Getting back online: mobile broadband troubleshooting and lost dongles

by Chris Marling

Looking to buy mobile broadband? Visit our mobile broadband comparison page for the latest deals.

If you're having mobile broadband problems, check below to see if Broadband Genie can get you back up and surfing. 

How do I know if a dongle will work on my computer?

So long as you have a spare USB port and a fairly recent version of the Windows or Mac operating systems the dongle should install and run fine (barring any unforeseen problems, of course). 

Dongles generally support every version of Windows from XP or Vista upwards, though as these operating systems become more outdated you will find more recent versions are required. While Apple Mac users will need Mac OS X (check the dongle specs for specific version requirements for OS X). They only require a negligible amount of hard drive space and RAM so will work on older or cheap systems, however if you have an older version of Windows, or are using a Linux machine, check compatibility with your supplier before you buy. Or for Linux, ask the community!

I've plugged in my mobile broadband dongle, but it's not installing on my laptop.

With your dongle still plugged into the USB go into 'My Computer' (or simply 'Computer' on newer versions of Windows). Locate the icon for your USB dongle in this window and then right-click on the device. There should now be an option to 'Explore' this device. Keep an eye out for an option such as 'autorun.exe' or 'install'. If your dongle isn't showing up at all, try another USB port.

I'm using a Mac and everything is installed properly. The LED on the device is flashing green, but I can't locate a network.

This can sometimes happen if you have a PIN enabled on the SIM card. It's easily fixed though. Just take the SIM card out of the USB and put it into your phone. From here you should be able to use your phone settings to disable the PIN.

My connection is really slow!

Mobile broadband isn't as fast as the average home broadband connection so don't expect blazingly quick downloads, but if it's being unusually sluggish then it is typically down to signal strength. To get the best speed you must be in an area with a strong 3G or 4G signal. If you can't get 3G/4G (or it is a very weak signal) then the speed of your connection can be drastically affected. 

Even if you do have good coverage the signal can still be affected by obstructions such as large buildings, being indoors and the material used in your home. Household devices such as baby monitors can cause interference too. In these cases you can sometimes get a better signal by purchasing an external antenna, an inexpensive device which boosts the reception strength of your dongle.

You can check signal strength in your area using these online coverage checkers:



Everything installed properly, but I'm having problems connecting to a network. What should I do?

Are you sure you have coverage in your current spot with this particular network (see above)? If so, there may also be a problem with your USB port rather than your device. Do you have another USB slot on your laptop? If so, try plugging your USB dongle into a different port.

I can't send text messages

Using the software included with your dongle it's possible to send and receive text messages from your PC. If this stops working (or never works) the most common error is to do with the message centre settings - just like a mobile phone your dongle won't be able to send texts if it has incorrect information about where to send them. This is very easy to fix, your provider will be able to tell you the right settings so you just need to give them a call and input the numbers into the dongle software.

All my web page pictures look really low res!

You may have a compression setting automatically applied by your provider. You should visit your service providers help website to see if there's an upgrade to your device's software available.

I've lost/broken my dongle! What should I do?

If you lose or break your dongle and haven't opted for insurance, you will probably be liable to replace the USB modem or forfeit being able to access mobile broadband for the duration of your contract term.

If you've lost your dongle, get in touch with your provider straight away: its customer service department will be able to help you. It's essential you let them know straight away and follow this up as soon as you realise your dongle has been mislaid. If this device gets into the wrong hands, someone else could rack up a huge bill downloading large amounts of content. As soon as you contact your ISP, it will be able to put a block on the device.

Also, be sure to check out our guide to mobile broadband returns, insurance and security.

I need to contact my mobile broadband technical help desk, but can't find the number!

If your question hasn't been answered above, and you don't have time to wait for an answer from our forum experts, check on our mobile internet customer service and tech support page.