A guide to internet dongles and pocket Wi-Fi

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If you’re on the move a fair bit, or perhaps you just want something easy and convenient to access the internet with, have you considered an internet dongle or pocket Wi-Fi? Canstar Blue compares some of the top brands, including what’s available with Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.

Dongles – or USB modems – and pocket Wi-Fi are becoming increasingly popular due to the cheaper and cheaper prices of mobile broadband. Usually you need a mobile broadband plan to make use of either a dongle or pocket Wi-Fi hub, and telcos such as Telstra, Vodafone and Optus are all service providers that bundle in their mobile broadband plans with a device, making it an easy one-stop shop. Read on as we explain all you need to know about internet dongles and look at the plans on offer.

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What is an internet dongle?

White 3g usb modem

An internet dongle is usually a USB-sized gadget that plugs into the USB port on your laptop or computer for when you need easy mobile broadband access. A dongle is basically a tiny unpowered modem that uses your computer’s power to access the internet. Dongles generally come prepackaged with mobile broadband plans from Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.

Just like with mobile phone plans, mobile broadband with these three providers is available as SIM-only or as a bundled product. If you’re after a dongle from these three telcos, opt for the bundled product if you want convenience.

What is pocket Wi-Fi?

The main difference between pocket Wi-Fi and an internet dongle is the pocket version is self-powered, meaning you can get away with not plugging it into a device’s USB port to power it up. They get their name because they’re usually small enough to fit into a pocket, or in the palm of your hand, and can be easily transported – yet have the battery power to last for a few hours for wireless connectivity. They’re also somewhat of a hybrid between a wireless router and an internet dongle. They use 4G internet from a mobile broadband SIM card, yet you can put it in the home – or just as easily take it with you.

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Mobile Broadband Plans with Dongles or Pocket Wi-Fi

If you like the sound of a dongle or pocket Wi-Fi device for easy on-the-move connectivity for your laptop or for easy home connectivity, below are a few providers that offer not only a device but mobile broadband as well. Generally speaking, you’ll be locked in for at least 12 months, while many plans include the device at no extra cost if you opt for a 24 month contract. These are the providers in our database with a direct link to their respective websites.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Vodafone Logo

3GB Mobile Broadband Plan

  • Vodafone Pocket Wi-Fi 4G Modem included on 24 month plans

min. cost $360 over 24 month billing period

3GBMax Data**/billing period $15Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
Exetel Logo

ExeGo 8GB

  • Optional Huawei E8372 included for $5 extra per month on 12 month plans
  • Get 10% off plan fees if adding on to a current service, ends 26/6

min. cost $239.88 over 12 month billing period

8GBMax Data**/billing period $19.99Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
Southern Phones Logo

Green 8

  • $99 outright mobile broadband dongle

min. cost $363 over 12 Months

8GBMax Data**/billing period $22Advertised Data^^/billing period
View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue

Vodafone Mobile Internet Dongles & Pocket Wi-Fi

Vodafone seems to have a few more options than others, and in the dongle range there are both prepaid and postpaid options available.

  • SIM Only: 3GB data from $15 a month.
  • 24 Months with Device: Plans are the same, with varying extra fees for pocket Wi-Fi modems. The base modem costs $0 extra per month.

If you’re an ongoing user, you may find better value in going for the contracted, bundled options as more data usually comes at a cheaper price. However, if you’re just looking for something short term, or want flexibility the SIM only options may be the way to go.

As for pocket Wi-Fi, there are two of them. It seems that both are pretty evenly-spec’d, but the Huawei model can connect up to 32 Wi-Fi devices, and has multiple LAN ports for wired devices. It also has access, of course, to the Vodafone 4G Network.

Exetel Mobile Internet Dongles & Pocket Wi-Fi

Exetel is known as a low-cost internet and mobile phone plan provider, and it also produces a range of mobile broadband plans.

  • Plans are SIM-only by default, but users can add on a Huawei dongle for an extra $5 a month on 12 month contracts or for $69 upfront on no lock-in plans.

If you’re a consistent user, you may find better value in the 12 month options, but if you just need a stop-gap solution, the no lock-in plans may work out better. Exetel offers plans from 1.5GB up to a massive 90GB – could this be enough to replace your home internet?

Exetel is pretty light on the pocket Wi-Fi front. That is to say, the telco doesn’t offer any devices in this segment. Exetel uses the Optus 4G network to deliver its services.

Southern Phone Mobile Internet Dongles & Pocket Wi-Fi

Southern Phone is a telco that gives back to rural areas through donating part of its profits to regional councils. Southern Phone also provides some competitive mobile broadband plans.

  • Plans are available as either a SIM-only or bundled deal. The ‘bundled’ deal means you pay $99 upfront for the dongle, and then proceed as normal.

Southern Phone offers competitive plans from 8GB up to a massive 140GB. These plans are available on the Optus network, though some other plans on the Telstra 4G network are also available.

Unlocked Dongles and Pocket Wi-Fi

Perhaps the most notable pocket Wi-Fi device is the NETGEAR Nighthawk M1, and currently the only way to get it is through Telstra.

  • It boasts dual-band frequency – 2.4 and 5.0Ghz for traffic prioritisation
  • 4Gx Gigabit LTE speeds – the fastest currently available
  • If you’re serious about mobile broadband, you can bundle it with Telstra from $24 a month over 24 months

However good the M1 is, many people may desire to not be tied into one particular provider for two years, and may instead to go the unlocked route.

Huawei is perhaps the leader in mobile broadband modem technology, and while its products are pretty hard to find in-store and unlocked, you can always shop online. Most of its products are even used by Vodafone and other telcos themselves to deliver their locked dongles and pocket Wi-Fi. Several dongle and pocket Wi-Fi models under the Huawei umbrella are:

Dongle Product Codes Pocket Wifi Product Codes

E3276

E3372

E3531

E8372

E8231

E5771

E5577

E5787

E5770

E5373

Source: Huawei website

Many of Huawei’s pocket Wi-Fi modems are available for around $50-$80, while its dongles are available – for the most part – for less than $50 or so. While this upfront cost may be a slight turn-off, if you want ultimate flexibility with your own mobile broadband plan then it may work out cheaper in the long run than one on a plan.

Below is a snippet of what you can expect if you decide to go your own route with mobile broadband, with prepaid providers such as Lebara, Amaysim, Yomojo and OVO Mobile all offering fairly competitive prices.

Should I get a dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modem?

Dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modems are convenient ways to get mobile broadband, especially if your device does not support a SIM card by itself. They make it easy to connect to the internet, in some cases getting full-flight 4Gx gigabit speed capacities. However, in Australia at present you are pretty much presented with three options – Telstra, Vodafone and Optus. To get an unlocked dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modem, you’ll have to purchase online in a lot of cases, and this can be expensive.

  • If you’re looking for just a quick solution with no commitments, a prepaid option is probably the best, while if you’re going to be using it regularly a postpaid plan is probably best.

Then there remains the big question – should I get a dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modem? A dongle is not powered on its own, but pocket Wi-Fi usually is. If you’re connected to multiple peoples’ devices, pocket Wi-Fi might be the better option. However, if you’re doing work, say, on the train, or on a bus, then a dongle may work best for ultimately portability.

In any case, if you can find an unlocked dongle or pocket Wi-Fi modem, and a compatible mobile broadband plan, you’re onto a winner, but for convenience, going with a locked option is also viable. Mobile broadband is dearer than most other kinds of internet, and these portable modems are convenient, but can add up over time.

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