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What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband, either over a 3G or 4G network, is a way of accessing high speed internet via mobile devices on-the-go.

Mobile broadband access is provided to customers through a mobile phone signal, but it isn’t just smartphones and tablets that can access 3G or 4G mobile broadband.

Though these are the two most common methods for accessing mobile broadband, devices for enabling mobile broadband access on laptops and PCs are also available.

Mobile dongles are popular with commuters and travellers looking to keep their laptop online while they’re on the move. These are essentially mobile modems that plug into a laptop or PC’s USB port and receive a mobile broadband signal.

Other mobile broadband devices include data cards and MiFi units, which are wireless portable broadband devices that can provide a broadband connection for up to five devices.

1. How does mobile broadband work?

Both 3G and 4G mobile broadband work by using technologies called HSDPA and HSUPA, which stand for High Speed Download Package Access and High Speed Upload Package Access respectively.

These two technologies complement each other to deliver high internet speeds to a mobile device, wherever that device is. At least, that’s the theory.

Internet access varies from one area to another. In practice, the way that 3G mobile broadband is transmitted means that the strength of up to 21Mb are available in certain places, such as city centres, while in some regions – more commonly rural areas – speeds can be far lower or even completely non-existent.

While 4G offers far higher download and upload speeds, it is transmitted in the same way as 3G so the same issues of speed variations from one region to another will occur – although as both 3G and 4G networks improve over time, the coverage will get better.

2. Who should get mobile broadband?

The speed and convenience of mobile broadband mean that almost anyone can benefit from getting connected. It is probably most useful for smartphone and tablet users, as a lot of the functionality of these devices is based on having an internet connection.

All smartphones and tablets have mobile broadband connectivity built in and most carriers offer customers a package that includes mobile broadband access as standard, so connectivity will be automatic.

But commuters and students who need to access the internet via their laptop, either when they’re on the morning commute or at the library, can also benefit from a mobile broadband connection. Some laptops will have built-in connectivity, while others can be enabled with a dongle, data card or MiFi unit.

3. Who provides mobile broadband?

There are three main providers of mobile broadband in Ireland at the moment, offering connectivity through both dongles and MiFi units. The main providers are eir, Three and Vodafone.

Compare the latest mobile broadband deals »

4. What are the advantages of mobile broadband?

There is a wide range of advantages to using a mobile broadband connection, regardless of which provider you use. These include:

  • Affordable monthly cost - from as little as €9.99 a month.
  • Small and very portable USB modems which can be carried around in a bag or even a pocket, ready for use at any time.
  • Access to the internet wherever you are.
  • No need to plug into an Ethernet connection to get online.
  • Dongles and MiFi units are completely wireless and do not need a power supply.
  • Mobile broadband networks are improving and expanding all the time.

5. What are the disadvantages of mobile broadband?

There are a number of drawbacks and disadvantages to mobile broadband, which it is important to be aware of before purchasing a broadband package. These include:

  • Varying speeds in different parts of the country.
  • Speeds can be slower than some home broadband packages.
  • Connections are susceptible to mobile phone signals, meaning they can suddenly drop out.
  • Most mobile broadband packages have a limited download amount, which can be restrictive.

Mobile broadband download limits

What many broadband users are concerned about, whether on mobile or home broadband, is how much they are allowed to download.

It’s important to note that mobile broadband packages, in general, have far smaller download allowances than home broadband.

This is because transferring data across 3G mobile broadband networks can be very costly, for both customers and service providers, while home broadband data transfer is relatively inexpensive.

There is also a danger of a mobile broadband network becoming overloaded and losing connection speeds as a result of high data transfer. So, if you want to download something very large, or download repeatedly for long periods, try and use a fixed home broadband connection.

Compare the latest mobile broadband deals