Not everyone in the market for an internet plan wants a connection built into their home or business. As such, mobile broadband presents itself as one of the main alternatives to fixed line internet connections. This type of broadband is far more versatile and can benefit its users in a range of ways. Read more about mobile broadband, how it works and how to compare the best options on the market in this comprehensive guide.
What is mobile broadband and how does it work?
Mobile broadband is a type of internet connection available to Australians. Unlike other broadband types, however, this connection is established using mobile networks in the same way that your smartphone accesses internet. The main difference setting mobile broadband apart from the rest of the internet plans currently on the market is that it’s designed to be mobile, as its name suggests. You can take your connection with you wherever you go (provided you have coverage) as a source of Wi-Fi for your devices.
Although most mobile broadband networks utilise 4G internet, you’ll be able to find some that grant access to the newer, more powerful 5G. This means that your mobile broadband connection could potentially rival the speeds of some of the leading internet plans available. Also, when receiving a mobile broadband connection, all you really need to do is plug it into your device or turn it on for instant internet access; you won’t have to suffer through a complicated installation or pay for it.
However, it’s important to note that you generally won’t have access to as much data on this type of plan as you would on a more permanent, immobile broadband plans. These are generally capped at an absolute maximum of 500GB per month, but you’re more likely to find plans closer to 100GB. They aren’t necessarily cheap, either, as you’ll probably have to pay more for the data you use compared to fixed line and home wireless broadband. This is because it accounts for roaming data, which isn’t the case with other connections.
What types of mobile broadband plan can I choose from?
There are several different types of mobile broadband connection available to buyers. You should always consider which of these suits your needs the most as an internet user, whether that be for convenience or price-wise. Consider the following options and see which one is the best fit for your mobile broadband needs.
Even in the knowledge that they’re all relatively simple to set up, data SIMs are one of the most convenient types of mobile broadband to use. Essentially, this works in the same way that a SIM card does for your phone, with a few noteworthy differences. Firstly, a data SIM can be inserted into your phone, tablet, computer or Wi-Fi modem to provide it with instant internet access or enable its use as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other devices. However, it doesn’t allow you to make calls or texts in the same way that a SIM for your phone plan does. Aside from this, though, it provides the same functionality for your devices and is quick and easy to use.
Data SIM mobile broadband plans can vary in data allowance, with anything from just 1GB per month all the way up to 250GB (or more) available with different internet service providers (ISPs). This means that the price will also vary quite widely depending on this allowance and the speed at which your internet is delivered (a combination of 3G and 4G, solely 4G or 5G). The price range for these can come in at as low as $10 per month, although plans around this price usually aren’t affording you much data usage or fast internet speeds.
A USB modem or dongle is another popular choice for mobile broadband users. Extremely portable in the same way as a data SIM, these connections function slightly differently. Because they often utilise USB ports, you may not be able to plug these into your phone (and doing so may not be fully comfortable and convenient to do), but computers and tablets are still squarely in the frame for data access. Also, because it’s a USB stick, your dongle doesn’t require any batteries or charging: it’s powered by its connection to whatever device you’re using.
Because USBs are more substantial and less inherently disposable as a device, you’ll likely have to pay more upfront if you buy into a plan without a lock-in contract. Depending on your ISP and the type of plan you purchase, an uncontracted mobile broadband deal could involve you paying upwards of $200 upfront. Also, some ISPs may charge you up to $100 over the duration of your contract to pay for your USB modem, which is hardly an insignificant amount. Like data SIMs, dongles can turn your computer or tablet into a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other connected devices, providing you with internet access across your home, business or wherever you are on your travels.
Personal or pocket Wi-Fi device
A pocket Wi-Fi device is another choice that internet users have when choosing between types of mobile broadband. This is the most convenient when it comes to connecting multiple devices up to the one network, as there’s no need to hook it up to a host device and then establish a hotspot for the rest to join. For example, if you go on a holiday with friends or family to a location without Wi-Fi, you can bring your pocket Wi-Fi device for instant internet connectivity. As a result, these modems are considered more flexible than dongles, as they can be operational without being physically connected to another device.
Pocket Wi-Fi modems are a further step-up from dongles in terms of their value as an individual device, so you’re likely to have to pay a significant amount for it. In some cases, your total outlay on the pocket modem and its delivery could exceed $300, so ensure that you’re careful when comparing between mobile broadband plans. Part of the added expense to your plan comes with greater data allowances compared to data SIM plans and more powerful internet connections, both of which shape the cost of internet plans across the market. Also, pocket Wi-Fi devices will need to be charged or have their batteries replaced over time, so you should make sure that you always have enough charge on your modem in case of an emergency.
How do I compare the best mobile broadband plans?
It’s important to enter the comparison process with a clear understanding of the main points that set the best mobile broadband plans apart from one another. Savvy is a great place to compare these plans, as our comprehensive comparison tools allow you to contrast the top offers in the mobile broadband market against one another. Take a look at some of the key areas you should be addressing when comparing between mobile broadband deals.
The cost of your plan
This is a straightforward comparison, as it’s both easy and obvious to compare mobile broadband prices. You’re likely to be operating within a desired budget for your internet, so this will dictate the amount you spend on your plan and almost single-handedly decide which ones you consider and which you don’t. It’s important to ensure that you’re not paying more for your broadband than you need to. However, it’s more important that you’re delivered the data that you need, so you shouldn’t compare plans based on cost alone.
Your plan’s data allowance
As mentioned above, affording yourself the right amount of data is of paramount importance. It’s never ideal to run out of data prior to the end of the month, so you should take stock of your data needs before committing to a plan. For example, if you’re buying a data SIM for your tablet as a backup in case Wi-Fi is unavailable, you may only need to buy a plan that includes 10GB or less. However, if you’re using this as the primary internet source at your home for your devices, you’ll probably need to look for plans upwards of 100GB per month.
Your plan’s internet speed
Mobile broadband operates on the 3G, 4G and now 5G networks, thanks to Telstra’s 5G mobile broadband plans. While you won’t be able to purchase a solely 3G plan, you’ll have to decide between 4G and 5G plans for your broadband needs. These bring different benefits, as 4G is cheaper but 5G is substantially faster in most cases. If you’re living in an area without strong access to 5G internet, it probably won’t be worth your while to purchase a Telstra 5G mobile broadband plan, for instance. Also remember that your connection is unlikely to stay consistent if you’re moving around, so you should account for this if you plan to use it on the go.
Your plan’s connection type
As discussed above, the type of mobile broadband connection offered on your plan is worth comparing. Everyone will have different preferences when it comes to their mobile internet source. You may like the convenience of inserting a SIM card into your tablet and forgetting about it, or you might prefer to utilise a dongle between your computer and laptop. Alternatively, you might wish to take advantage of the more expansive data allowances and flexibility of supplying an easy pocket Wi-Fi modem to connect all your devices and those of your friends and family.
Your plan’s excess data charges
One important factor to consider is how much your ISP will charge you for using more than your allotted data quota in a month. It’s rare for this to not attract additional charges, so you’re likely to be looking at an arrangement such as $10 per additional GB used. You may be able to find a cheaper pay scale, however, so if you want to cover yourself if you end up going over your monthly data, it would be worth comparing this between ISPs.
Your plan’s contract (or lack thereof)
Customers will have different preferences when it comes to the contract status of their mobile broadband plans. There are plenty of benefits of both, namely that contracts can sidestep the need to pay excessive upfront costs and non-contract plans afford you the flexibility to switch to another plan whenever you see fit. It’s crucial that you decide early on whether you prefer to be tied down to a contract or maintain the freedom to move on from their plan if they’re dissatisfied or find a better deal.
The pros and cons of mobile broadband
With a data SIM, dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modem, you can essentially take the internet with you wherever you go rather than restricting it to your home or business
You can use a mobile broadband connection as an individual connection for one device or use it as a hotspot for multiple devices to access the internet at once
Because you’re paying for roaming data, mobile broadband is the most expensive internet plan in terms of dollars for data
Depending on where you are, your broadband coverage may be poor and slow your internet down (or have it drop out entirely)
You’ll have to stick to greater restrictions on data usage than you would with an NBN or home wireless internet plan, with no unlimited mobile broadband plans available