Guide to mobile broadband returns, security and dongle insurance

by Chris Marling

If you’re thinking about purchasing a mobile broadband contract or pay as you go deal, you may be wondering about returns procedures for faulty goods or purchases not fit for purpose, the security of your connection, or whether you should insure your dongle.

I'm unhappy with my mobile broadband deal. Can I return my dongle?

This is particularly important if you are in an area with poor reception, or you find you're unable to use the service to a satisfactory level. Make sure you check the coverage in your area before you buy, but be aware good coverage does not mean you will definitely get a good service. For example, if too many people in your area are trying to share the connection, you may still experience very slow speeds that do not meet your needs.

You should find most mobile broadband providers will have a money-back period during which you can return a dongle if you are unhappy with the service. However, this will tend to be no longer than two weeks for a contract deal and perhaps less. Also, some third party operators on the high street may not honour money back periods that the ISPs offer through their own outlets, so be very careful. 

Your best bet is to buy online, as this guarantees you are covered by the UK's Distance Selling Regulations. These guarantee you:

  • The right to receive clear information about goods and services before deciding to buy;
  • Confirmation of this information in writing;
  • A cooling off period of seven working days in which the consumer can withdraw from the contract;
  • Protection from credit card fraud.

Also remember that if you end up wanting to return a mobile broadband dongle, card or stick and you made use of a bundled offer (including extras such as laptops, SIM card or any other peripherals) you must be able to return all these goods to your provider as you were sold them. If any parts are missing or damaged, it is unlikely you will be able to return your device.

Are there mobile broadband security issues I should be aware of?

As you’re connecting to the internet, the same security concerns you have on your home computer apply; the USB dongle works by being physically plugged into your laptop, so although it’s classed as wireless for the purposes of broadband it needs your laptop to act as a 'host' to operate, so uses your machine's security protocols. As long as the machine you're using has ample internet security in place, you should be good to go. If you're using your laptop to connect to the internet via a public Wi-Fi hotspot, instead of through your dongle, things are slightly different (see 'connecting at a Wi-Fi hotspot' below).

Firewalls are particularly important. This is a piece of software that stops unwanted users getting access to your computer system. With good firewall software applied, you should be notified if there’s a threat to your system. If you have the Windows XP SP2 or later (so any Windows release in the last 15 years!) a personal firewall is included (but may not be switched on - check the security settings your PC's 'Control Panel').

Likewise, good anti-virus software is also essential. Viruses can spread very quickly and cause huge damage and inconvenience. Viruses can be very malicious and cause widespread damage to your computer equipment or compromise your personal information.

The biggest names in internet security are McAfee and Norton, both of whom provide all-in-one protection packages at around £60 per year (often for multiple machines). However, there are also plenty of good freeware virus software programs that are updated regularly and do a good job of protecting your equipment and security. The AVG firewall, anti-virus, identity protection and anti-spyware program is a good example, and Microsoft now provides it's own anti-virus freebie under the name Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows XP & Windows 7) and Microsoft Defender (Windows 8 and later).

Can someone piggyback on my mobile broadband?

The term 'piggyback' has been common in broadband for a while, describing the act of piggybacking on a broadband connection to use someone else's usage allowance. However, this is done by accessing a network; this isn't going to happen to your dongle. To piggyback broadband connections, you need a wireless network to access; this will only happen if you use your device as a wireless modem. If you do this, make sure you have a password for your connection's protection (that uses both numbers and letters) and the firewall and security software described above.

Connecting at a Wi-Fi hotspot

Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more common and can be a real boon: why use up your GB allowance when you can sit and surf in many airports, cafes and other locations for free? You have to be a bit careful though, as Wi-Fi security in a public hotspot can be a rich hunting ground for hackers.

Firstly, are you actually surfing at the Wi-Fi hotspot itself, or a rogue one set up by a hacker to access your information? In 2008, wireless security outfit Air Tight Networks sent hackers to 27 airports, and found 80 per cent of the networks their were poorly protected, or at worst simply open.

The best advice is only connect to Wi-Fi networks you're sure you can trust. Make sure the name of the hotspot is correct by checking with staff, and be sure to disconnect from the network when you stop using it. Also, keep an eye on the list of network connections stored in your laptop; otherwise, you could accidentally connect to the wrong network while travelling.

Even following these precautions, we would advise against logging into bank accounts and email accounts on a public Wi-Fi connection. If you really have to, ensure the website is encrypted (look for a padlock in your web browser, near the address area, and connect to addresses that start https:// wherever possible). Also, enable any encryption settings in Outlook and other applications that access the net, and use a VPN (virtual private network) connection if you can - these are often supplied by employers. If not, free utilities such as Hotspot Shield also offer an added layer of protection. 

Should I worry about dongle insurance?

When you sign up to a mobile broadband contract, your provider may ask you if you want to sign up to their optional insurance scheme. It's completely up to you whether you opt for this or not, but bear in mind you may be responsible for paying for a replacement mobile broadband dongle if it is stolen or broken during your subscription term.

Getting an insurance policy direct from your internet service provider should mean you're completely covered for any surprising incidents, but you can almost guarantee it's not going to be the most cost-effective solution. 

For coverage against general loss and damage, you may find a device such as your dongle is covered by your standard home contents insurance, although you must make sure your policy covers possessions you lose while away from home too!