Looking for a dongle to get mobile Wi-Fi at home?
In this buyer’s guide, we’ve reviewed the 5 best dongle deals for mobile broadband in 2020.
We’ve also discussed some key things to consider when buying, to help you find the best dongle and mobile Wi-Fi deal for your specific needs.
Quick Comparison Table
K5161 Broadband Dongle
Huawei 4G Plus Mobile Wi-Fi
Best Dongle Deals
Let’s begin our reviews.
In this section, we’ve reviewed the 5 best mobile broadband and Wi-Fi dongle deals for sale in 2020.
We like Vodafone’s dongle deals for a very simple reason: there’s an absolute heap of choice.
You can pair this dongle with more than 10 different plans, from 6GB up to infinite data per month. Essentially, you only have to pay for what you need.
What’s more, Vodafone’s prices are pretty great. Although some of their deals have up-front fees, the monthly charges are very reasonable given the amount of data you get.
Next-day delivery is included in the set-up fee, and Vodafone’s 4G mobile network coverage is pretty good – they cover 99% of the UK.
The only downside to this dongle is it can’t create its own mobile Wi-Fi network.
However, there is a Mi-Fi/pocket Wi-Fi device you can buy instead of a dongle that’s available with the same plans, if you want to be able to connect multiple devices to your mobile broadband.
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Three don’t actually sell dongles anymore. Instead, they have mobile Wi-Fi or “Mi-Fi” devices, that act as a mobile hotspot for mobile broadband.
The main benefit of this type of device over a traditional dongle is you can connect an unlimited number of mobile phones/computers/tablets to the internet at the same time, because it creates a hotspot.
However, because it doesn’t plug into your computer, this device does have to be charged up every so often. The 4G speeds are great though, and Three’s network coverage is excellent.
Three offer a few different plans, including one with unlimited data that is currently only £22 per month, with nothing upfront. However, you do have to lock in to a 24-month contract.
Overall, if you need to be able to connect multiple data-hungry devices to the internet for a reasonably cheap price using mobile Wi-Fi, this is a great pick.
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Similar to Vodafone, O2 allow you to build a completely customised dongle deal from the ground up.
You can choose exactly how much data you need per month, and how long you’d like to commit for.
For example, if you need a decent amount of data and plan to use the dongle for an extended period, you can get 60GB per month and commit to 24 months to save some money.
As a result, it’s possible to get a really great-value deal – the monthly costs are very reasonable. You can even change your data allowance month-to-month, meaning you don’t ever have to pay a penny more than you need to.
What’s more, the Huawei dongle O2 have included is a great piece of hardware. It supports Wi-Fi hotspot creation, meaning you can get online with your mobile phone/tablet, as well as your computer. Plus, it’s 4G-enabled, which is nice to have.
However, some customers have reported that this dongle is a little difficult to get set up.
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EE have taken a bit of a different approach to providing mobile broadband.
Rather than offering Wi-Fi dongles or mobile Wi-Fi devices, they have a mobile broadband router that taps into the EE 4G mobile network, which is one of the best in the UK.
It’s just like a normal broadband router, except there’s no Ethernet cable. Meaning, you can pick it up and use it anywhere.
The router has a 30m range, and supports having up to 32 devices connected at once. It’s designed to be used for home broadband, meaning the Wi-Fi signal is fantastic, even at long-range.
You can get it with anything from 50GB up to 500GB of data each month, and for these plans the monthly cost is pretty reasonable.
However, the minimum contract length is 18 months, which is quite long. You can get this router on a month-to-month agreement if you like, but the set-up fee is quite substantial.
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Virgin Media sell the same personal mobile WiFi device from Huawei that Three provide with their mobile broadband deals.
So what’s the difference between the two?
Virgin Media charge a higher up-front cost on their month-to-month plans than Three. However, their monthly costs are much lower.
Also, Virgin don’t offer as much data with their plans as Three does. There’s no unlimited data plan – the maximum is 15GB.
Essentially, Virgin are a better option if you plan to stay with them for an extended period – whether on a 12-month or rolling (1 month) plan – due to the lower monthly cost.
Another advantage to Virgin is their speed. In many areas, they’re faster than O2, EE, and Three, due to the quality of their network.
However, they don’t provide as much data as many of their competitors.
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What You Need To Know
In this section, we’ll discuss some key things to consider when shopping for a mobile broadband dongle deal.
Is a dongle right for me?
A dongle is a small device that plugs into your computer through a USB port, allowing you to access mobile broadband.
It connects to a 4G or 5G network, just like your phone, and then passes this internet connection to your computer, allowing you to browse the internet using mobile broadband. Meaning, no need to connect to Wi-Fi.
Some dongles, especially the newer ones, can actually create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot while plugged into your computer. Meaning, you can connect your phone and tablet to the internet, as well as your computer, without having to have them plugged into the dongle directly.
It’s important to note that dongles require good mobile broadband reception in order to function properly. We’ll discuss how to find a good network a bit below.
Benefits of dongles
There are a number of benefits to dongles when compared to regular broadband, tethering, or mobile hotspots.
- They don’t require charging. You simply plug the dongle into your Mac or PC, and immediately get online.
- They’re very easy to set up and use. After plugging in the dongle, you’ll get a pop-up with some instructions to follow. Once it’s set up, you simply plug in the dongle whenever you want to access the internet.
- They can provide easy access to the internet when travelling or in areas with poor Wi-Fi, without having to use an existing Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Often, they can be purchased on a month-to-month no lock-in contract. The same can be said of mobile broadband SIMs and Mi-Fi devices, so this isn’t a benefit that’s exclusive to dongles.
Ultimately, if you need a simple, easy way to get online on a laptop or PC with a USB port, then dongles are a great option.
Downsides of dongles
However, there are some downsides to using a mobile broadband dongle.
- Depending on the strength of the mobile broadband network in your area, your internet connectivity may be inconsistent. In most of the UK though, this isn’t a big problem.
- Most dongle deals have monthly bandwidth limits, or extra charges for extra bandwidth usage. If you go for an unlimited data deal, it will likely be quite expensive.
Also, dongles are pretty small – they look like USB sticks. Therefore, it’s important to be careful not to lose them!
Can I get unlimited data with a mobile dongle?
As we mentioned above, unlimited data plans on mobile broadband are quite rare. Most providers have a monthly data usage cap of 100GB or less. And the unlimited data deals that do exist are often very expensive.
This can cause problems when using a dongle as your home broadband connection, as you’ll need a lot of data to handle the internet usage of a modern household.
If paying for unlimited data will cost too much, consider going for a mobile broadband deal with a very high limit. For example, EE have a 500GB per month plan, designed for those using mobile broadband as their primary internet access method.
Just remember that if you don’t have unlimited data, you’ll need to be careful about how you use the internet. You will need to limit the amount of video that you download or stream for example, as this tends to use a lot of data.
What happens if I hit my data cap?
If you don’t have an unlimited data plan and you go over your monthly usage cap, one of three things could happen:
- You will be charged per megabyte for excess usage (this is the most likely option).
- You will have to buy (or have bought automatically) additional data usage blocks.
- Your internet will slow down or stop altogether until more data is purchased.
Normally, your internet service provider will give you a way of monitoring your data usage, so that you can avoid hitting your data usage limit.
Alternatives to broadband dongles
To help get around some of the downsides to mobile dongles, there are some alternatives you can look at.
Some people buy a mobile SIM, like you use in your phone. This is basically the exact opposite of a dongle, because SIM cards can be used in mobiles and tablets like your iPad, but not on computers, because they don’t normally have a SIM card slot. However, once the mobile SIM is inserted, you can always create a Wi-Fi hotspot on your mobile/tablet, allowing your computer to connect to mobile broadband.
There are also dedicated hotspot devices, called “mobile Wi-Fi” (Mi-Fi) or “pocket Wi-Fi”, that help you connect to mobile broadband, just like mobile dongles. However, instead of plugging into a computer, mobile Wi-Fi devices create a hotspot that any device can connect to. This means that you can connect multiple devices to mobile broadband at once. The downside to Mi-Fi devices though is they need to be recharged every so often.
It’s worth noting that each option, dongles, mobile Wi-Fi, and SIM deals, are all ways of using mobile broadband. Therefore, they’re all sold by the same companies, such as Three, O2, and Vodafone. This also means that all three options face similar problems with usage caps – none offer a cheap way to get online with unlimited data.
How to find the best dongle deal
When looking at broadband dongles, SIM, or mobile Wi-Fi device providers, the first thing you should do is check the quality of the mobile broadband network in your area. This is especially important if using your dongle for your home broadband connection, rather than just when travelling.
If your current mobile provider offers great speeds at your home address, then this is a good place to start. It’s also worth asking friends/family if they have good speeds (and connection consistency) with the providers you’re looking at.
Be sure to check the mobile broadband coverage map to see whether 4G or 5G speeds are available at your address. Here is O2’s coverage map, as an example.
If you’re planning on using the dongle while travelling, checking network quality may be a bit trickier. Coverage maps are still the best place to assess mobile broadband coverage, especially if you have a rough idea where you’ll be travelling.
Once you’ve found a good provider, the next thing to think about is contract length.
Remember, if a deal looks cheap, it’s probably because you’ll have to commit to a 12-24 month contract.
Also, think about how much data you’ll need. If you plan to use your dongle for extremely internet-intensive activities, such as video streaming, then you will want as high a limit as possible. Unlimited plans do exist, but for occasional use for 1-3 people, including some video streaming, 50-100GB should be plenty of data.
To determine what internet speed you’ll actually need, use our speed needs calculator.
Can I use my dongle overseas?
In most cases you can. However, there may be additional charges to access mobile broadband overseas.
When you get an EE dongle for example, you will get a prompt to buy a data add-on when you try to go online in a foreign country. The charge then varies based on the country you’re in.
Three state that their dongles must be activated for international roaming before you can get online, further complicating matters. How you have to enable roaming will depend on the device you have.
Also, some British dongles won’t work in certain countries, such as the USA and South America, no matter what. This is because these countries use a different 4G frequency that is not compatible with broadband dongles designed for use in the UK.
How do dongle deals work?
As we mentioned above, one of the great things about buying a mobile broadband dongle or mobile Wi-Fi device is how flexible the deals can be.
For instance, it’s possible to go on a pay-as-you-go plan, or a month-to-month agreement. Alternatively, you can opt for a 12, 18, or 24-month contract, which is the best option if you plan to keep your dongle over the long term, for example for home broadband.
The longer you commit for, the lower your monthly cost and up-front charge will be.
Once you’re signed up, you’ll get your device in the mail within the next few days, and you’re ready to get online.
Normally, there’s no need to return the broadband device once you finish using it.
This is the end of our buyer’s guide.
Remember, while dongles do have their advantages, pocket Wi-Fi devices are often the better choice.
Since there are so few providers that still sell dongles, it’s worth looking at other mobile broadband alternatives, including mobile SIM cards, if you can’t find a dongle that you like.
Still unsure which option to get? Drop us a comment below and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
About the author
Tyler 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.