Mobile broadband dongle plugged into USB port on laptop

Is mobile broadband suitable for students?

Most students wouldn't survive without a good internet connection, so will mobile broadband be sufficient for students' needs?

The college year is getting into full swing now. And with Fresher’s Week firmly behind us, and lectures underway, students who don’t yet have internet in their accommodation may be realising that they need to get it sorted.

We’ve already written about the different broadband plans that could work well for students - and even save them money.

But what about mobile broadband? It’s relatively cheap, which is always good, but will it work well for students?

What is mobile broadband?

When we talk about mobile broadband, we mean mobile internet access which is provided to customers through a mobile phone signal. However, it’s not just your smartphone that can access 3G or 4G mobile broadband.

Mobile dongles can enable mobile broadband access on laptops and PCs, while 4G SIM cards can be used to gain access to the internet on a tablet.

Mobile dongles Mobile dongles, which are also known as USB modems and internet sticks, are basically small modems that connect to your computer through a USB interface and offer internet access using 3G or 4G broadband.

These devices allow you to access the internet practically anywhere via any compatible device with a USB port, unlike a fixed line that can only be used in your home or office, for example.

Generally you can get prepay - contract free - dongles, or bill-pay ones on a contract.

4G SIM cards If you have a compatible tablet, you could get a SIM card to allow you to access the internet on this wherever you are. This works very much like your a mobile phone SIM - and so is also generally available on either prepay or bill-pay.

Providers of mobile broadband The technology used to provide mobile broadband is the same as the one that lets you use your mobile phone, so you’ll find that most mobile network carriers offer mobile broadband via dongles and 4G SIMs.

If you’re a student, will mobile broadband work for you?

There are a couple of things to consider if you’re thinking about going for mobile broadband.

Undoubtedly, the main advantage of a USB modem or 4G SIM if you’re a student, is that it lets you connect to the internet wherever you are - be that a lecture hall, the library, or your accommodation.

However, it’s worth noting that a fixed line will generally offer higher speeds and higher data allowances, so if you’re going to be streaming video lectures (or Netflix!), and downloading a lot of reading material, you might want to consider this.

It’s also worth noting that, since mobile broadband runs on the same kind of connection as your mobile phone, if coverage is poor in your location, you are going to find it hard to connect to the internet.

If you’re thinking about using a 4G SIM with your tablet, consider whether this will be sufficient for you needs throughout college - for example, will you need more powerful word processing or other software to complete assignments?

Remember that there are some good home broadband deals for students out there, and if you’re in a shared household, these might work well for you - especially if you have access to free WiFi in college which you can connect your laptop or tablet to.

Deciding on mobile broadband

If you have weighed up all of the pros and cons and decide to go for mobile broadband, you’l need to decide on the type you need.

If you have multiple devices, such as a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop that you need an internet connection for, then a WiFi dongle is the perfect option, while if you only need one internet connection a standard mobile dongle, or a 4G SIM, will be sufficient. You can also choose between a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or bill pay plan.

With bill pay, there’s no need to top up, and the devices - like USB, WiFi dongles or SIM cards - sometimes come free, while with PAYG or prepay you don’t need to worry about a long contract and you can just pay for what you use. Generally, providers would recommend PAYG plans for people with lightweight internet usage

In terms of costs for 4G SIMs, there are a number of plans out there, for example:

  • Vodafone has a bill-pay plan which has a data allowance of 15GB and costs €21.99 per month on an 18-month contract; and
  • Meteor’s starter bill-pay option costs €14.99 per month, with a 15GB allowance and a 30-day contract.

Meteor also offers a ‘1 day Pass’ for pre-pay customers, which costs €2.99 per day and has a data allowance of 500MB.

In relation to dongles:

  • Vodafone’s Red MBB Plus plan has a data allowance of 15 GB and costs €21.99 per month on a 24-month contract. With this deal, you’ll have to pay €189.99 for Vodafone’s B3500 4G WiFi Router.
  • Meteors offer the Huawei E3531 3G Stick free for customers on a 6-month contract for €19.99 per month. The data allowance is 40GB for 3 months, and 25GB thereafter. It’s worth noting, however, that this is a 3G device and so will likely be a lot slower than a 4G alternative.

Mobile broadband can be really useful, especially for people who need access to the internet on the move. If you are weighing up your options, be sure to compare data allowances, and the charges for going above these.

You should also consider whether it might be better value to get broadband into your accommodation, especially if there are a number of you that need to access the internet.