If you live in a rural area with slow broadband speeds, or you’re fed up with the inflexibility/high cost of broadband, you might be looking for an alternative way to get online.
In this guide, we’ve explained five alternatives to using traditional fixed-line broadband. We’ve also explained the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.
1. Tethering, using your phone
For light internet usage, such as reading emails, you might simply be able to use your phone’s internet connection to get online.
To do this, you can either:
- Tether your phone to your PC, using the phone’s charging cable. You will need to plug the cable into your computer’s USB port. Then, there should be a prompt on your phone to begin tethering your internet connection.
- Create a mobile hotspot on your phone, and connect to it using your PC. This is just like creating a small Wi-Fi network, that any of your devices can use to get online.
Generally, the first option is best, as it offers faster speeds, and also charges your phone at the same time. However, the second method is best when you want to use a device that doesn’t have a USB port.
Once you’ve used one of these methods to connect your phone to your computer, you’ll be able to use your phone’s 4G signal to get online on another device. This can help you to get faster speeds if your Wi-Fi is very slow.
As an alternative to landline broadband, the disadvantage of this method is it may use up your mobile data allowance very quickly. Once you hit your monthly limit, you may face extra usage charges.
This is why we only recommend this method for light web browsing, or for occasional use. Otherwise, you may want to upgrade your mobile plan, to ensure you have enough data each month.
2. Mobile broadband dongles
Rather than plugging your phone into your computer, you can plug a specialised device called a dongle into one of your USB ports.
These devices have a SIM card slot, and a 4G or 5G antenna. Just like your phone, they connect to a mobile broadband network, in order to get online.
When you plug a dongle into your computer, it will prompt you to install some software drivers. It may also open a page in your web browser, and have you log in. Then, you can get online anytime you want, by plugging in the dongle.
The good thing about dongles is how easy they are to use. However, they’re only really suitable for getting online on computers – they’re not great if you want to use the internet on an iPad or Xbox for example, since these devices don’t have a USB port.
You can buy dongles with different types of data plans, depending on your needs.
For example, if you mostly browse the web and read emails for less than 30 minutes a day, you might only need 10-20GB of data per month. On the other hand, if you use the internet more often, and do more data-intensive activities, such as watching videos, you might want 50GB or more data per month.
3. Mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) devices
Mobile Wi-Fi (MiFi) devices work in a similar way to dongles. They take a SIM card, and use the 4G or 5G network to get online.
The difference is, MiFi devices create their own Wi-Fi hotspot, rather than connecting to your computer through its USB port. Therefore, you can get online with multiple devices at once – and not just computers.
Also, MiFi devices have a battery, meaning they’re portable, and can be used when travelling (such as in a caravan), but they need to be charged up every so often. Typically, the battery will last for about 6 hours or so.
Just remember, mobile Wi-Fi devices don’t have as strong a Wi-Fi signal as most traditional Wi-Fi routers.
The signal might not reach the other side of your house, and MiFi can typically only handle up to 10 connected devices at once. However, MiFi devices are usually quite cheap – they cost about the same as a dongle.
4. 4G/5G routers
These types of devices are just like broadband routers, except they use 4G or 5G to connect to the internet, rather than your landline.
They take a SIM card and plug into the wall. Once set up, your 4G router will create a Wi-Fi network, that you can connect your devices to. You should also be able to use an Ethernet cable to connect devices to your router.
These types of routers are typically the best option if you’re looking for a permanent alternative to fixed-line broadband. Provided you get a good 4G or 5G signal at home, you’ll be able to get good speeds, and easily connect multiple devices to the internet.
The downside to 4G and 5G routers is how much they cost. They are much more expensive than dongles or MiFi devices.
However, you may be able to save money by signing up for a long-term 4G router contract – if you do this, the device will typically be included for free.
Most providers (like Three, who sell a ZTE MF286D home broadband router), also give you a 14-day return period, so you can test and ensure that you get a good internet connection.
5. Satellite broadband
Satellite broadband is another solution that is designed to be a permanent alternative to traditional broadband.
Using satellite broadband, your router connects with a satellite in orbit above the Earth. Data is transmitted to or from the satellite as you upload or download data.
For those in rural areas where 4G signal is poor, satellite broadband offers a good solution to help you get download speeds of about 20-30 Mbps.
However, satellite broadband typically has quite a high latency – it takes a long time for data to be sent to or arrive from the satellite. Therefore, it’s not very good for online gaming.
Also, satellite broadband can be quite expensive, especially when compared to regular broadband.
Frequently asked questions
Below, we’ve looked at some frequently asked questions about moving away from having a traditional broadband connection.
How do I ensure I have a good 4G or 5G signal?
Before switching away from fixed-line broadband, it’s important to check the mobile broadband coverage available at your address. This will help you to determine what types of alternate broadband solutions you could consider.
To do this, look at the coverage maps of a few different mobile networks, and check for good indoor and outdoor 4G coverage at your location.
Simply navigate to the network’s website, find the coverage map, and input your address to see what coverage is like.
Here is Three’s 4G/5G map, as an example.
Will my speeds be better after ditching broadband?
It depends on two things:
- The type of broadband service available at your address.
- The type of 4G or 5G service available at your address.
- If you only get ADSL broadband, offering speeds of around 10 Mbps or less, 4G will offer better speeds.
- If you have superfast broadband, offering speeds of around 25 – 100 Mbps, then you can get about the same speeds with 4G, or better speeds with 5G.
- If you have ultrafast broadband, offering speeds of 300 Mbps or higher, then you will get similar speeds using 5G.
Can I save money by ditching broadband?
In many cases, you can save money by switching away from landline broadband. Or, you might pay a bit more, but get significantly better speeds, and a more consistent connection.
The main thing this depends on is the alternative way of getting online that you’re going to be using.
If you only need a simple solution for light internet usage, such as a dongle or MiFi device with a data cap, then you will very likely be able to save money by switching away from your broadband connection.
On the other hand, if you need unlimited data, and buy a more expensive 4G router, then this may cost a bit more.
It also depends on the type of contract you sign. The good thing about mobile broadband is it’s often available on a month-to-month plan. However, if you sign up for a year or more, the monthly cost will likely be much more competitive.
This is the end of our guide explaining the alternative ways to get online, rather than fixed-line broadband.
Got any questions about accessing the internet without using broadband? Feel free to ask us anything in the comments below, and we’ll get right back to you.
About the author
Tom is the founder of Broadband Savvy. He has more than five years’ experience writing broadband tutorials, reviewing routers and internet service providers, and explaining broadband-related concepts. Tom is experienced as a writer, and also produces videos for the Broadband Savvy YouTube channel.
He currently specialises in writing content for Broadband Savvy designed to help people understand broadband jargon and terminology, increase their download and upload speeds, and improve their Wi-Fi connectivity. Tom also occasionally contributes to buyer’s guides and review articles on Broadband Savvy, utilising his knowledge of the broadband market in the UK.
When he’s not writing about broadband, you’ll find him walking his dog (Rex) or playing agar.io.