A good mobile broadband deal is a great stand-in, or in some cases even a replacement for the cabled variety of home broadband deals. But an unlimited mobile broadband deal is even better.
Unlimited mobile broadband doesn’t have to use your mobile phone either. It’s now possible to get unlimited mobile hubs (also known as routers or MiFis) that use their own SIM cards. There are also dongles, and mobile tethering (which is also known as using a personal hotspot that will enable you to make wider use of your mobile phone’s data signal). So, let’s look at what is currently available for you in the unlimited mobile broadband market.
As the name suggests, unlimited mobile broadband enables you to use uncapped data using a 4G or 5G signal – the same as you would with your mobile phone – for your computer, TV or any other compatible device’s wifi. With the introduction of 5G to more and more areas of the UK, mobile data speeds of up to 300Mbps max (which beats many cabled deals) are available. Even 4G could get you online at nearly 50Mbps (more likely 20-30Mbps), which is easily enough to use the web, watch and listen to streaming media, and even play some games online. So, how do you get online with unlimited mobile data?
The answer to this depends very much on where you are (and where you’re going), and how much you rely on an internet connection. Let’s have a look at the situations where you might want unlimited mobile broadband.
Fibre broadband is available to the majority of UK households now but this doesn’t mean it’s always a reliable connection. You might also be in the minority who can’t get access to fibre in your area yet. Mobile broadband speeds are highly competitive with their fixed-line competitors, so if your mobile signal is consistently better than your fixed line, then a data SIM and a mobile wifi or MiFi hub (router) might be a good way to get a fast connection.
If you’re forever on trains or buses, at airports or even on ferries and you need to work on the go, or you simply want to stay connected at all times, unlimited mobile broadband could be a solution. This is also true if you travel internationally. Be aware though that it’s a good idea to check the mobile coverage at your destination before you spend money on an additional data SIM rather than simply tethering your mobile phone data. You might also want to look into roaming options (and mobile broadband usage while roaming) available from your service provider to avoid any hefty unexpected charges.
An unlimited mobile broadband plan (or even phone tethering) provides the same ability to browse the web, download files and use email, and, with 4G and 5G speeds, even play games and stream audio and video. Therefore if your cabled home broadband is down or you can’t get a decent speed, then a mobile data dongle, router, MiFi hub or even your phone’s data are great backup options.
If you live in an area that just doesn’t get fixed-line broadband, but you do have a mobile data signal, then an unlimited mobile data SIM plan with a wifi or MiFi-enabled router might just solve your connectivity problem.
Although there are myriad unlimited mobile data deals out in the market from numerous suppliers, there are only four physical networks in the UK: EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. Every other provider uses one of these networks.
This means that when you’re looking for your unlimited mobile data deal, find out which of the four network providers are providing the actual network your chosen service provider uses. This will enable you to check out the network coverage where you live (and where you want to travel to) before signing up. After all, there’s no point in paying out for data if you can’t actually access it.
In terms of upload and download speeds to expect, the days when mobile data couldn’t compete with a fixed-line broadband connection are rapidly disappearing with the rollout of 5G and the ubiquity of 4G. With 5G, on average you can expect to receive between 100Mps and 200Mbps; with 4G, between 20Mbps and 40Mbps (according to recent tests by Opensignal). So, what was once a stop-gap or last resort is fast becoming a serious contender for your primary connection.
In this guide we’ve reviewed the fact that there are only actually four main network providers for mobile data in the UK: EE, O2, Vodafone and Three, all of whom offer unlimited mobile data deals. However, other companies piggyback, or make use of, these four major networks and they try to offer extras to attract you. Starting with the big four, we’ll now look at what’s on offer.
If you are interested in unlimited mobile data deals, first find out what you’ll need to make the most of the megabytes on offer. Here’s our quick checklist.
The most amazing unlimited data deal in the world isn’t going to be any use to you if you don’t have a reliable 3G, 4G or 5G signal. And frankly 3G is not really up to snuff if you want to replace your home broadband completely. So, check with the provider as to what their coverage in your specific locality is, and also ask them for the median (average) download speeds before forking out for an unlimited data SIM, dongle or MiFi hub. It’s also a good idea to check for the areas you regularly visit, and check which mobile technologies are widely available wherever you’re going.
If your home broadband is fine for your needs but you travel for work or just for fun then your own phone can do the trick. If you already have a mobile phone that offers the ability to create a personal hotspot so you can tether (connect) other devices to it, then investing in an unlimited data SIM deal could be perfect for you.
Frankly, dongles are becoming less and less available due to the wide availability of smartphones that offer the option to create personal wifi hotspots and portable MiFi devices. However, if your phone can’t provide a hotspot, then a dongle that plugs into your computer’s USB slot offers a quick fix.
A broadband hub (also known as a router) that uses mobile data rather than a cabled connection to your service provider can be a hugely useful back-up. In fact, with widely available 4G and 5G speeds, you can even use it as your primary connection to the internet. A MiFi is best if you want portability as it is smaller and battery-powered. A 4G/5G home wifi router is mains powered and likely to be bigger and less portable.
More than likely, yes you can, however, you'll need to check that you’ll get reliable coverage. You can use our deal comparison page to find the best offers in your area.
EE has consistently offered the fastest average mobile data speeds in the UK, but only for 4G. Its 4G optimal speed is 60Mbps. Its 5G is also good, averaging 129Mbps, but not as fast as Three, whose 5G download speed averages 204Mbps (according to Opensignal).
If you want a separate data SIM from your phone’s then yes, MiFi is definitely better for you. Also, if you want to reliably share your mobile data with more than a couple of people, then Mifi with up to 64 people is the way to go. If, however, you’re after a temporary solution on the go, then tethering is definitely cheaper and quicker.
All of the big four network providers – EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 – offer unlimited data broadband deals (PAYG)/top-up basis. Several of the providers who make use of those four networks (piggybacking) are also in the market. These offers are mostly for data-only SIMs though.
The big difference between home broadband and mobile data is that the latter is delivered wirelessly using mobile network masts rather than cables running into your home.
Of course this depends on the coverage in your area (or the area you’re travelling to). 4G is widely available in the UK, however, if you can find a good deal on a 5G unlimited data deal, this will obviously provide the fastest speed if your home, or intended usage area, has 5G coverage. A 5G router, hub, dongle or SIM will be able to downgrade its reception to 4G and even 4G, if needed.