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How to check mobile broadband coverage in your area

Thursday, April 21st 2016

The 3G and 4G networks deliver mobile broadband across the UK, but you’ll need coverage to use them. Here’s how to check what’s available in your local area, plus tips to boost your mobile signal.

Four mobile networks, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, deliver their own 3G and 4G services and are also used by all the other providers (known as mobile virtual network operators), so let's see which ones offer the best coverage at your address.

Check mobile broadband coverage

Below are links to all the coverage pages hosted by all the major providers of mobile broadband in the UK. Simply click the link to visit that provider’s coverage checker.

Coverage is improving all the time

If you can’t get 3G or 4G in your area at the moment, hold tight as coverage could arrive soon.

In the meantime, your internet options are fixed-line ADSL or fibre broadband, and if neither is available at your address, the last resort is satellite broadband.

What is a dongle?

USB dongles

A mobile broadband dongle refers to a USB stick that can plug into a laptop and provide it with a mobile broadband connection. Some providers sell mobile broadband dongles on both pay monthly or PAYG contracts.

USB dongles are great when you’re out and about and need an internet connection, but not so great if you’re using a device without USB port.

MiFi devices

Sometimes called a portable hotspot, a MiFi device is similar to a mobile broadband dongle, but provides a wi-fi signal as opposed to slotting into a USB port (the majority of phones and tablets not having USP ports these days).

MiFi devices come in all shapes and sizes and again, can be bought on pay monthly or PAYG contracts. Another benefit is that you can connect multiple devices to a MiFi, so it can be shared between users.

4G or 3G?

3G mobile broadband

A 3G connection is the slower of the two possible mobile broadband speeds. In its most recent research, Ofcom found the average 3G connection to be around 6Mbps, but this speed will vary depending on where you are and which provider you’re with. The benefit of 3G is that it has wider coverage than 4G, but the 4G networks are beginning to catch up.

4G mobile broadband

4G is the faster of the two speeds. Ofcom found the average 4G connection is 33Mbps but similarly to 3G, the speed will vary depending on where you are and which provider you’re with. 4G coverage is more limited than 3G, but it is expanding all the time. Most coverage checkers show what a providers’ 3G and 4G coverage is like in your area.

Some providers require you to buy specific 4G SIMs to be able to use the 4G networks. Others simply allow access to 4G if you’re in an area that’s covered and don’t charge extra for the service.

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile broadband

Most providers offer mobile broadband on PAYG contracts. This can be with either PAYG SIMs, that can be put in tablets or MiFi devices, or PAYG mobile dongles.

PAYG contracts mean you can keep track of how much you’re spending by letting you top up your data when you need it. Some providers also offer rewards and extra data if you top up a certain amount over a specific period.

Which providers offer mobile broadband?

O2

O2 has pay monthly data SIMs, all of which are 4G ready, on either 12-month or 30-day contracts. It also has PAYG SIMs specifically for iPads. You can top these up whenever you need data, or pick a one-month recurring plan so you’ll always have enough data. O2 will give you the first month free as well.

O2 customers will also get the O2 Wi-fi app, which lets you connect freely to thousands of wi-fi hotspots throughout the country in a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants.

You’ll also get access to O2 Priority, which gets you exclusive offers for high street brands, the opportunity to buy tickets before they go on general sale and the chance to enter exclusive prize draws.

EE

EE prides itself on its 4G network, and is an obvious place to go if you want a fast mobile broadband connection. All of its SIMs and deals come with access to its 4G network, and will only drop down to 3G when 4G is unavailable.

It sells a handful of pay monthly data SIMs with some of the largest data limits of all providers. EE also has a range of mobile wi-fi and dongles on pay monthly and PAYG plans.

EE customers in central London can feel the benefit of 4G Plus, which increases the speed of the standard 4G connection to 90Mbps. This means you’ll be able to download a 30-minute video in around two minutes, which is delightful for those that can get it, but useless if you live outside the M25.

Vodafone

Vodafone has both SIM-only data deals and PAYG data deals. All SIM-only data deals come with access to Vodafone’s 4G network and come on either 30-day or 12 month long contracts.

Its PAYG SIM contracts let you top up the amount you need or you can top up specific data packs, that give you a certain amount of data and last a set amount of time. Vodafone also has dongles and mobile wi-fi devices on both pay monthly and PAYG.

With Vodafone’s Red+, families can distribute a single data allowance between each family member, all on one bill. This can be applied to data-only SIMs too. This is a great way to manage your mobile bills and keep track on what everyone is spending.

Three

Three has a range of MiFi devices, dongles and data SIMs for tablets. Its tablet SIMs come on pay monthly and PAYG contracts. It has fewer data-only SIMs than other operators, all of which come on 30-day contracts.

Three’s PAYG data SIMs come pre loaded with a set amount of data (the more you spend the more you get) and can be topped up as you need it.

Three offers free wi-fi on the London Underground (just on platforms and stations) and you can get access to 4G for free when you’re in an area covered by Three 4G.

Three Rescue is an insurance plan for your tablet which not only means your device will be covered against loss, theft and damage, but your information will be retrievable too.

And the rest...

The four network providers are not the only companies to offer mobile broadband. You can also find PAYG and pay monthly data SIMs from Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, giffgaff, iD and TalkTalk.

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