Mobile internet access is offered by many suppliers and can be delivered through a variety of devices. With such a wide choice of networks, tariffs and equipment, how do you know which is right for your business? Matt Powell from Broadband Genie takes a look at the options
The growth of 4G mobile internet
Before we look at different pieces of mobile internet equipment, it's worth considering the two main types of mobile connection: 3G and 4G.
Both use mobile phone networks to get you online.
3G is well-established with coverage across most of the UK, although is fast being replaced by 4G. In strong signal areas it offers reasonable speeds of up to around 5mbps (megabits per second), which is adequate for checking email or visiting websites.
4G is the current generation of mobile internet connection. It can provide you with a much faster connection. In strong signal areas, you may be able to connect at 20-30 mbps. These speeds are similar to many home broadband connections.
With 4G it's easier to handle demanding tasks like downloading large files or watching high-definition video. But you'll notice the difference in any case, because websites, maps, emails and so on will load much faster.
All the major UK mobile networks now offer 4G. In areas where it's not yet available, these devices will automatically drop down to 3G, so you won't lose out.
With both 3G and 4G connections the actual speed you get will depend on where you are and how strong the signal is. There are still parts of the UK where 3G and 4G are unavailable.
What about 5G?
5G is the next generation of mobile connectivity, and is expected to roll out worldwide during 2020.
By ‘pooling’ bandwidth to increase speed and range, 5G aims to meet the modern demands of mobile data use and sure-up reliability of such connections. Expected to provide average speeds of around 100 mbps, 5G will offer a sizeable jump in performance over 3G and 4G.
You should expect 5G-capable devices to gradually enter the market over the next few years, but despite the government pledging £740m for the development of the networks required, a firm UK launch date is yet to be set.
Mobile internet on your laptop
The simplest and cheapest way to get online is with a mobile internet dongle (pictured right). This small piece of equipment looks like a USB memory stick.
It plugs into one of the USB connections on your laptop and contains a SIM card, providing you with 3G or 4G internet on the go.
Basic USB dongles can be purchased from all the main mobile phone networks. You can get them free on contract and they're inexpensive (£20-£40) on pay-as-you-go tariffs.
However, USB dongles can only connect a single device at a time, and only generally work with laptops, not tablets.
Typically, mobile internet access via a dongle on a contract is a cost-effective option if you plan to use it regularly.
If you only need occasional mobile internet access then a pay as you go service will almost certainly be better value.
Mobile internet on your tablet
If you want a connection that can be shared between several devices or used with a tablet computer then it's worth opting for a portable access point (pictured right).
Sometimes called MiFi or pocket Wi-Fi, these provide a local wireless network that any Wi-Fi device can use to connect to the internet. This means you can use them with a tablet, smartphone or games console as well as a laptop.
Portable access points are pricier than USB dongles, but give you more flexibility to get your iPad or Android tablet online.
If you’d rather not carry around another gadget, and only require mobile internet access on your tablet, then you may want to purchase a tablet with mobile data built in.
The iPad and many Android devices are available with optional SIM card slots for mobile internet access. When coupled with a compatible SIM you don’t need anything else.
Tablets with mobile broadband built in tend to be more expensive than Wi-Fi only models. However, you can sometimes get a tablet free when you buy it as part of a mobile internet contract.
Mobile internet on your smartphone and tethering
As you'd expect, all smartphones have a mobile internet internet connection.
You may not be aware that you can also use your smartphone an alternative to a portable access point. Many models offer wireless tethering, so other devices can latch onto their internet connection.
Tethering is usually easy to set up, but can run your phone's battery down quickly and quickly eat into data allowances.
Always check with your mobile network before turning on the tethering function. Some contracts don't permit tethering. Others will make you pay an additional fee.