A guide to mobile broadband

Even with free Wi-Fi everywhere these days, there still exists a gulf between always being connected, and a quality connection. Often free Wi-Fi is slow and unsecure, so if you’re always out and about, you can be left feeling stranded with your tablet or laptop. There is one solution however. Heard of mobile broadband before?

While mobile broadband has been available for some time now, it’s only in recent years that it’s become one of the key battlegrounds for Australia’s biggest telcos and smaller Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) alike. This is 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 for those who are looking at diving into the best plan, look no further, because there are in fact lots of providers offering mobile broadband these days, and it can pay to know how far your dollar can stretch.

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 move, then mobile broadband can still be provided. You are able to access mobile broadband in these most common ways:

  • Using an external piece of tech generally referred to as a ‘dongle’
  • These usually take the form of a USB device or a small SIM card-style device
  • A miniature modem
  • You’ll get a SIM only plan where you’ll have to either source your own dongle or hope your device can directly plug in a SIM.

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?

There are several limitations with using mobile broadband.

  • It’s expensive for what you get; data is often many times more expensive than on Wi-Fi on a per-gigabyte basis.
  • Perhaps the most major is 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? Mobile broadband likely won’t get tip-top reception either in those spots. This of course can vary with providers.

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, but it can pay to look at a different provider to your mobile plan so you get the best chance possible of finding signal.

Where can I get a mobile broadband plan?

Mobile broadband bears a number of similarities to phone plans – it can come packaged with or without a device, and can be either pre-paid or post-paid. There are many providers offering mobile broadband solutions, but some may work out to be better value than others! Keep in mind that to use smaller Mobile Virtual Network Operators, you’ll likely need to use a third-party device and these can often be locked to a provider. It can pay to arm yourself with an unlocked dongle in this regard, but if your device takes a SIM card then you can choose almost any plan!

5-10GB Mobile Broadband

There are a number of providers offering at least 5GB of mobile broadband for under $30 a month. SpinTel comes out the cheapest overall, but has a $20 set-up fee, bringing the total cost for the first month at just under $40. Look out for small providers like Jeenee Mobile and Vaya. Optus has also come to the game offering much the same kind of deal. The bonus with Optus is that you can likely walk into a variety of stores, pick up a SIM and/or a dongle and be on your way. There are also many Optus shops you can head into. With small MVNOs you’ll likely have to wait a few days for it to be posted.

If you’re not wanting a postpaid-type deal, prepaid may be the best option as you can recharge when you like. In this case, Lebara, Yomojo, OVO and Vodafone all come to the game, with OVO seemingly leading the charge with a decent data to cost ratio. Additionally, Vodafone’s billing period is over 40 days, which is quite peculiar.

Data-Heavy Mobile Broadband

If your data demands are a little more… demanding… then choosing a mobile broadband plan with more than 20GB of data can be a great way to get the most out of your plan, and can work out to be cheaper on a per-gigabyte basis than smaller plans.

In the postpaid sphere, look out for providers like Yomojo, Optus, Jeenee and SpintTel that are all leading the charge when it comes to good value. Jeenee seems to offer the best value here, but there is merit in Optus – keep an eye out for entertainment bonuses and other goodies that’ll help boost value.

If your tastes are more prepaid, then consider these providers. Keep in mind that you’re likely to see less competition with this much data on prepaid, as many providers want you to hop on over to postpaid where you will be billed every month, instead of choosing when you want to recharge. There are only two providers leading the charge here – OVO and Yomojo. Both are low-cost MVNOs and there is not much between them.

Should I get mobile broadband?

If you’re generally out and about, fed up with free Wi-Fi or wanting to be connected at all times then mobile broadband may be the way to go. However,  you will be paying for convenience. You will be paying a premium per gigabyte over traditional Wi-Fi and other broadband connections. For many, this cost for convenience is worth it.

As you can see, there is great value to be had, especially with Optus and some smaller MVNOs. As competition increases, we suspect data included will increase and provide even more value. Much like with phone or fixed line broadband plans, it’s important to look at the overall picture, other than just cost alone. Keep an eye out for:

  • Extra perks and bonuses such as free streaming and subscriptions
  • Other perks such as data-free Netflix
  • Data billed per kilobyte, rather than megabyte

It can also pay to regularly compare your options to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. This telco segment is rapidly evolving, with new plan configurations seemingly coming out every week, so being vigilant can pay off.

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