A dongle is a small piece of computer hardware which attaches to your computer through a USB port. Originally used as a software protection device, dongles were often issued with software packages so that the purchaser could use the program but unauthorised users could not.
However these days their most popular use is as an internet network adaptor, allowing access to a 3G or 4G internet connection. Because the internet is provided through 3G or 4G mobile technology, nearly all mobile phone providers offer mobile broadband packages.
Advantages of dongles
A dongle offers far greater flexibility than a fixed line internet connection. With a dongle, you can access the internet wherever there is coverage. Whether you are at home, in the office, or on the train, a dongle can get your laptop onto the internet quickly and conveniently.
Dongles are often provided free when taking up a mobile broadband contract with an ISP (Internet Service Provider), therefore reducing costs. They do not need to be charged up as they run off the power source of your computer. They are small, fast-operating and can be taken anywhere. You can access the internet abroad with your dongle, however expect high charges for doing so (Check with your ISP).
With speeds up to five times faster than 3G, the introduction of fourth generation mobile technology (4G) has meant that a 4G dongle is now a genuinely viable alternative to fixed line broadband.
Disadvantages of dongles
One of the main issues with dongle-based internet access are speed and data limits. 3G download speeds are lower than a fixed connection, with the maximum reaching only around 20Mbps for the most expensive packages.
Also, compared with fixed line connections, data limits are small for dongle-based internet packages. These limits and speeds are fine for checking email and social networks, but not for heavier users who may game online. If you are planning to take on such a deal, be aware of the charges for going over your agreed data limit. In fact, heavy users will be better off with a fixed-line unlimited broadband deal, allowing them to download much more data.
Prospective users should also be aware of one-off costs for dongle packages. Very often you will have to pay for the dongle itself in addition to your monthly fees. Expect to be charged at least £20 for it when signing-up.
Dongle-based internet connections are also dependent on coverage. If mobile phone signals are weak or non-existent in your area, then broadband access will be too. Take a look at our mobile broadband coverage checker to find out more about the strength of signal in your area.
The new 4G technology is faster, but EE is the currently the only provider of the technology, meaning less choice and higher prices for the time being. The 4G dongle packages are more expensive than their 3G counterparts and long-term contracts are only available. There are also currently no pay-as-you-go options or rolling one-month contract deals.
4G dongle packages are only available in certain cities and large towns at this moment in time, meaning that rural areas currently lose out. Click here for a list of the cities and towns that can receive the service.