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Mobile broadband deals of 2021: what is Mi-Fi and what are the best plans?

Mobile broadband deals
(Image credit: Future)

While mobile broadband deals may seem like a strange concept - who needs internet on the go?! - they actually fulfil a frequent need for a large group of people, where broadband is unavailable or you temporarily need an internet solution.

Very simply (as you've most likely guessed from the name) mobile broadband is internet you can take on the move. Most commonly, it comes as a hub you can connect your phone, laptop and other gadgets to, however there are a few different options.

Dongles, routers, SIM cards - all servicing different needs. And with PAYG options, contracts and simply big upfront spending plans, there is a lot to consider when investing in any mobile broadband deals.

And right now, mobile broadband has never been more essential. During the UK's multiple lockdowns and the world-wide pandemic, many are finding a need for temporary internet solutions.

Of course, Mi-Fi isn't for everyone and anyone with a big data mobile phone deal or SIM only deal will likely find mobile broadband redundant with tethering abilities and anyone needing it for their home will find 4G home broadband to be a better option.

However, for parents trying to keep kids entertained on long trips, people trying to work on trains or people who simply travel abroad a lot, mobile broadband deals could well be a logical option for you.

What is mobile broadband and how does it work?

Mobile broadband (commonly known as Mi-Fi) is in essence a portable internet router. It can come in multiple forms - dongles, hubs, SIM cards etc - and simply provides you reliable internet when you're out and about.

Unlike regular broadband deals or even 4G home broadband plans, the major pro of these routers is the ability to take them on the move. It doesn't (in most cases) require a plug or any power and most options are small and portable.

Depending on what kind of option you choose, you can use it tether multiple devices or even get unlimited data on the move.

The main and most popular form is where a SIM card and a router are combined. The SIM card provides your internet access and the router boosts its power and range throughout your house.

Mobile broadband from Three:

Three Huawei 4G Mobile Wi-Fi | £0 upfront | 24 month contract | 5GB data | £10 a month
The first thing you'll notice about this offer is its temping name - the Huawei e5783b - if that doesn't captivate you, we don't know what will! While there is a host of different packages at different price points, we feel the best option is the 5GB data package. It is one of the cheapest options and comes packed with more data than most. However, it is a 24 month contract so some might want something shorter.View Deal

Three PAYG Huawei 4G Mobile Wi-Fi | £89.99 upfront | valid for 24 months | 24GB data
Don't want to sign up for a contract? You don't have to. With this offer you're getting the exact same hub as above but without being tied into monthly payments. While there is a few PAYG options, we feel like the most expensive one is worth the investment. It comes with 24GB of data and stays valid for 24 months. (once you click through, you'll find PAYG at the bottom of the list).View Deal

Mobile broadband from EE:

EE 4GEE Wi-Fi Router | 24-month contract | 30GB data | £20 a month | £30 upfront
Likely the option most people will want from EE, the 4GEE Wi-Fi router is affordable, portable and offers impressive download speeds. The best deal around is this 30GB for £20 a month offer however you're tied in for 24 months. EE has a load more options with this router if that doesn't quite work for you.
View Deal

Mobile broadband from O2:

O2 Pocket Hotspot Pro Netgear M1 | 36 month contract | 75GB data | £39.84 a month
O2 has one offer that stands out above the rest, its Netgear M1. This has two appeals - its speed and its customisation. With speeds that can reach 1GB (incredibly fast if you were wondering), this is one of the speedier options available. The other great benefit is the customisation. You can choose how much data you want, the contract length and even the price you'll be paying.
View Deal

Mobile broadband from Vodafone:

Vodafone K5160 Dongle | 1-12 month contracts | £0-30 upfront | 2GB-unlimited data | From £17 a month
Another in a long line of top-notch names, who doesn't want a KG160 dongle? While this can only be used for your laptop, the amount of options is outstanding. There are 1-month contracts, big data options, cheap plans, unlimited data options and even PAYG deals - perfect for just a bit of work on a commute.
View Deal

Vodafone R218 Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot | 1-12 month contracts | £0-35 upfront | 2GB-unlimited data | From £17 a month
Need to connect more than just your laptop? Vodafone also offers a hub to help you get online on the move. It offers connectivity for up to 10 devices and like the option above, has plenty of space for customising how you want your plan to look. And like the above option, you can now get unlimited data on your mobile broadband from Vodafone.
View Deal

Can I get 5G Mi-Fi plans?

While 5G is still a relatively new concept, a number of networks have already jumped on it. However, with both Three and Vodaofone, getting access to 5G will mean upgrading to their home broadband plans, with mobile broadband more frequently in a 4G location.

However, if you do make the upgrade, Three and Vodafone have made all of their plans 4G and 5G compatible for the same price meaning you don't have to worry about how much you're spending.

EE is the only network to offer truly mobile broadband on 5G networks so far. However, in true EE fashion, it will cost you more to get access to 5G.

How is Mi-Fi different from Wi-Fi?

There are a few key differences between the two. Firstly and most obviously, with broadband deals you need to have a landline and go through the set-up process. That means that broadband can only be installed in a home, office or stable location.

Mobile broadband on the other hand can be taken on the go and requires no set-up to get started. While Mi-Fi will remain faster than ADSL (slower broadband) in most cases, it will struggle to match fibre in its consistency and speed.

If you can get a home broadband deal where you are, we would advise that as your main Wi-Fi connection due to its affordability, consistency and overall performance. Can't get it where you live? Mobile broadband could be the perfect option.

Are Mi-Fi routers faster than regular broadband?

This isn't so much a simple yes or no answer. With so many different broadband deals out there ranging from painfully slow to blisteringly fast, mobile broadband falls somewhere in the middle.

It will easily out-perform the lower end deals but as you get into the faster fibre category you will find it losing out. These portable internet routers also require strong 4G connection meaning speeds will change depending where you are, regular broadband on the other hand will more or less stay the same.

Still want more options? Then head to our main broadband deals guide for all the best tariffs out there right now.