A guide to mobile broadband

Heard of mobile broadband before? While the technology has been available for some time, it’s only in recent years that it’s become one of the key battlegrounds for Australia’s biggest telcos – due to the rise of tablets and a desire for more data on the move. That means there has never been a better time to grab a great data deal!

For those who aren’t familiar with mobile broadband, or would just like to brush up on its finer points, we’ve put together a quick introduction to the product, along with a guide to what the big telcos are offering in terms of internet on the move.

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband (or ‘wireless wide area network technology’ for the boffins) is technology that allows a tablet, smartphone, laptop or some other mobile device to connect to the internet remotely by way of a broadband connection. The name is reasonably self-explanatory in that regard. However, there are a few aspects to the technology which aren’t explained by the name, namely the forms it can take and the limitations of the service.

What forms does mobile broadband come in?

You might not have explicitly purchased a mobile broadband plan and accompanying device from a telco, but you probably own a smartphone right? Well guess what, that’s a mobile broadband-enabled device right there in your pocket. The technology is more ubiquitous than you’d think, also being found in most modern laptops and tablets.

However, if you’re working with a slightly older piece of tech but still need internet access on the go, mobile broadband can still be provided using an external piece of tech generally referred to as a ‘dongle’. These usually take the form of a USB device, a small sim card-style device, or a miniature modem. The former two are rather limited in the sense that they can only be plugged into a laptop, but the latter option functions exactly like a regular Wi-Fi router, and can be accessed by any device wirelessly.

What are the limitations of mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband has one major drawback, and that’s coverage. As opposed to cable or fibre-based home broadband, mobile broadband relies on mobile network towers, which don’t necessarily cover every nook and cranny of wherever you are. Is there a spot in your house or workplace where your phone doesn’t get any bars? Well guess what, a mobile broadband dongle will have trouble functioning in those same spots.

A mobile broadband dongle seems like the perfect solution for camping trips or holidays where you’re not sure about what the coverage will be like, until you realise that the dongle relies on that same darn coverage. Not so perfect a solution after all.

What are the telcos offering?

Mobile broadband bears a number of similarities to phone plans – it can come packaged with or without a new device, and can be either pre-paid or post-paid. Here’s a quick breakdown of what the big two are offering in the mobile broadband space.


Telstra offers both pre and post-paid mobile broadband plans, and has a solid range of dongles to service them (i.e. sim cards for tablets, two varieties of mini modem, a car dongle, and USB dongles). The amount of data offered with Telstra’s prepaid plans caps out at 5GB (the two options are 3GB and 5GB), while post-paid mobile broadband customers can choose from four data options of 1, 4, 8 and 15GB, with prices rising accordingly.


Optus also offers both pre and post-paid mobile broadband plans, but with slightly more plan variety in both fields. Prepaid customers can choose from four data options of 1, 4, 7 or 22GB, while those happy to go post-paid can choose from 1.5, 2.5, 4, 8, 12 or a huge 25GB of data. In regards to devices, the Optus range is similar to Telstra’s, consisting of a single mini modem, a car dongle and a USB dongle for prepaid customers, while post-paid offerings also come with the option of three different modems varying in strength and capacity.

While we’ve only covered mobile broadband offerings from the two major Australian telcos, it’s important to note that several other big providers also have plans to pick from, a selection of which is listed below:

As you can see, there is great value to be had. Much like with phone or fixed line broadband plans, it’s important to regularly compare your options to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Compare mobile broadband providers

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