Read on and we’ll walk you through exactly what a dongle is, whether you should get one or not, and how to strike a deal on a dongle plan.
What is a mobile dongle?
About the same size as a USB memory stick, dongles plug directly into the USB port on the side of your computer to give you internet access when you’re on the go.
As we say, because the devices themselves are portable and easy to use, they are an ideal solution if you have a broken internet connection or need to quickly access the internet when you are away from a router.
That said, there are pros and cons to using dongles …
What are the pros and cons of using a dongle?
- Allows you to use the Internet from anywhere: whether you are on vacation, in a cafe, on a train or in a park.
- Very portable – they are small and convenient enough to take anywhere
- Can be used overseas if your dongle plan allows it
- Easy to use – just plug into your computer’s USB port
- Ideal for flexible and temporary broadband, with short-term contracts and pay-as-you-go plans available
- Powered by your computer, so no need to charge
- Ideal for working on the go
- Useful to have around if your broadband goes down
- Can provide you internet connection in areas where fixed line broadband is slow or unreliable
- Requires a USB port on your device – so a dongle can only really connect to a laptop, not a tablet, e-book reader, or mobile
- They can only connect to one device at a time. If you want to connect multiple devices, you’ll need MiFi instead
- More expensive than fixed broadband, and often much slower too
- Download limits can be restrictive
- Portability is limited to where you can get adequate 4G signal
What are the alternatives to dongles?
Aside from the use of plugging a dingle into the side of your laptop. Here are other ways to access the Internet:
Mobile broadband devices: Also known as Pocket Wi-Fi and Mi-Fi Hotspots. Like dongles, they are small, portable gadgets that connect to mobile broadband wherever you are. Unlike a dongle, however, they do this by emitting a Wi-Fi signal. This means that you can connect multiple devices at once, including smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, etc., but you will have to remind you to keep the battery charged. Compare mobile Wi-Fi deals here.
Public Wi-Fi access points: The UK has an extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots that you can connect to – often for free – so you can connect when you’re on the go. However, speeds can vary and you can’t always guarantee there’s one nearby. See our guide for more information.
Smartphone: Most smartphones can connect to mobile broadband, as long as you have 4G or 3G data included in your plan. Some can even be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots so that your computer can connect to them and use the internet. Keep a close eye on your usage if you do this, however. Learn more about connection sharing.
Mobile broadband router: If you are considering getting a temporary broadband dongle, there are other options. Some mobile broadband providers, such as Three in central London, offer routers suitable for your home with much more generous download limits.
Where can I get the best dongle deals?
Dongles are available on major mobile networks. You can buy one and pay as you go, if you only intend to use it occasionally, or take out a contract.
These are mostly 30-day contracts, but longer contracts – 12 or 24 months – can be cheaper if you use your dongle often.
Networks that offer dongles and mobile Wi-Fi devices include:
Plans can range from 500MB of data per month, which is just enough for occasional browsing – up to 32GB – enough to comfortably work in a cafe for a few weeks, or watch an entire season of Game of Thrones in HD. .
If you already have a dongle or mobile broadband device, you can get a data-only SIM plan.
Compare data-only SIM plans
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Mi-Fi and mobile dongles?
The difference is a Mi-Fi dongle that works as both a modem and a WiFi router. This means that unlike a dongle, multiple devices can connect to a MiFi device to access the internet.
How does a dongle work?
A dongle is basically a very small modem with the ability to connect to wireless or mobile broadband – 4G or 3G, the same as broadband on your smartphone. When you plug a dongle into a computer, your computer is basically hooked up to a modem and can connect.
Unlike a clunky wired connection, a dongle doesn’t hang down – it plugs securely straight into your USB port.