Want to get online using a mobile broadband dongle?
In this article, we’ve reviewed the 5 best dongle deals in the UK in 2024.
We’ve also explained how these devices work, and how to find the right dongle deal to buy.
TCL Linkzone MW63 Mobile Wi-Fi
5G Mobile Hotspot
Best dongle deals
Below, we’ve reviewed and compared the best 4G and 5G dongle deals you can buy right now in the UK.
Rather than plugging into a USB port like most dongles, Three’s mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) device creates a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to get online on up to 10 different devices at once – rather than just a single computer.
This TCL MiFi device is powered by a battery, which lasts for about seven hours of use, or about 10 days on idle, from our testing. You can keep it plugged in and charging all the time if you’d prefer.
The best thing about Three mobile broadband is its value for money. Three is the cheapest provider on the market, and they offer unlimited data plans for a reasonable monthly cost.
You can also choose between a pay as you go deal, or a 12 month or 24 month pay monthly contract. While the flexibility of pay as you go is great to have, it’s normally a good idea to buy this device on a pay monthly contract if you can, in order to get a lower monthly and upfront cost.
Three MiFi also offers fast speeds in our experience on their 4G network. We typically received download speeds of 30-40 Mbps when using this MiFi device.
Overall, if the Three mobile network offers good signal in your area, their mobile broadband device is a great choice.
Vodafone still sells a traditional USB dongle that plugs into your computer, allowing you to get online.
Their K5161z device is quite reasonably priced, and is available with unlimited data. You can also get it with 4GB or 30GB of monthly data, for a lower monthly cost.
There’s also the choice of a pay as you go or pay monthly contract, no matter what data allowance you choose.
The main issue with this dongle is it’s not as cheap as Three’s, even though it only allows you to get online on one device at once.
Also, from our testing, the K5161z dongle doesn’t offer as fast download speeds as Three’s MiFi device. However, it is fairly easy to plug into your computer and begin using.
In most cases, we’d recommend Three’s device instead of the Vodafone K5161z dongle if you want a 4G mobile broadband solution.
As well as their 4G dongle, Vodafone also sells one of the only 5G mobile broadband devices you can buy from a major network in the UK.
This mobile hotspot device offers average download speeds of about 100-200 Mbps, and it is WiFi 6 compatible, giving you better signal and speeds than most other mobile broadband devices offer.
The device also has a touchscreen, allowing you to change settings on the fly, such as your Wi-Fi password. It offers about eight hours of battery life, which is quite good for a 5G-enabled dongle.
Plus, you can connect up to 32 phones, laptops, and other devices to this mobile hotspot at once, which is much higher than you can with most other similar devices.
Vodafone’s prices on this dongle are quite reasonable, given it comes with 5G speeds. However, the upfront costs are very high on pay as you go plans, simply because the price of the device is so high. 5G dongles and MiFi devices are generally very expensive, and this one is no exception.
4. EE 4G WiFi
EE sells a similar mobile broadband dongle to Three’s TCL device.
The great thing about EE is their network coverage. They have the best 4G of any of the big four networks in the UK, especially in the countryside.
EE are a great choice if you live somewhere with bad signal, or want a dongle to travel with.
Also, if you’re an existing EE Mobile customer, and you buy this device, you’ll get an extra 5GB of data included for free on your phone plan, which is a nice touch.
Their 4G WiFi device is also quite a good bit of kit. It has a 30m Wi-Fi range, and you can connect up to 32 devices to the hotspot at once, which is quite a lot for a 4G internet device.
Although EE has a good range of data plans to choose from, including pay as you go options with unlimited data, they are quite expensive.
Compared to Three deals with the same amount of data, you’ll pay about twice as much to use EE mobile broadband.
Check on EE
Like with Vodafone’s K5161z device, O2’s 4G dongle from Alcatel is very simple, and easy to set up.
All you need to do is plug it into your computer, install the included software, and connect to the internet.
Plus, O2 offers the most flexible mobile broadband plans on the market. You can choose your exact contract length and data cap, from 5GB per month up to unlimited data, giving you the ability to build a customised plan that works for you.
O2’s prices are quite reasonable, even with a high data limit, although the amount you’ll pay does depend a lot on the length of the contract you choose.
However, this device has some of the drawbacks of Vodafone’s dongle as well.
Apart from the fact that it can’t connect more than one device to the internet at once, its internet signal can sometimes be a bit inconsistent, especially if you don’t have the best O2 mobile network coverage at your address.
Check on O2
What you need to know
In this part of the article, we’ve explained what you need to know when shopping for a dongle plan to buy.
How do dongles work?
Dongles are small devices that take a SIM card, plug into a USB port on your computer, and connect to the internet using the mobile network, just like your phone.
They’re generally very easy to set up, and also very flexible. You can buy a dongle on a pay as you go contract, and you can choose to get a plan with a data limit if you don’t need unlimited usage, helping you to save money.
Once you plug a dongle into your computer, you’ll need to install some software. Once this is done, and the dongle connects to the mobile network, you’ll be able to get online.
Most of the time, dongles connect to the 4G mobile network, giving you access to download speeds of about 30-40 Mbps on average. However, some dongles are 5G compatible, allowing you to get download speeds of 100-300 Mbps or more.
In general, dongles only allow you to get online on one device at once. This is why many networks now sell mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) devices instead of dongles.
MiFi devices work like a dongle except that they have a battery, and create a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to get online on multiple devices at the same time.
How buying a dongle works
Dongles are normally sold bundled with a data SIM plan, allowing you to immediately get online with the device.
The first thing you’ll need to decide when buying is how much data you need. Unlimited data dongle plans are available, and they’re a good choice if you plan to do a lot of data-heavy internet activities, like streaming high-definition video.
You’ll also need to choose whether you want to commit to a 12 month or 24 month pay monthly contract, or pay as you go on a month-to-month basis.
Before buying, it’s important to check that you have good 4G network signal at your address. To do this, you can use a network coverage map – here’s Three’s, as an example. Make sure to look for good indoor and outdoor 4G signal where you live.
Once you buy a dongle, it’ll be shipped to you, and should arrive in 1-2 business days. Then, when it arrives, you’ll need to insert the SIM card into the device, before plugging it into your computer and getting online.
4G vs 5G mobile broadband
In many parts of the UK, you can now get 5G signal, giving you much faster download speeds compared to 4G.
However, 5G mobile broadband devices are very expensive. And 4G is still fast enough for streaming videos and browsing social media, even on multiple devices at once.
For most people, we recommend 4G dongles, like the Three TCL MiFi device, because they’re so much cheaper.
If you want to use 5G, and can get it at your address, consider the Three 5G Hub router. It’s bigger than a dongle, and less portable, since it plugs into a wall power socket.
However, it costs about the same as most other mobile broadband devices, offers 5G speeds, and comes with unlimited data.
Pay as you go vs pay monthly dongles
When you buy a dongle from Three, EE, Vodafone, or O2, you’ll have the choice of a pay as you go or a pay monthly contract. Each of these networks offers the option of buying a dongle on a rolling monthly basis at the moment.
With a pay monthly contract, you’ll get access to a lower upfront cost (sometimes there will be no upfront cost) in return for committing for 12 or 24 months.
Pay as you go dongle plans are much more flexible, because you can cancel with a month’s notice, but they normally have a much higher upfront cost. Sometimes the monthly cost will be higher as well.
Normally, we recommend getting a pay monthly plan, if you don’t mind committing for a year or two, and passing a credit check. If you plan to use your dongle for a long time, you’ll save a lot of money by choosing a pay monthly agreement.
However, pay as you go deals are a great choice if you only plan on using your mobile broadband device for less than a year.
Do I need an unlimited data dongle?
If you will be using your dongle as your main way of getting online, we recommend paying a bit extra for unlimited data usage, if you can.
With the amount of HD video streaming most people do, and the amount of data that social media uses, if you get a 50-100GB monthly data limit, you might find yourself hitting your cap towards the end of the month.
However, there are a few situations in which you don’t need unlimited data.
- If you’re the only one using the dongle, and you’ll only be using it to browse the web, read emails, and watch the occasional video, a 50-100GB monthly data limit should be enough.
- If you’re only using the dongle occasionally, such as on weekends away in the caravan, a 50GB limit should be enough (or 100GB if you have kids).
- If your dongle is going to be used irregularly, a few days a month or less, a 4-20GB monthly data limit should be plenty.
Which mobile network is best?
For most people, Three is the best network to choose when buying a mobile broadband dongle.
They offer good 4G coverage in nearly all of the UK, and they’re much cheaper than most other mobile networks, when you compare the costs of their data plans.
EE has the best 4G coverage of any mobile network in the UK, especially in rural areas. However, their mobile broadband plans are significantly more expensive than Three’s.
Pros and cons of using a dongle
The main advantages of using a dongle are:
- They’re very easy to set up – simply insert the SIM card, and get online.
- They can be cheaper than using fibre broadband, especially if you don’t need unlimited monthly data.
- They can be purchased on a pay as you go basis, allowing you to cancel at any time.
- They can be faster than using broadband, especially if you only have ADSL internet available in your area.
- You can get online anywhere with a dongle, as long as you have 4G signal, making them a great choice for travelling.
However, there are some downsides to mobile broadband dongles:
- The traditional type of dongle that plugs into a USB port only allows one device to get online at once. This is why we recommend using a MiFi device instead – they will create a hotspot that multiple devices can connect to.
- Your latency will not be as good compared to using a fixed broadband connection. Dongles are not a great choice for online gaming.
- Their download and upload speeds aren’t as fast as using fibre broadband, in most cases.
How to save money when buying a dongle
If you’re on a budget, here are some ways to save money when buying a dongle deal:
- Only pay for as much data as you need, rather than getting unlimited data, in order to lower your monthly cost. We’ve explained how to calculate your monthly data needs in the next section.
- Commit to a 24 month contract, if you can. This should help to lower your upfront cost.
- Get a 4G rather than a 5G dongle, as they are significantly cheaper.
- Avoid networks with expensive mobile data plans, like EE and Vodafone, especially if you need unlimited data usage.
Getting online overseas with a dongle
Most mobile broadband providers allow you to roam with a dongle, once you enable international roaming in the device settings.
The issue is, when using data overseas, you will be subject to fair usage limits, meaning your monthly data usage will be capped. You may also need to pay an extra daily or monthly international roaming charge, which can make roaming with a dongle very expensive.
Often, to get online overseas with a dongle, the best thing to do is buy a foreign data SIM card, if you can find one.
Simply swap out the UK SIM and insert the international one – provided the foreign SIM is compatible with mobile internet devices, you should be able to get online without worrying about roaming limits or extra charges.
Other flexible ways to get online
If you’re not sure about using a dongle, here are some other flexible ways to get online.
1. Mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) devices
Mobile Wi-Fi devices work just like a dongle, except they are powered with a battery, rather than plugging into your computer. They create a Wi-Fi hotspot that you can use to get online with multiple devices at once.
In most cases, MiFi devices are a better choice than dongles, which is why Three, EE, and Vodafone sell them.
2. 4G/5G routers
If you want a way to get online full time with mobile broadband, 4G and 5G routers are worth looking at.
They function in the same way as a traditional Wi-Fi router, except they take a SIM card. Compared to a dongle or MiFi device, mobile broadband routers offer better Wi-Fi signal and download speeds, and although they’re less portable, routers normally come with unlimited usage by default.
3. Phone hotspot or tethering
You might also be able to get online with your phone’s hotspot or tethering, avoiding the need to buy a dongle.
The downside to doing this is you’ll need to keep your phone plugged in and charging whenever you’re online, which will degrade its battery over time.
Also, your internet speeds won’t be as fast as if you used a proper mobile broadband device, and you might end up eating through your data allowance quite quickly, unless you have an unlimited data SIM plan.
In our opinion, Three’s dongle is the best device to buy, if you can get Three 4G signal at your address. It’s reasonably priced, even with unlimited data, easy to set up, and offers good download speeds.
Still not sure which mobile broadband device to buy? Leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you.
About the author
Tyler is the co-founder of Broadband Savvy. He has been helping people improve their broadband connectivity since 2018 by writing about fibre broadband and mobile broadband providers, as well as creating tutorials to help people improve their broadband speeds and Wi-Fi signal.
Tyler is responsible for the majority of buyer’s guides and broadband reviews published on Broadband Savvy. He has a wealth of experience testing and reviewing different broadband tariffs, including fibre internet plans, as well as 4G and 5G broadband deals. He is responsible for testing and evaluating Wi-Fi routers, performing speed and latency tests, and comparing the value for money of different broadband providers on the market in the UK.
Before co-founding Broadband Savvy, Tyler had a long history of tinkering with computers. He built his first PC at the age of 12, and since then, he’s become obsessed with all things networking and internet-related. He’s a massive gamer, loves Rocket League, and also plays Sunday League football.