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Broadband for mobile users

With services like urban Wi-Fi product WiMax still to make any significant debut in the UK market and free Wi-Fi the preserve of built-up areas, the way forward for travelling computer users is mobile broadband.

The technology world knows it as HSDPA (High-Speed Download Packet Access), and it's already comparable in speed and cost to home broadband. This makes it Britain's best alternative to ADSL or cable in blackspot areas where traditional coverage is thin or missing.

The cynical high-fee structure previously offered by the big mobile companies was dealt a death blow by the more realistic price of 3 Mobile's HSDPA product when it launched in 2007. Predictably, it was a storming success, and 3 saw data transfer rates across its network multiply by a massive 14 times in the first six months after the launch of its iconic broadband 'dongle'.

You can sign up for 3 Mobile Broadband for as little as £10 per month, which gives you 1GB of download allowance. However, the real bargain is the second-tier product Broadband 5GB. For £15 per month you get a free USB mobile modem and a full 5GB of web browsing.

That's plenty of data for standard business use, including web browsing, email and a bit of cloud computing. You might even get away with a couple of YouTube sessions. The only catch is an 18-month contract.

Vodafone – 3's closest competitor – claims a faster service, but pricing is stingier. For the same monthly price you're tied into a 24-month contract and get only 3GB of data allowance. Though there are other mobile solutions either currently available or about to be released, HSDPA's reliability and ease-of-use make it the best option for laptop warriors by far.

The current theoretical maximum speed is 3.6Mbps, with up to 7.2Mbps speeds rolling out from October. As the country's first dedicated 3G mobile provider, 3 offers 98 per cent coverage in the UK. Even commercial Wi-Fi products like BT Openzone can only offer guaranteed coverage in major cities.

Installation's easy, too – at least on Windows platforms. The first time you plug in your mobile dongle (which is really a USB modem built with mobile phone technology, complete with SIM card), it installs on your computer as a virtual drive. The software is set up automatically and you're ready to connect in minutes.

Like any mobile phone, the SIM requires activation – but after that you can connect to the internet any time. It's much quicker to connect than old-fashioned dial-up and faster than rebooting a router. Though we've picked 3 Mobile as our recommendation, it's worth checking with your existing mobile phone provider before you commit to a product.

You may get a loyalty discount as an existing customer. Like a mobile phone, you can opt for Pay As You Go or Pay Monthly products. PAYG users fork out more per megabyte, but don't have the hassle of being tied into a contract and can use just what they need.