Millions of homes and businesses now have access to fast fibre optic internet thanks to the nationwide BT Openreach and Virgin Media networks. And with smaller fibre-specialist service providers such as Hyperoptic and Gigaclear beginning to offer really great deals, even more of us have access to a speedy internet connection than ever.
If you can get a fibre internet plan, it’s a great choice, providing fast and sometimes even gigabit speeds at an affordable price.
But not all of us have the luxury of being able to sign up to an accessible ultrafast service, as the full fibre network is currently only available to just over half of the UK population. If this sounds familiar and your Wi-Fi network is very sluggish, you might be seeking alternatives. One potential option is to use 4G or 5G mobile broadband.
You might already know about mobile internet. Using your phone or a dongle, you can connect your laptop or desktop computers to the internet for as long as you need it.
But can mobile data realistically be used for home broadband without any problems? How fast is it? And what will it cost? Let’s check out the details of using mobile data for your home internet connection.
Mobile broadband at home: the key points
Mobile broadband at home: does it work?
Pros of using mobile broadband at home
Mobile can be faster than home broadband
5G data speeds are even faster than that and are capable of beating some high-speed fibre optic broadband services at full speed.
You can check your current broadband speed with our speed test to see if mobile broadband might be a faster choice for you.
Mobile broadband doesn’t need a phone line
Getting broadband without a phone line is a huge point in favour of any mobile or wireless broadband service.
It doesn’t matter if a good fixed-line deal isn’t available where you live with mobile broadband. You also won’t need to worry about paying for line rental or a home phone plan if you don’t need a landline for calls. It's also a good solution if you're looking for a quick internet fix in your rented accommodation.
Mobile broadband is portable
Unlike a regular broadband service, mobile Wi-Fi can give you internet access wherever you go. Provided you can get a signal, of course. So you could catch up on Netflix on the move and work from anywhere, too.
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 mobile plans and pay-as-you-go plans, just like with your standard mobile contract.
Cons of using mobile broadband at home
Mobile internet relies on a strong signal
Mobile broadband is completely reliant on a strong network signal. The weaker the signal, the slower and more unstable the connection will be.
Mobile broadband performance can be unpredictable
Even if you have a strong signal, you may find your performance dips depending on network traffic and weather conditions. This can be a problem if you rely on a minimum speed, as you'll never quite know how well your service is going to perform.
Data usage caps can be restrictive
Aside from signal strength, the biggest stumbling block for anyone considering mobile broadband for home is that data allowance caps are often very low compared to fixed-line deals. This can greatly impact how you use the broadband as you might not be able to stream as much for as long.
There are now some unlimited mobile broadband data plans, so keep an eye out for these if that's a concern.
How fast is mobile broadband?
4G mobile internet can provide average speeds of around 20-25Mb. 3G, on the other hand, averages around 6Mb at best. 5G is much faster, with average speeds exceeding 100Mb.
With ADSL broadband promising an average 10-11Mb it’s reasonable to assume that a 4G mobile broadband service will be quicker.
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, such as Three Home Broadband, 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
In the past, mobile broadband packages would come with a USB dongle or Wi-Fi hotspot device. However, a 4G or 5G home deal includes more powerful hardware.
This will often be something very similar to a home broadband Wi-Fi router. Though some of these packages 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 home users may need. But they’ll 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 deals have had in the past. Some even have unlimited data.
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 good alternative to home broadband.
Prices may be competitive, and the speeds can be impressive, especially if you can 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 quick to set up. There's no waiting for an engineer. Just plug in the dongle or router, and you're ready to go!
What do you need to use mobile broadband as home broadband?
To use mobile broadband at home, you don’t necessarily need any special equipment. However, depending on the 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.
- USB dongles
Standard mobile broadband dongles use a USB connection, something you'll find on any 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 macOS. But sharing the connection with multiple systems or devices isn’t easy or recommended.
In that situation, it’s far better to go with a Wi-Fi dongle.
- Wi-Fi dongles
Wi-Fi dongles, also known as pocket Wi-Fi or ‘MiFi’, provide mobile network connectivity over a Wi-Fi signal. That means they’ll 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 Wi-Fi.
You can also use a smartphone or tablet with a SIM card as a Wi-Fi dongle by tethering over Wi-Fi. Most modern smartphones such as Android phones and iPhones with iOS will support tethering and can be used as personal hotspots. This could save you from buying a dongle, however, check that your smartphone contract permits tethering otherwise, you might be charged extra fees.
- 4G/5G routers
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 networking features.
If you don’t 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 cable port on the back.
One final piece of equipment that may be worth investing in is an external aerial. This can boost signal strength for better speed and stability, and could be essential in low-signal areas.
To use an external aerial, you’ll need a dongle or router with an external antenna connection or removable antennas.
Is using mobile home broadband the same as tethering to a mobile hotspot?
Using a phone hotspot can sound like a quick and easy solution for home internet service. And it certainly can be in the short term. But if you’re going to be using mobile data for all your internet usage, you’re going to want something that can connect to multiple devices and offer more data.
Mobile home broadband is a better deal. Not only will you be able to use a router, but you can get more data and better deals than you will for a Wi-Fi hotspot. Not to mention you’ll wind up with fewer data limits. Some mobile providers also aren’t happy with people using hotspot data on devices other than their phones. Mobile broadband, on the other hand, is specifically designed for home use.
If speedy fixed-line broadband isn’t available for you, then 4G or 5G mobile broadband can certainly work as a great replacement.
You can use our speed checker to see what speeds you’re getting currently on your broadband package.
Overall, mobile broadband can be a great option and the speeds can sometimes be better than what you’d be getting with fibre – particularly if you get a strong 4G or 5G signal. As well as that, you don’t need phone lines and can easily bring your broadband with you when you move home or travel.
For more information, read our full guide to mobile broadband.
Why do we need your address?
We need your address to show you the broadband deals available at your home. This information is gathered in partnership with thinkbroadband.