We all love our broadband. It’s hard to imagine that not that many years ago, many of us were still connecting to the Internet via dial-up modems – or not connected at all. And with Internet connectivity a vital part of our lives at work and play, it’s been the evolution of mobile broadband that’s really changed things (one glance at a busy street full of Facebook-checking walkers confirms it!).
Back then, mobile broadband connection was once barely “broadband” at all. It was used as a mildly functional way of accessing websites and email from our phones while out and about. But that changed quickly with the arrival of 4G, which was just the beginning of faster and faster mobile broadband speeds to the point where your 4G mobile phone probably has faster broadband than your home does – at least in theory.
With the latest 4G tech offering potential speeds of 300 Mbps – three times as fast as the speediest home broadband connection you can sign up to – it might seem like the logical replacement for that copper or fibre cable running into your home or office. For those who’ve found themselves with their NBN upgrade postponed– or worse, gotten onto the NBN only to find that their phone line’s quality keeps the speed down to a fraction of its potential – mobile broadband starts to seem very appealing.
The DownSide to Mobile Broadband
Even with the cost of mobile data plummeting over recent years and with mobile broadband data allowances getting larger and larger, it’s still not able to come close to competing with wired broadband in terms of cost per gigabyte. You simply get a data allowance many times larger – often unlimited – with wired broadband. On the other hand, you’ll constantly be having to keep an eye on that data limit to make sure you don’t clock up a nasty surprise of an extra-usage bill when using mobile.
Low Data Limits
While some data-only mobile broadband plans offer some impressively high monthly data limits, if you’re looking to use one for your home broadband, you’re going to need to be very economical with data. For example, a 30GB allowance can get entirely eaten up by a few days’ worth of Netflix, and that’s before you take into account not only the other things you use the Internet for, but also for the things that use big chunks of data without telling you (such as Windows updates). The reason for these limits is simple – there’s only a finite amount of space available on each mobile tower for devices to connect to. The fact is that even the more generous data limits still discourage the sort of download-heavy uses that could bring the entire system to a crawl, particularly streaming video. And what about those “unlimited” mobile plans? Don’t be fooled – after you use a fairly generous full-speed allowance, you’re slowed down artificially to a speed barely fast enough to load web sites, let alone stream video.
Mobile broadband relies on radio waves, of course, to link you to the Internet – and those radio waves don’t like passing through solid objects any more than your car radio likes tunnels! When a mobile signal gets weaker, the mobile broadband connection gets slower, often substantially. On top of that, you’re sharing a mobile tower’s bandwidth with your fellow users. That potential 300 Mbps speed sounds tantalising, but it’s likely you’ll never actually reach it in the real world.
Is Mobile Broadband Still Useful for More Than Just Phones?
Yes, it absolutely is. Even given the limitations, the raw speed you can get from a 4G connection can be incredibly liberating if you have a laptop computer or tablet that’s connected (either via a 4G “dongle” or, in the case of many tablets, a second SIM card). Yes, you need to be more careful with your data usage, but then, usage while out and about tends to be more of the low-data kind anyway. Emails, uploading photos, getting some work done while away from home – the freedom is tantalising.
If you’re stuck with a slow broadband connection at home (or no connection at all), then mobile broadband can save the day, too. Limited data is much better than none at all (just be wary of data-only plans with huge limits that are restricted to 3G only – there’s a few out there).
Have a look through the various mobile data plans available and do the sums – depending on the way you use the Internet, mobile broadband could be the solution you’re looking for.
Last audited 18 January 2021
The Future – What About 5G?
The media loves a good “in the future” story, and the latest one to capture their imaginations is the “5G mobile broadband is how we’ll all connect in the future” angle. Capable of speeds in the gigabit range and successfully tested at the recent Winter Olympics, 5G has been pegged by some as the replacement for wired broadband at home.
Will it happen? Possibly, but it’s going to take years if it happens at all. The problems inherent with current mobile broadband are still there – especially cell congestion, despite 5G being far better at handling it. It’s also going to be expensive to roll out, at least initially expensive to use and, of course, you’ll need new devices to connect to it at all. In the meantime, the tech to get gigabit speeds in your home already exists and is in use today – the fibre optic cable that the NBN originally rolled out with.
And with all the extra mobile towers that’ll be needed for 5G – all of which need to be connected to the Internet by fibre cables anyway – it’ll likely make more sense to just go back to getting those fibre cables directly to people’s homes. That, and leaving mobile broadband to do what it does best, powering work and leisure connectivity when you don’t want to be tied down to one location.