ‘MiFi’ — provide mobile network connectivity over a Wi-Fi signal, which means they will work with anything that supports Wi-Fi (including tablets and smartphones). It also allows the connection to be shared very easily, typically with five to ten devices at once. This flexibility makes them far more useful for home broadband.
You can also use a smartphone or tablet with a SIM card as a Wi-Fi dongle by tethering over Wi-Fi. This could save you from having to buy a dongle, but check that your smartphone contract permits tethering otherwise you might be charged extra fees.
If you’re considering mobile home broadband as a long term solution, you should get a 4G or 5G home broadband package.
Choose one which includes a router so you can use both wired and wireless networking and make use of more advanced features.
If you do not receive a router with your package, we highly recommend purchasing your own. You can buy routers which are specifically designed to be used primarily with mobile networks and have a SIM card slot. However, many standard home broadband routers also support 4G and 5G mobile broadband dongles via a USB port on the back.
One final piece of equipment that may be worth investing in is an external aerial. This can greatly boost signal strength for better speed and stability and could be essential in low signal areas.
To use an external aerial you will need a dongle or router with an external antenna connection or removable antennas. For further help with choosing an external aerial consult this useful guide by Solwise.
Meet the author: Matt Powell
Matt Powell, Broadband Genie's Editor, has been with us since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.
At Broadband Genie we pride ourselves on being the UK's broadband comparison experts, and Matt has offered broadband advice in almost every major UK publication: including the BBC, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and many more.