Internet access terminology can be very confusing, especially if you’re trying to choose a new ISP. Each technology has its differences and some may be better at certain tasks than others, consequently it is important for consumers to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each prior to choosing a provider. This page seeks to explain the methods using simple language and is best used in conjunction with our 'Jargon Buster
Mobile Broadband is a wireless data communication technology that utilises lower frequency radio spectrum (cell networks) and can thus deliver internet access to almost anywhere. The service is usually accessed through a mobile phone, USB Modem / Dongle (pictured on the right) or PCMCIA card.
Mobile services are typically delivered over a wide range of radio frequency spectrum bands (e.g. 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.6GHz etc.), most of which can also reach indoors; albeit only to a limited degree. As a basic rule, lower spectrum bands (e.g. 900MHz) can reach further (outdoors) with their signals than higher ones (e.g. 1800MHz).
Speeds range from 384Kbps (Kilobits per second) to 14Mbps+ (Megabits per second) downstream via the most common High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) technology and will go much faster with LTE in the future (100Mbps+). To better explain this we've listed the best possible theoretical download speeds by mobile standard below (oldest first):
Mobile Data Communications Standards and Speeds:
* Basic GSM (2G) 14.4Kbps Download
* GPRS (2G) - 48Kbps Download
* EDGE (2G) - 236Kbps Download
* UMTS (3G / IMT-2000) - 384Kbps Download [64Kbps upstream]
* HSPA (3G / IMT-2000) - 14.4Mbps Download [5.8Mbps upload]
* HSPA+ (3G / IMT-2000) - 84Mbps Download [22Mbps upload]
* WiMAX 802.16e (3G / IMT-2000) - 128Mbps Download [56Mbps upload] - Frequency: 500–800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.5-2.6GHz, 3.3-3.5GHz
* LTE (3G / IMT-2000) - 100Mbps Download [50Mbps upload] - Frequency: 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.6GHz
* WiMAX2 802.16m (4G / IMT-Advanced) - 1Gbps Download - Frequency: 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz, 2.6GHz (UK) or 3.5GHz
* LTE-Advanced (4G / IMT-Advanced) - 1Gbps Download - Frequency: 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.6GHz
G = Generation of mobile technology (e.g. 2nd Gen = 2G).
In reality the service suffers from highly variable speeds and the current UK average is between just 1-2Mbps. Multiplayer gaming and VPN can sometimes also be problematic thanks to variable latency times and slow upload speeds. Countering this is the fact that migration between different operators is very easy and coverage sometimes extends into areas that fixed line solutions might fail to reach.
Related mobile internet packages can also limit access to specific services (MSN, Skype etc.), compress web images far too much (O2, T-Mobile) and impose harsh data usage caps with costly excessive use charges. Thankfully recent moves have seen prices coming down to almost fixed-line broadband levels, along with increasingly flexible usage policies.
Mobile Broadband is often described as being the only real alternative to fixed line services because it has the advantage of being both affordable and widely available, from almost anywhere, to a significant portion of the UK population (around 90% if you believe the operators). Sadly the best value monthly packages typically come with lengthy contract periods of 18 to 24 months.
- Cheap hardware and services.
- Good usage allowances.
- Good coverage, excellent for roaming (inside the UK only).
- Easy to setup.
Related ISPreview Sections:
- Slow upload speeds and unreliable to slow download speeds
- Slow or unstable latency (bad for games, VoIP etc.).
- Some operators block VoIP and or other services.
- Stability (disconnections are not uncommon, especially when roaming).