Mobile Internet Dongles

A mobile dongle is, essentially, a small modem that connects to your computer through a USB interface. It offers internet access using 3G or 4G broadband. What makes these devices so popular is that you can use them to access the internet practically anywhere, unlike a fixed line that can only be used in your home or office, for example.

Mobile dongles are also called USB modems, internet sticks, USB network adapters or USB mobile broadband sticks. Regardless of what they are called, they can be incredibly useful, especially if you need a stable connection when you are on the go. If you are a complete beginner to mobile broadband and would like some more information, check out our mobile broadband guide.

Choosing the best mobile dongle for you

A mobile dongle allows you to access the internet via a 4G or 3G broadband connection. The technology is the same as the one that lets you use your mobile phone, which means that practically all mobile network carriers offer mobile broadband via dongles.

There are many offers available in Ireland, though, you need to compare them to choose the best deal. Providers offer two types of mobile broadband devices, namely one type that you connect to the USB port of your laptop and another that generates a WiFi signal.

So, the first step is to choose the type of mobile dongle 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. Remember that it’s just as mobile as a standard dongle, but you can use it at home or in the office as well for multiple devices. If you only need one internet connection - a standard mobile dongle will be sufficient.

Choosing the right plan

Now that you’ve decided what type of dongle you need, it’s time to pick a plan. You can opt for a prepay plan or a bill pay plan. A prepay plan will give you more control over your budget, in that you can’t go over your allotted amount of traffic because you get internet access for a set period of time, which can range from one day to one month.

Conversely, with a bill pay plan, you aren’t limited in terms of how long you can use it, but you do have a set amount of traffic. Once you use your traffic allotment, you’ll be charged separately for every megabyte of traffic. This means you need to be careful when choosing a plan because the additional fees can be quite steep.

In other words, you should be careful in choosing a plan that gives you enough traffic, so you don’t exceed the limit, and also try using it only when necessary. If you’re home, for example, it’ll probably be cheaper over the long run to install a wireless router and use your fixed connection and only use your mobile broadband connection when there’s no fixed internet connection available.

Providers offering mobile dongles

There are quite a few providers offering mobile dongles, including Vodafone, Meteor, and 3. Note that if you sign up for a 12-month contract, in most cases the device will be free.

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The advantages of a mobile dongle

The main advantage of a USB modem is that it lets you to connect to the internet wherever you are. They’re also pretty small, and thanks to technological progress, they’ve become quite fast. You also don’t need to worry about charging an internet stick because they run on your computer’s power. Furthermore, you can use a dongle with any device that has a USB connection, enabling you to connect practically anything to the internet.

Thanks to 4G connections, mobile dongles have become a good alternative for a fixed line. If you regularly stream videos, though, you might find a fixed line is still a better option due to higher speeds and higher traffic allowances. However, it probably won’t be long until everyone is using an internet stick as competition becomes stiffer and prices drop even further.

If you would like to know more about 4G, check out our 4G mobile broadband guide.

The disadvantages of a USB internet stick

If you’re using a 3G connection, and you use the internet for demanding tasks, like playing online games, it’s not going to be enough. The maximum speed offered on 3G connections is 21Mbps, but the average is 1.5Mbps, a number the industry acknowledges as being factual. And while 4G might be faster, it is quite a bit more expensive, especially since the network isn’t quite as developed as 3G.

Since mobile broadband runs on the same connection as your mobile phone, if there’s no coverage or it’s poor in your location, you are going to find it hard to connect to the internet. Read more about mobile broadband coverage in Ireland in our dedicated guide.

Another problem is that the data usage limit is quite low when compared to fixed internet connections. The limit is usually more than enough for things like connecting to Twitter, sharing a photo every now and again, or sending emails, but it won’t be enough if you stream films or TV shows regularly.

If you use your mobile dongle while travelling overseas, it’s going to cost you quite a bit. Prices may have come down, but they are still high enough to make you wonder whether it’s actually worth using your dongle in anything other than an emergency.

A mobile dongle can be a useful tool, especially if you need internet on the go on a regular basis. However, you need to do your research to make sure you are getting the best plan for your needs in terms of speed, data allowance, and budget.

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