Don't want a wired internet connection or can't get one? Mobile broadband could be the best solution for you.
What is mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband is a term that refers to an internet connection delivered over the same networks utilised by your smartphone.
Since mobile broadband is delivered "over the air", the connection process is much faster. While a fixed line connection can require visits from a technician and waiting for several business days, you can typically use a mobile broadband connection on the same day you purchase it.
Mobile broadband is ostensibly plug and play, pull your modem out of the box, pop in the SIM card, connect your laptop to your new Wi-Fi, and you're online.
Why would I get mobile broadband?
There are three main reasons why you'd consider signing up for a mobile broadband connection.
- The first is that you don't have a fixed address, are regularly changing addresses, or can't get a fixed line connection where you live. Mobile broadband doesn't use Australia's copper network or the National Broadband Network, so there's no need for a fixed physical connection between your place and the internet. Mobile broadband is also great if you just don't want to deal with the hassle of an extended setup period.
- Mobile broadband can also be useful as a backup solution for if your fixed line connection goes down, or in the event of a power outage. Many mobile broadband modems are powered by a battery, so they'll keep on kicking even when the lights are out.
- A portable mobile broadband modem and connection are also a good option when travelling, especially if you don't want to burn through your smartphone's battery while tethering.
Are there any downsides to mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband options often have smaller data allowances compared with fixed-line internet. While you can get around 25GB of 4G data for $50, fixed line connections commonly include 10 times as much for around the same price. As such, mobile broadband connections could get quite pricey if you're a data hungry user, especially if you're hoping to stream video through the likes of Netflix and Stan.
Optus' fixed home wireless plans do offer more monthly data, but you do lose some flexibility given the included modem has to be plugged into a wall to work (it can't run on battery).
If you have trouble getting a mobile signal at home, mobile broadband isn't a great option either. Its speed and reliability depend on the strength of your mobile signal.
In some cases, it's also just a better option to take out a plan with more data for your smartphone, and use your smartphone as a hotspot. However, this isn't ideal if more than one person is relying on your mobile broadband connection, and it can result in hefty battery drain on your smartphone.
How fast is mobile broadband?
The speed of your mobile broadband connection will depend on your provider, your physical location, and on your hardware. For example, if you're connected to Telstra and using their 4GX capable modem in a capital city CBD, you can get download speeds of up to 600Mbps (which is six times as fast as a top-tier Fibre-to-the-Node NBN connection).
In most cities, you should be able comfortably achieve speeds of 20Mbps to 50Mbps on a 4G mobile broadband connection when used in conjunction with a 4G modem. Optus' fixed home wireless broadband has somewhat slower speeds, with the telco promising up to 12Mbps.
How much does mobile broadband cost?
It's possible to get a mobile broadband SIM card - or data SIM - for as little as $10 per month. However, these kind of plans typically have tiny monthly data allowances, as low as just 1GB. While this might be appropriate if you just want a mobile broadband solution as a once-in-a-blue-moon backup, you'll want to be spending somewhere at least $50 to $70 per month if you want to replace a fixed line connection.
Of course, a $50 mobile broadband plan will a much smaller monthly download allowance than a fixed line connection. For $50 a month, you'll get around 25GB on mobile broadband. In some cases, that same money will get you an unlimited fixed line connection. While 25GB should be enough for day to day browsing, work, and a bit of video, it won't last long if you're a heavy streamer or downloader.
Mobile broadband options are typically available as prepaid recharges, month-to-month plans, and on 12 and 24 month contracts.
What equipment do I need for a mobile broadband connection?
At a minimum, you need a data-only SIM card and a device to put it in to get a mobile broadband connection going. This could be a simple as putting a SIM in your iPad, and using it as a hotspot, or alternatively, as involved as buying a modem with a SIM card slot.
Most telcos selling data-only SIM plans will also have a range of 4G capable modems available. These include portable battery-powered solutions, as well as more traditional modem replacements that plug into a spare power outlet.
If you've got a SIM-enabled iPad or Android tablet, you can simply put in a data-SIM and then use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot to share its connection with another device.
A USB modem is a great portable mobile broadband solution, provided you only need to take one computer online at a time. While it doesn't need to be recharged, it needs to be plugged in directly to the device you want to get connected.
|Portable Wireless Hotspot|
A portable wireless hotspot lets you share a mobile broadband connection with a number of devices simultaneously. These are typically battery powered, and will need recharging.
|Fixed Home Wireless Modem|
A fixed home wireless modem is much more like a traditional modem, in that it needs to be plugged into a power outlet to work. As such, these are more appropriate for those who don't need their mobile broadband on the go.
What is the difference between mobile broadband and fixed wireless NBN?
Mobile broadband and fixed wireless NBN both use 4G technology, but the NBN has its own cellular towers exclusively used to deliver internet to premises where deploying a fixed connection would not be practical. NBN fixed wireless connections are also tied to a home or business, whereas many mobile broadband solutions are portable.
Wireless internet image from ShutterStock