What is mobile Wi-Fi?
Mobile WiFi dongles broadcast a local wireless network connection which is available to any (authorised) users in the vicinity, allowing easy sharing of your mobile broadband with any device which supports wireless. This is in contrast to USB dongles, which plug directly into a computer and supply broadband to one device at a time.
What’s the difference between mobile Wi-Fi, pocket Wi-Fi hotspot and MiFi?
Which is better: Wi-Fi dongles or USB dongles?
With mobile Wi-Fi it's easy to share the broadband connection, and it works with any device which supports Wi-Fi. And mobile Wi-Fi dongles are only a little more expensive than USB. For these reasons we would recommend mobile Wi-Fi as the best choice for most people.
Can I use mobile Wi-Fi instead of home broadband?
Mobile Wi-Fi dongles can be used at home in place of a fixed line service, but it is not suitable for everyone. Unlimited data deals aren't available, and the relatively small data usage caps of most mobile broadband packages can be severely limiting and you’ll have to avoid frequent large downloads and other data-hungry tasks. Mobile signals can also be less reliable than a fixed line so the speed may not be as consistent as you’d like. For most people a combination of cheap unlimited home broadband and a mobile Wi-Fi dongle for use outside the home will be the best option.
If you'd like to find out more about this topic read our guide to using mobile broadband at home.
Should I get a 3G or 4G Wi-Fi dongle?
4G is recommended. It is much faster than 3G, and even if you cannot get 4G right now the dongle will still work with 3G. In any case it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new 3G mobile Wi-Fi dongles, so you might not have a choice!
How can I check network coverage in my area?
Never buy a mobile broadband service without first checking coverage in the areas it’s going to be used. This is easy to do using the network’s own coverage check tools, which you can access by clicking the logos below:
How do I use a mobile Wi-Fi dongle?
Setting up and using mobile Wi-Fi is really simple. With the SIM card inserted in the dongle, power it up and wait for the mobile connection - this will be indicated by a status light on the dongle. To access mobile broadband, activate Wi-Fi on a device and search for the dongle’s Wi-Fi network, then enter the password when prompted.
The Wi-Fi network name and password will be supplied with the dongle, however you can change these via the Wi-Fi dongle settings. Make sure the password is strong, and never operate a Wi-Fi dongle without a password.
How do I compare mobile Wi-Fi deals?
There are lots of Wi-Fi hotspot deals, but our comparison table has been designed to make it easy for you to search through the offers and find the right package.
To begin, always check coverage to ensure your chosen network has signal in your area - use the network coverage tools provided above.
To compare offers, use the filters to find deals based on criteria such as network, data limit and setup cost. With these applied to the comparison table you can click the table headings or use the ‘sort by’ menu to quickly find the best package.
What should I look out for when comparing Wi-Fi dongle deals?
As you'll see from the comparison table above, it's not as simple as choosing the cheapest deal you can find. Here a few pointers to help you make a decision. You'll also find further help about related topics in our mobile broadband help and features sections.
If you're happy to sign up for a long contract you'll be able to get a dongle cheap or even free as a sweetener. If you're sure this is the way you want to go, and that you're confident in a particular network, taking the long deal with free hardware is probably the way to go.
Your monthly bill for the duration of the contract. This will increase the higher the download allowance, and decrease the longer the deal. Remember you’re agreeing to pay this for the duration of the contract, and cancellation can be expensive.
Mobile Wi-Fi deals could range from as long as two years to as little as one month, depending on how much you're willing to commit to the mobile network. As we mentioned above, you'll find that the longer you are willing to sign up for, the cheaper your monthly payments should be.
This is the maximum speed based on the network, contract and device, and is provided by the network operators. It should be taken as a rough guide only - actual speeds will vary according to signal strength and network congestion, among other factors.
This column will either list the download limit you will have for your mobile Wi-Fi device each month, or the cost of adding an amount of downloadable data on a pay as you go option. This is one of the most important features to consider when deciding which mobile WiFi tariff to go for, as you can save some serious money by taking a lower limit. However, if it doesn't meet your needs you could find the service restricted if you go over your limit, or you may have to pay an expense excess for using extra data. For help on working out your data usage requirements, check out our guide to download usage.
This lists any perks that may come with your mobile Wi-Fi purchase (such as free texts, or special offers), or might give extra information such as how many devices you can connect with it. This kind of information can be the real clincher if you're stuck between two choices, but make sure you have decided on an affordable price and acceptable download limit first.