We have become so used to a mobile, connected, wireless world that it’s almost a shock when we have to plug in our phone to charge, or go in for a meeting with a client in person. As a result, you’ve probably heard of mobile broadband, and more than likely you’ve already used your mobile phone or tablet to view a web page or check your email, so you’ve probably already used mobile broadband too. However, as with any technology, there are different levels, services and qualities, and as we come to rely more and more on our mobile devices to keep us connected when we are away from the home or office, it is important for you to know how to get the most out of your mobile broadband plan.
Top Mobile Broadband Plans
What Broadband are you looking for?
What is Mobile Broadband?
With devices such as mobile phones and computers getting smaller, and even as computer use morphs into being conducted on the even smaller tablets, mobile internet is a must. Luckily, your mobile devices such as your phone use a technology which is able to be adapted to become mobile broadband. Mobile broadband uses the same technology which allows you to make and receive calls from your mobile phone, where the internet signal is transmitted and received over telephone towers.
As a result, you can access mobile broadband without needing any of the traditional phone lines of television cables which are used by standard types of broadband such as ADSL or cable. The signal is transmitted through the air, so wherever you have mobile phone coverage you will have mobile broadband on an equipped device. When comparing and choosing mobile broadband plans, you just need to remember that mobile broadband is not the same as wireless broadband. While mobile broadband is wireless, in that it doesn’t need any wires for its connection, wireless broadband is a different kind of service. Wireless broadband on the other hand isn’t always mobile, for example a wireless router may be used to transmit wireless broadband around your home, but you are part of a network on a hard wired broadband connection.
However, mobile broadband is available wherever you go, you don’t have to be within the Wi-Fi hotspot, because you take the connection with you. Mobile broadband is also able to offer broadband speeds, although not as fast as traditional broadband it can achieve speeds of around 3 to 6 mbps, while some providers advertise possible speeds of up to 7 mbps.
Mobile Broadband vs Wireless Broadband
Mobile and wireless broadband services can seem to offer the same benefits and the same functions, however, they are two very different technologies. Therefore, to help you distinguish and choose between them, look at how they compare:
- Range. Mobile broadband will give you a greater range, because you can take it anywhere with you, although you will only have access to the internet if you have mobile phone reception. Wireless broadband is operated within a Wi-Fi network from a wireless router or hotspot such as at a café, you therefore only have access to the wireless broadband if you are within range of the base signal.
- Connecting your devices. With both mobile broadband and wireless broadband you can do away with the need for an internet cable to be connected directly to your device from your router or modem. This means that wherever you can pick up a signal with your broadband, you can use your device, whether you want to move wirelessly from your office to the backyard, or use mobile broadband on the bus or at the beach.
- Costs. In many cases it can be cheaper to connect to standard ADSL or cable broadband in your home and use a wireless router, compared to the costs on a mobile broadband plan.
- Coverage. No matter how good your mobile phone provider is, your sure to have had the experience of talking on the phone and having your call drop out, and you need to keep this in mind if you rely on mobile broadband for your browsing and connectivity needs. However, with wireless broadband, as long as you are within range of the base signal, you will have a reliable connection. Having said that mobile broadband coverage is reaching further and getting stronger all the time as the technology becomes more popular, so it may be suited to your needs if you will be using your mobile broadband primarily within the big cities.
- Access. Most electronic devices are now manufactured with a built in wireless modem – laptops, tablets, mobile phones and games consoles. This means that you don’t need to add any extras to your devices to make them wireless broadband enabled. However, if you want to access mobile broadband on your laptop or tabletfor example, you will need to take out a dedicated plan with your provider.
- Speeds. While using your broadband wirelessly will not deliver the same speeds as if you had connected your computer to your ADSL or cable broadband via an Ethernet cable, it will still be comparable to the top speeds possible from your broadband connection. However, mobile broadband speeds are much lower than standard broadband speeds, even at their peak.
Mobile and wireless broadband services are two very different technologies. While both allow you to do away with the wires tying you to a broadband connection, they also each have very different connection methods which can result in differences in speed and access. Therefore, if you want to be wireless wherever you go, then you will want to consider mobile broadband, however, if you just want to be wireless around your home, then a wireless broadband connection may be right for you.
Where is mobile broadband available?
When you look at being able to access the internet wherever you are with mobile broadband ‘wherever’ isn’t really an exaggeration. Mobile broadband is available wherever there is mobile phone reception, and if you think about the times when you can’t get a signal no matter how many times you call back or how close you stand to the window of a concrete parking lot, ‘wherever’ is just about everywhere you need it to be.
The availability of mobile broadband will of course depend on your provider, as each mobile broadband network will have different coverage maps and use differ mobile phone towers. Telstra for example uses the Next G network for its mobile services, which covers more than 2.1 million square kilometres of Australia, and provides mobile broadband access to 99% of Australians, in both city and country locations. Plus, as Telstra upgrades to the new 4G network, mobile broadband customers will be able to also enjoy greater download speeds from 2 mbps to 40 mbps.
How to connect to mobile broadband
If you are ready to be connected to mobile broadband and take your connection with you wherever you go, you first need to choose the type of plan you want:
- Prepaid. You can take out prepaid mobile broadband, which allows you to pay for your data upfront, and use only the amount you have paid for. This means you never have to be surprised by a big bill at the end of the month, because you only use what you can afford to recharge.
- Monthly contract. If you don’t want to have to worry about running out of credit, but you still want a bit of flexibility, look for a mobile broadband plan which give you the freedom to pay month by month. This will give you access to generous data allowances and great value prices, but you’ll maintain the flexibility to switch plans if your needs change.
- Long term contract. In the broadband industry a long term contract is generally 12 or 24 months, during which time you are locked into the data and pricing plan you have chosen. While you will attract cancellation fees if you need to change plans, you will also be eligible for extras such as lower pricing, a free USB modem or a free pocket Wi-Fi for example.
You will then need to choose how you want to connect to your mobile broadband. There are a number of choices of mobile broadband modem, for example, you can choose a standard USB modem, or a pocket Wi-Fi modem which doesn’t need to be connected to your device and can instead be in your pocket, handbag or laptop bag while proving access to a number of mobile devices at once. If you will be sharing your mobile broadband connection in your home or office, you can also connect using a Wi-Fi sharing dock. Or if you will be using your mobile broadband for business, you may want a mobile broadband modem which works in a number of different countries.
You will now be ready to start using and managing your mobile broadband account, and as with any broadband service you will want to make sure you monitor your usage to avoid bill shock – or running out of data if you’re on a prepaid plan. In most cases you can log into your ISP’s website, or even download a mobile phone app which allows you to track your usage quickly and easily. And if you do choose prepaid mobile broadband logging into your account will be where you recharge to add data.
Benefits of Mobile Broadband
It was hard to see what the benefits of a mobile phone could be when they were first released – you had a perfectly good phone at home, in the office, and maybe even in the car after all. However, once you started using your mobile, and all of your friends jumped on board too, it was hard to imagine how you ever lived without it.
Well mobile broadband brings with it much the same benefits, because once you are able to get online whenever you are out and about, you’ll find a myriad of new ways to be productive and enhance your relationships. Consider how much time you’d save if you could review all of the emails which had come in over the weekend on your Monday morning train ride to work, so that once you arrived in the office you could set about your work sooner – and finish sooner. Or what if you were travelling for work and wanted to wish your kids good night – you could use the VoIP or video calling on the mobile broadband device you’d taken with you, or send them messages over Facebook or Twitter during the day to let them know you were thinking about them.
Mobile broadband not only has the advantage of being on all the time, but it is also right there with you all the time too. This means you don’t need to hunt around for a hotspot, or pay for broadband access in your hotel room. Instead you can easily and conveniently connect to your own personal mobile broadband connection.
What Can You use Mobile Broadband For?
If you think that mobile broadband has some great benefits, but you’re still wondering whether it’s right for you, and whether there would be any practical uses for a mobile broadband connection in your life, think about your work and your personal connections, how you engage with your family and friends and how you use your computer, mobile devices and other technologies at the moment, and whether those interactions could be improved by mobile access to broadband internet.
For example, if you have a laptop for work, it’s probably so that you can take your work and presentations with you to meetings, take your work home with you so you can spend time with your family even though you’re working late, or so you can take your laptop outside or to the park to work when you need a new environment and new inspirations. However, you wouldn’t realise how much you rely on having an instant broadband connection until you’re unplugged – for example if you’ve taken your work to the park to write and you want to look up a word in the thesaurus or clarify a fact for your report, you don’t have access to the world wide web of information. And just think about all the extra preparation which goes into a meeting when you have to take screen shots of other clients’ websites you’ve worked on, or online articles you’ve had published – what if you could connect your laptop to the internet right there in your meeting and show the client your work in real time?
What are the Drawbacks of Mobile Broadband?
At the same time, with every type of technology there are concessions we have to make in order to enjoy the benefits, and when it comes to mobile broadband, you should be aware that:
- Service drop outs. Unfortunately because mobile broadband runs on the same network as mobile phones, it is prone to the same service drop outs you may experience in the middle of mobile phone calls. You may find that your mobile broadband service drops out, or that it is not as fast or reliable in some areas. However, just as you still use your mobile phone even if it drops out from time to time, the convenience of mobile broadband will likely be greater than the sporadic inconveniences.
- Not as fast as standard wired broadband. The speeds of mobile broadband are improving all the time, and are already much faster than you would remember from your dial up days. However, the speed of mobile broadband is not comparable to the speeds you can achieve with fixed ADSL or cable broadband services. For example a fixed ADSL connection can read speeds of around 30 mbps, while mobile broadband averages speeds of around 3 mbps.
- Capped data plans. You should also be aware of the mobile broadband plan you are signing up for because some plans will have capped data allowances, and once you reach your data limit, you will be charged high excess usage charges. As a result, mobile broadband is not suited to heavy broadband users who do a lot of downloading.
How to Improve the Speed of Your Mobile Broadband
One of the biggest differences you will notice between standard and mobile broadband is the speed. You probably already know that the best broadband speeds on any plan and on any type of broadband connection are achieve by using an Ethernet cable, however, that doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck with or worried about slowing down your online experience with mobile broadband, or missing out on all of the benefits.
Instead, there are a few things you can check and change to improve the speed of your mobile broadband:
- Choose a USB modem. As discussed above, there are a number of different ways you can connect to mobile broadband, however, if you want the best and most reliable speeds, you will need to be using a USB modem which is enabled with a SIM card.
- Extend your dongle. You can enhance the performance of the USB dongle which is receiving your mobile broadband signal by using a USB extension. This allows you to position the dongle in an area where it can pick up a stronger signal, such as near the window, while you don’t have to try and balance yourself on the windowsill to use your laptop.
- Put the dongle in a pot. Some tests have shown that if you place your mobile broadband dongle in a saucepan or pot, this can dramatically improve the broadband signal. The metal of the pot works like an antenna to concentrate the signal in the centre of the pot – which is where the dongle is. Therefore, if you’re using your mobile broadband somewhere that you have access to a metal pot or saucepan, this tip can help concentrate your speeds.
- Check signal strength. There are some areas where you will be able to get a stronger (and therefore faster) signal from your mobile broadband than others. Therefore, check the coverage area maps from your provider, or use an online mobile broadband coverage checker to see how strong the signal is in the area you are using your mobile device. You may then want to wait until you’re in a better coverage area, or switch to another network.
- Connect to the outside. If you are using your mobile broadband indoors, you can encounter speed resistance from walls and other physical constraints. Therefore, it can be worth moving around the house, your office or hotel to find a place where you can receive a better signal – near a window, or upstairs for example.
- Check and update your software. Make sure that you are using the latest version of software to run your mobile dongle by checking the version number on the software against the latest version shown by the network or the manufacturer. If you’re not using the latest software version, download and install the update.
- Check the dongle specifications. It could be the dongle itself which is holding you back in terms of speed, as the dongle may only be capable of speeds up to 3.6 mbps, when your mobile broadband network is capable of speeds up to 7.2 mbps.
- Check the network speeds. This is ideally something you should do before signing up for mobile broadband, because you want to choose the mobile broadband provider who can offer the fastest speeds. Remember not all mobile broadband connections are the same, and some networks are capable of faster speeds than others.
- Wait until off peak times. Mobile broadband speeds can be significantly affected by the number of other people on the network at the same time, so if you are finding your connection too slow, you may want to wait until off peak times – such as during the day or during the week – to use your broadband.
- Close background programs. Check whether your computer is running any programs in the background which would be using up a lot of your computer’s processing power. If your computer is running slowly, it can make your mobile broadband appear to be running slowly too. These programs could be a peer to peer application, Skype or video streaming.
- Upgrade from Internet Explorer. Microsoft Internet Explorer is an old and outdated web browser, and if you want to achieve the fastest browsing speeds you should upgrade to Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.
- Download accelerators. You can also install download accelerators such as Speedbit, which uses compression technologies to optimise the size of web pages so they load faster. You can use these accelerators not only for online text, but also for html objects, email, the Office Suite programs, photos and flash files.
- Contact your provider. If you’ve tried all of the tips above and you still think your mobile broadband isn’t performing at its optimum speed, contact your provider who can check your connection and perhaps offer other suggestions to improve your signal.
How to Choose Mobile Broadband
While there are a lot of mobile broadband plans and providers out there for you to consider, following are the points you should have on your checklist to help you narrow down the options:
- Check the speeds. You will by now have realised that the speeds of mobile broadband won’t rival those which you can achieve with a wired service. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to compare the speeds offered by mobile broadband providers. Not all mobile broadband services are the same and you want to make sure you choose the provider with the highest theoretical speeds, and the best speeds in reality.
- The set up and ongoing costs. Since you will be using your mobile broadband more for connectivity that heavy downloading, you can find a plan at a reasonable price to suit your needs. Just make sure you also know what you are signing up for, and what the price will be down the track.
- Download allowances. Make sure you choose a mobile broadband plan with a data allowance which matches your needs, because if you choose a plan with a high download limit, you can be paying more than you need to be, and if you choose a plan with a small download limit you can be paying a lot extra in excess usage charges when you go over your limit.
- Contract term. Often being locked into a mobile broadband contract can be an advantage because you can often qualify for discounts or bonus inclusions in your plan. However, just make sure that you think ahead over the entire term of the plan, because if your needs change while you are locked into a mobile broadband plan, it can be expensive to break your contract. At the same time, if you are signing up for a broadband, don’t forget to ask about the extras which can be thrown in, as you can often be given a free modem for example.
- Coverage maps. The places you plan to use your mobile broadband are one of the most significant influencing factors on the performance of your connection. Therefore, as you compare providers and plans, don’t forget to look at the coverage maps too. Look at where each provider has the strongest and widest coverage, and compare that to where you live, work and will be using your mobile broadband the most.
- Bundled services. Just as it doesn’t hurt to ask for free extras, it can also be advantageous to ask for discounts when you bundle together more than one service with a provider. For example, if you have a mobile phone service and a mobile broadband service with the same provider you can often bundle these services together for a discount on both.
Finally, it is important to compare the provider themselves, as their experience, their customer service, their investment in new technology and their network of mobile phone towers will all combine to determine the level of satisfaction you get from your mobile broadband connection. Therefore, it is important to take the time to ask your friends and family about their experiences with certain providers, as well as read reviews and visit online forums to find out some independent information on the mobile broadband providers you are considering.
For example, Telstra have recently made changes to the way they classify their broadband services, and have done away with wireless broadband, and placed both wireless and mobile broadband under the one product grouping. Of course, mobile and wireless broadband services are very different, but for BigPond mobile broadband customers, their mobile broadband service is no longer as mobile as it was, and is now a fixed wireless service.
As a result, all those customers who are now classified as ‘mobile broadband’ customers are also grouped with the true mobile broadband customers, many of whom need only small data allowances because they know their mobile broadband speeds are restrictive. However, this grouping distorts the provider’s view of their customer’s usage patterns and in turn affects the services and plans offered by Telstra. For example, the majority of the people connected to true mobile broadband would likely prefer a 5 GB data allowance each month, while a family using a fixed wireless service is going to need much more.
However, when a provider views wireless and mobile broadband plans as one, they can’t adapt their products to the needs of the two very different groups of users. As a result, they are likely to phase out certain plans and avoid bringing in plans with more appropriate higher data allowances, because they are unable to accurately identify the needs of their customers.
If you are considering signing up for a new mobile broadband plan for your home, business or family, there are a myriad of benefits you will be able to enjoy, wherever you are. While the speeds of mobile broadband can’t compete with the super fast wired broadband connections, the 3 to 6 mbps speeds are still suitable for browsing web pages, viewing videos and checking emails. This means that a mobile broadband service can make your family feel a little closer when you’re away from home, can make managing your business easier without tying you to the office, and allow you the freedom to remain connected on your terms, on your mobile devices wherever you choose.