We’re spending more time on the internet than ever before. Whether it's web browsing, email and instant messaging, or keeping in touch with friends via social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. As a result wireless mobile broadband is booming. For many people, these days it’s not enough to have a mobile phone, you need to be “connected” for data wherever you go. It’s also another option for those who can’t get a cable or ADSL connection
for a wireless router
Fortunately, mobile broadband is now faster and cheaper than ever before. But what are the costs, and are some providers better than others?
We bought and field-tested broadband on-the-go solutions from the top five mobile broadband providers
We also roadtested Unwired, which takes a different approach by using its own proprietary wireless network rather than the mobile phone networks used by the others on test. The “big five” all provide a small dongle which attaches to a computer via a USB port.
The Unwired solution is the odd man out, looking more like a desktop computing product. The wireless modem itself is more like the size of a typical broadband ADSL or cable modem, but it is actually a true wireless solution. Rather than plug into a USB port it connects to the computer via the supplied Ethernet cable
. So, despite its size it can travel with you, though not as conveniently – or as it turns out, reliably – as the other solutions on test. Unwired coverage is very patchy indeed - you can check coverage in your local area by putting your home address into the Availability page
on the Unwired website. Getting a good signal is almost a lottery dip. You may find coverage at one end of a street, but not at the other. If you plan to use it from a fixed location such as your home you might find you’re not covered. We advise checking the coverage maps carefully before buying.
Wireless is still far slower than wired ADSL or cable solutions, and by a large margin, but mobile broadband is getting faster and cheaper, with prepaid plans offering several gigabytes (GB) of data for prices starting as low as $15 a month.
Some of you in the comments have asked about network coverage for the providers we've looked at. You'll find details of network coverage on the providers' websites below:
Our feature on Networking 101 will give you a basic introduction to setting up a home network.