O2 mobile broadband deals – everything you need to know
By Dan Howdle | Saturday, March 28th 2020
In this guide
- What is O2 mobile broadband?
- Do I need O2 mobile broadband?
- O2 coverage and data speeds
- Which other providers offer mobile broadband?
- Frequently asked questions
O2 is one of the four network providers in the UK, the others being Three, EE and Vodafone. These main network providers are the only place you will find a decent range of mobile broadband options, with each one specialising in a particular type. For O2 that's dongles.
Unlike its three network operator competitors, O2 doesn't currently offer home broadband packages via its mobile network. You can work around this by buying an portable MiFi (mobile hotspot) device from O2 and keeping it at home, but O2 doesn't offer any device with home broadband router-level abilities, and nor does it offer any dedicated 4G or 5G home broadband packages. It does, however, offer a good range of dongles, as well as data-only tablet and laptop SIMs. Let's take a closer look.
What is O2 mobile broadband?
The term 'mobile broadband' covers an awful lot of ground. It describes any form of broadband/internet provision delivered via a mobile network, and though that also includes your mobile SIM, generally mobile broadband should be taken to mean either a dedicated dongle, mobile hotspot (MiFi) device, or a dedicated 4G or 5G home router, the last of which, as mentioned above, O2 does not supply.
If 4G or 5G home broadband is what you're after, you can find a range of good options from Three, Vodafone or EE. Here is a rundown of the complete mobile broadband offering from O2.
- O2 MiFi devices – A MiFi or portable hotspot device is a usually pocket-sized gadget that provides wifi to other devices within a limited range. These are generally battery operated. O2 offers a couple of different MiFi options, which it describes as 'Pocket Hotspots'. They are the very capable Pro Netgear M1, and the slightly less capable and more budget-friendly Huawei 4G 2017
- O2 dongles – A dongle is a USB stick-like device usually (though not always) designed to provide connectivity only to the device it plugs into – this will usually be a laptop. O2 offers three different dongles on both a pay-monthly and PAYG basis. They are the Huawei 4G Dongle with wifi, which as the name suggests allows you to connect additional devices to it, the ZTE MF710M 3G Mobile Broadband Dongle for locations where you cannot get 4G, and the Huawei 4G dongle
- O2 data-only SIMs – A data-only SIM is designed to go into a tablet or compatible laptop, and differs from a regular mobile SIM in that it does not come with any calling or texting allowances. O2 offers a range of different data-only SIMs with various limits, although doesn't currently offer an unlimited option
- O2 SIMs for mobile hotspot tethering – You can of course use your mobile phone as a router by enabling its 'mobile hotspot' mode. Depending on your mobile broadband needs, your existing mobile, from O2 or from another provider, could be enough, though you might need to raise your data limit, perhaps all the way up to unlimited (something O2 doesn't currently offer)
Do I need O2 mobile broadband?
Truth be told there are fewer and fewer places most of us encounter in our daily live where there is no free wifi available, and of course the vast majority of us have a smartphone to fill that connectivity gap where there isn't. However, mobile broadband still has an important role in some situations – where there is no wifi, and a smartphone simply won't do. Here are some situations where you might consider a mobile broadband solution either from O2 or from another mobile broadband provider.
- You have terrible fixed-line broadband – If you simply can't get a decent broadband connection where you live, 4G or even 5G home broadband is rapidly coming a perfectly serviceable alternative. Sadly, though, you're best not picking O2 if this is what you need. Three Broadband, EE and Vodafone all have better options
- You travel for work – If you travel a lot with a laptop, you'll want a better solution than mucking about with your mobile phone as a personal hotspot. Whether as your primary connection or as a failsafe back-up, O2 has the best range of laptop dongles of any provider, including one for 3G where even 4G isn't available, and a dongle that other devices can connect to over wifi
- No other options – If you work outdoors all day, in construction or some other related industry such as civil engineering, a permanent or backup connectivity solution in the form of a dongle or MiFi device from O2 could well suit your needs
- You need a temporary solution – If for whatever reason you are looking to fill a few months between contracted home internet connections, a mobile broadband solution can fill that gap. Not least because mobile broadband from O2 and others is available on PAYG/no-contract terms
O2 mobile broadband coverage and data speeds
Despite there being dozens of mobile providers in the UK, there are only four actual network providers – that is to say providers who own and run their own physical network infrastructure (masts and such). These are known as 'MNOs' or mobile network operators. In the UK, these are O2, Vodafone, Three and EE.
All other providers rent their space on one of these four networks. They lease capacity – a way of providing mobile services sometimes also known as 'piggybacking'. These providers are referred to as 'MVNOs' or mobile virtual network providers, and include the likes of Sky Mobile, BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile, to name but three.
According to the most recent mobile network data speed study conducted by Ookla at the very tail end of 2019, O2 actually offered the slowest average 4G data speeds of the four MNOs, with an average download speed of 22.95Mbps. EE topped the table at 42.91Mbps, Vodafone came in second at 33.32Mbps and Three (appropriately) coming in third with an average 4G download speed of 24.11Mbps.
5G is still in its infancy, but Ookla managed to get some early measurements. O2 came second of three MNOs (Three was yet to begin its 5G service when the study took place), with an average download speed of 159.48Mbps. EE once again topped this table with an average 5G download speed of 205.02Mbps, and Vodafone came bottom with a speed of 140.15Mbps.
Which other providers offer mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband is rather unusual in the world of broadband provision in that, unlike regular broadband, fibre broadband and mobile SIMs, not every provider offers it. In fact, with one or two exceptions, mobile broadband is limited to the four UK MNOs. Here's a more detailed look at what you can get and from whom.
- BT – Offers dongles and MiFi devices, but stops short of selling its own 4G or 5G home broadband solutions, preferring instead to switch you over to 4G broadband if your fixed line breaks down. BT Mobile operates on the EE network
- EE – Offers a full range of mobile broadband products on its own network (EE). These include dongles, MiFi devices, 4G home broadband routers and of course SIMs. It is currently rolling out 5G availability on an ongoing basis
- Three – Offer 4G and 5G home broadband under the newly established brand: Three Broadband. Its range of routers it complex as it depends on whether you can get 4G or 5G where you live. In addition, Three has the same MiFi device available from Virgin Mobile, described below
- Virgin Mobile – Offers just one MiFi device – the Huawei E5573BS. It will supply 4G mobile broadband to up to ten devices at the same time, and is batter operated, so you can take it anywhere
- Vodafone – Also offers a pretty full range of products in the mobile broadband category and is looking to compete in 5G home broadband
Frequently asked questions
What is O2 mobile broadband?
O2 offers mobile broadband solutions by a few different means: Dongles, which can provide mobile connectivity to a laptop or desktop computer, MiFi devices which act as a battery-powered mobile hotspot, data-only SIMs for tablets and compatible laptops, and of course regular mobile SIMs which can be used for tethering other devices to your mobile phone.
How do I use O2 mobile broadband?
Depending on which solution you opt for (dongle, personal MiFi hotspot, data-only SIM and so on, all you really need do is order the package that suits you. Unlike regular broadband there is no need for an engineer visit or anything of the sort and you can be up and running within a few days.
Can I get unlimited mobile broadband from O2?
No. In fact, O2 is the only provider offering mobile broadband that doesn't currently offer an unlimited option. The largest data allowance currently available from O2 is 150GB per month. Make no mistake, that's a lot of data, but perhaps not enough to serve a busy household, for example.
How fast is O2 4G mobile broadband?
In Ookla's most recent study, O2 came in with the slowest average 4G download speeds, at 22.95Mbps. EE is currently the fastest, with an average 4G download speed of 42.91Mbps.
How fast is O2 5G broadband?
O2 came in second-fastest of the three network providers offering 5G at the time of the last Ookla speed study, with an average 5G download speed of 159.48Mbps. The fastest was EE with an average 5G download speed of 205.02Mbps.