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Mobile Broadband FAQ

Is it difficult to set up the mobile broadband USB modem?

No, they're easy to set up. First you need to insert the SIM card provided into the USB modem, then plug the modem into the laptop. Often when you are using a Windows XP or Vista laptop, it installs the software needed automatically and connects to the 3G network, because the drivers can be saved on the USB stick itself. If you are using an older Windows machine or an Apple Mac, you will need to install the modem driver software from disk. Unlike home broadband, mobile broadband doesn't need any complex configuration of the connection equipment with a username and password. This is because all the necessary connection authorisation information is provided by the SIM card within the USB modem. Just as your mobile phone SIM allows you to use your mobile phone network, so the mobile broadband SIM in the USB modem allows you to gain mobile broadband access.

How fast is mobile broadband?

Firstly, it depends whether you have mobile broadband coverage (i.e. a 3G or 3.5G signal) in your area, so see our UK mobile broadband coverage page for links to coverage maps for Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange. Even when you are in a 3G coverage area, as mobile broadband is a radio service, the service speed can vary greatly depending on local conditions, e.g. electrical interference. Note that the speeds quoted by service providers are usually "up to" theoretical maximums and the speed you can actually achieve in your area will be much lower. You may have seen speeds of 7.2Mbps quoted, but in our experience speeds never get near this, and are typically from 1 to 2.5Mbps in good signal areas.

Under good conditions, mobile broadband can be fast enough to stream online video. However, in general, if you are used to a fast home broadband connection, you will find the mobile broadband experience noticeably slower, with a bit more lag before pages load. Even the fastest mobile broadband services available do not currently compare with a good 8Mbps home broadband connection, although the gap is set to narrow with future mobile broadband standards such as 4G (Long Term Evolution).

When you are outside the 3G mobile broadband coverage, you will revert back to a GPRS-based service and this is very slow, comparable to the speed of an old dial-up service or perhaps slower.

Note that when operating in a good 3G signal area using a mobile phone as a modem instead of a dedicated USB modem may reduce your maximum connection speed , especially if you are connecting the phone to the laptop via Bluetooth. However, when connecting in a GPRS-only area, the mobile phone is unlikely to be a limiting factor.

Is mobile broadband fast enough for online gaming?

Mobile broadband can be used successfully for online gaming, but how good your experience is will depend very much on the quality of signal you receive.  Mobile broadband often has higher latency than fixed-line broadband, and this can be an issue if you are playing an action-intensive online game. The time taken for data to go from your computer, to the gaming server, and back to your computer, which is known as the ping or response time, needs to be between 100 and 500ms for a decent gaming experience.  Mobile broadband can provide a low response time of 100ms when signal conditions are good, making even a demanding first person shooter game feasible, but it can also be as much as a few seconds in poor signal areas, where you may have to stick to MMO games such as World of Warcraft.      

Which network is best for mobile broadband reception?

This just depends on where you are, just as it does for mobile phone reception. Often you can trial a service first before signing up for a full contract, so we suggest doing that. See our UK mobile broadband coverage page for links to current mobile broadband coverage maps from the major providers.

What is the best mobile broadband for my area?

We would advise asking local people about the quality of the various mobile networks in the area, then check for 3G mobile broadband coverage.

Can I use a mobile phone as a modem for my laptop?

Yes, many 3G phones can connect to the internet and serve it to your laptop via either a Bluetooth or USB connection. However, you are then limited by the mobile phone battery life, and whilst the mobile broadband connection speed can be good, it is generally slightly slower than with a dedicated USB modem or datacard. You will need a contract with a data allowance from your mobile phone network.

What is the best mobile phone to use as a modem?

The Nokia N95 does a good job.

Can I use Vodafone Mobile Broadband to Skype?

Please see our page on mobile broadband and Skype.

Can I share a mobile broadband connection between multiple computers?

You can with a router designed to work with a mobile broadband connection. An example of such a router is the Draytek Vigor 2910, which has a USB port to which you can connect a 3G USB modem or 3G phone, allowing connection to the internet via HSDPA at connection speeds of up to 3.4Mb/s. Please note we have yet to confirm whether the USB modems from 3, T-Mobile and Vodafone work with this router.

Draytek Vigor 2910 mobile broadband router

Other mobile broadband routers we are aware of:
- Linksys WRT54G3G Wireless-G router, which accepts a mobile broadband data card, e.g the Vodafone Mobile Connect 3G broadband data card
- DrayTek 2820n Router. This is a high specification mobile broadband and general purpose router from Draytek, and can accept ADSL/ADSL2+ broadband connections, has a Dual-WAN ports to connect an ADSL modem, cable modem or both, and has a USB Port for a 3G mobile broadband modem. The router can then distribute the broadband internet connection to other computers via b, g or n WiFi.

DrayTek 2820n mobile broadband router

Note that if you buy a mobile broadband USB modem, you are free to swap it between computers if you want to. You could use it on your laptop whilst you are out and about, and then switch it to your desktop when you are at home.

Can you get a stable connection with mobile broadband?

Yes, providing you have a good 3G signal where you are. When you aren't moving the connection stability can be excellent. If you are on a train then you may find you get disconnections if you travel out of a 3G signal area and your modem can't migrate you from a 3G to a GSM connection. Some 3G/GPRS datacards can cope with this by dropping down to slower GPRS without disconnecting, e.g. the O2 Merlin 3G/GPRS datacard.

For more info, see our view on the best mobile broadband network, and for a second opinion see this other mobile broadband site.

Can I use mobile broadband with Windows Vista?

Yes. Most mobile broadband services will work with Windows Vista. We can confirm that following services definitely work on Windows Vista:
- 3 Mobile
- T-Mobile (USB modem and data card, for which a software download is needed)
- Vodafone (USB modem, 7.2Mbps USB stick modem)

Can you tell me which Windows Operating Systems are compatible with these mobile broadband services?

- T-Mobile USB Modem (Windows Vista, Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows 2000)

Can I use mobile broadband on a Mac? What is the best mobile broadband service for a Mac?

Yes. We can confirm following mobile broadband services will work on a Mac:
- 3 Mobile (USB modem)
- T-Mobile (USB modem, Apple Mac OS X 10.2.6 or higher, Apple Mac Leopard is not currently supported. The datacard is not currently Mac compatible.)
- Vodafone (3.6Mbps USB modem, 7.2Mbps USB modem and 7.2Mbps USB stick modem, OS X Panther 10.3.9 or higher required).

The best mobile broadband for a Mac will be determined by which provider has the best signal quality in the locations where you will be using your Mac. See our UK mobile broadband coverage page.

Do mobile broadband USB modems work on Linux?

Mobile broadband modems can be made to work with Linux. You may find the betavine Linux Data Card Drivers subforum helpful for getting Vodafone Mobile Broadband to work on Linux.

The Christmas 2008 Issue of Linux Format Magazine (Issue 113) had a how to guide for mobile broadband on Linux.

The latest version of Ubuntu has support for 3g devices in network manager.

Can I use my UK mobile broadband service when abroad?

Yes, see our mobile broadband abroad page.

Can I use VOIP on mobile broadband?

Firstly it depends on the VOIP policy of each provider. Secondly, you will need to be in a good signal area as VOIP services are data intensive. In areas where the mobile broadband signal quality is low, there can be a lot of latency when talking. 

In poor conditions you may find that whilst you can hear the other person clearly because you have a high mobile broadband download speed (say around 500Mbps), they may find your voice breaking up because you are limited by a low mobile broadband upload speed (say around 50Mbps) which is not really fast enough for VOIP to run smoothly.  

With mobile broadband, are all the normal ports open so I can use remote desktop, VPN and VoIP?

People have been able to access these services on T-Mobile Web n Walk. Note that using VoIP and IM services may be against the T&C's of your contract. For VoIP the latency on the 3G connection can be quite high.