Using A Mobile Broadband Dongle. A Guide From UK Mobile Broadband Deals
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Using A Mobile Broadband Dongle

A simple guide to using a dongle for the first time, plus some tips

As mobile broadband is still a relatively new technology, many people taking out a mobile broadband deal will be using it for the first time. This guide is designed to help you understand how a mobile broadband dongle works and how to use it, plus give some tips to make sure you get the best experience possible using mobile broadband.

How a Dongle Works
Mobile broadband dongle connected to laptopA mobile broadband dongle is a relatively simple piece of hardware. It is a small stick (about the size of a cigarette lighter) that connects into your computer's USB port. The dongle contains a SIM card that it uses to connect to the mobile 3G networks, just like a mobile phone, and a simple modem that it uses to connect the computer to the Internet over the mobile network. The signal then works with a simple piece of software which is installed on your computer to give you high speed internet access over the mobile network so you aren’t dependent on fixed line broadband or a WiFi hotspot. You need either a mobile broadband contract or a pay as you go deal from one of the mobile phone networks and they will charge you depending on the amount of data you access over the network.


Using a Mobile Broadband Dongle For The First Time
Mobile broadband dongle and sim cardThe first mobile broadband connections were quite complicated and there are lots of horror stories about users having to download many different drivers and fiddle with lots of different setting to get a working signal. Over the last couple of years, however, the mobile networks have seen mobile broadband as a big opportunity and realised that for it to be successful it needs to be as simple as possible so a lot of work has gone in to making using a dongle for the first time incredibly simple. When you first get your dongle, the SIM card may already be inside it but if not you will need to insert it yourself. Different dongles have different locations for the SIM so if it isn’t immediately obvious check the instructions or packaging that came with the dongle. Once the SIM is inserted you simply need to take the lid off the dongle and connect it to a USB port on your computer.


Three mobile broadband screen shotYour computer should recognise the dongle and start to install the drivers and software automatically. If nothing happens immediately wait a minute or two as sometimes this happens in the background without you being aware. Eventually an installation screen should appear, just accept the licence agreement and if necessary set a username and password and you should see the dongle software open. The dongle will start to scan for a network which may take a few seconds and then give you the option to connect. Simply click the button and you will be up and away and using your mobile broadband to connect to the Internet. Whenever you want to use it in future just connect the dongle and you’ll go straight to the software that asks you to connect without having to do a thing.


Tips for Maximising Your Signal
The quality and speed of your mobile broadband signal is the single biggest thing that will affect its performance. You can check our mobile broadband coverage and speed section for more information and you’ll typically get a speed of around 0.5 – 2MBps if you’re in a populated area but there are a few tips that you might want to be aware of to maximise the mobile broadband access you get if you are having problems in a particular location. Firstly it’s worth bearing in mind that mobile broadband tends to work better outside than inside as walls can have an affect on the signal strength. Sitting near a window or better still going outside will generally increase the speed of your connection in low coverage areas.

Dongle connected by USB cableMost mobile broadband dongles also come with an optional extension cable in the box that takes them away from the laptop, because the background electricity of your computer can interfere with the quality of the connection this typically increases the speed – it also means you can get the dongle closer to a window if you use it regularly at home for a permanently faster speed. Finally you can also tweak the software on your computer to make it run faster. This isn’t unique to mobile broadband but using a modern browser, optimising the download settings or using compression software like On Speed can all have a dramatic effect on the speed of your Internet browsing. Generally these tips shouldn’t be necessary but they could be useful if you find yourself needing to use your mobile broadband in area with lower coverage.