Mobile broadband (also known as pocket wifi or portable wifi) allows you to take your internet connection with you and connect with multiple devices, like your phone, tablet and laptop. This can be handy if you’re out and about a lot, and don’t want to have to rely on public or patchy wifi connections.

How does mobile broadband work?

When you buy a mobile broadband plan, you will receive a small pocket-sized mobile wifi router or ‘dongle’, which comes fitted with a SIM card. The router connects to the internet via 4G (or 5G) in the same way as a smartphone, then you connect to the router via its wifi connection. Essentially, it’s like having a portable wifi connection that you take with you. It’s very similar to tethering via your smartphone (more on that below).

pocket wifi routers
Wifi routers, vaguely reminiscent of pre-smartphone era mobile phones | Photo by

How much Does Mobile Broadband Cost in the UK?

Mobile broadband prices are in the same range as mobile phone + data contracts, the difference being that the mobile router or dongle costs way less than a smartphone. For 12+ month contracts, the dongle is usually included for free. For shorter term contracts, you’ll usually need to pay £20.00 to £40.00 upfront for the dongle. Whilst some providers have a pay-as-you-go option, most plans will be billed monthly to your credit card and range from £11.00 to £40.00 per month, depending on data allowance (from 4GB/month to unlimited) and contract length (from 30 days to 24 months).

Buy a dongle and SIM separately

A more flexible and possibly cheaper alternative includes buying your own dongle, getting a pay-monthly SIM card, and putting the SIM in the dongle yourself.

For example, you could buy a Huawei Mobile Broadband for around £45.00 to £55.00 and a VOXI prepaid SIM with 8GB 30GB of data allowance for £10.00 per month. Whilst this might be a little more of a fiddle (activating your SIM, checking the dongle configuration, etc.), it’s probably the cheapest option without signing up for a 24-month contract.

Why not just tether with a smartphone?

Practically speaking, there’s usually not much extra benefit of mobile broadband over tethering other than it being more reliable, having a long battery life, and having the ability to connect to several devices. Most UK SIM providers will allow tethering, although there may be some restrictions.

For example, TV streaming and games consoles might have a limited data allowance. If you’re just using one laptop and one phone, then it might be a bit wasteful paying for a separate mobile broadband plan when you’re already paying for a phone & data plan, which you could tether with instead.

Best UK mobile broadband providers

The cheapest and flexible option is to buy your own mobile broadband router and order a SMARTY or VOXI prepaid monthly SIM card, which works out to approximately £165.00 per year.

The best value for unlimited data is to take a 24-month contract with Three, which works out to £264.00.

The table below gives a comparison of some mobile broadband deals available from the main providers. O2 also offers mobile broadband, but we’ve left them out as they just aren’t as good value.

UK mobile broadband providers comparison table

RouterAllowanceCommitmentUpfrontMonthlyAnnual costLink to buy
Voxi + BYOBuy your own15-30GB1 month£45.00£10.00£165.00More info
Buy your ownUnlimited1 month£45.00£30.00£405.00More info
Three4G included10GB1 month£39.00£14.00£207.00More info
4G includedUnlimited1 month£29.00£27.00£353.00More info
4G included10GB12 months£19.00£13.00£175.00More info
4G includedUnlimited12 months£0.00£26.00£312.00More info
4G included10GB24 months£0.00£12.00£144.00More info
4G includedUnlimited24 months£0.00£22.00£264.00More info
Vodafone5G included10GB1 month£35.00£21.00£287.00More info
5G includedUnlimited1 month£35.00£32.00£419.00More info
5G included10GB12 months£0.00£17.00£204.00More info
5G includedUnlimited12 months£0.00£28.00£336.00More info
5G included10GB24 months£0.00£15.00£180.00More info
5G includedUnlimited24 months£0.00£26.00£312.00More info

Important notes:

If you don’t have a UK bank account (read our article on UK digital banks for setting one up in seconds), note that Three require you to pay by direct debit, otherwise there’s a monthly surcharge of £5.00 on top of the prices below.

Vodafone require a credit check for their mobile broadband plans (apart from pay as you go; see below).

Which network has the best coverage and speed?

Mobile broadband speed is usually quite good on all providers, as they all have 4G coverage, which will be fast enough for moderate video streaming, video calls, etc. The 5G network in the UK is still patchy, but if you’re in London or another major city you might be able to get a reliable and super fast 5G connection (but don’t forget you will require a 5G router).

One important consideration, however, is network area coverage—not all UK mobile networks are equal! For mobile broadband, the main networks are Vodafone (also covered by Voxi) and Three. Whilst both providers have good coverage of the UK’s towns and cities, coverage can get a bit patchier in the countryside, and this is where Vodafone usually performs better than Three.

You can check the providers’ network coverage maps here: Three and Vodafone.

Can I use mobile broadband for my home internet?

Whilst you can also use mobile broadband for your home internet connection, it’s usually better value and a much faster connection getting a normal “wired” broadband or fibre connection at home. But if you’re definitely getting a mobile broadband connection anyway and want to save money, there’s nothing stopping you using it at home instead of a normal wired connection. Mobile broadband is as fast as some lower-quality ADSL connections, and you’ll be able to connect all your devices (usually the dongles can handle 10+ connections). Bear in mind, though, that if you live with others and need to take it out with you, then no one at home can use it unless they follow you out!

PAYG pocket wifi and tethering for travellers to the UK

If you want pocket wifi/mobile broadband for 30 days or less, then the cheapest option we found is the Vodafone pay-as-you-go option. That means you buy the wifi dongle for £25.00 and choose a data package (e.g. 15GB for £25.00). Otherwise if you already own a 4G mobile broadband dongle, bring it with you and order a cheap prepaid SIM card.

Another option to consider is to see if your smartphone has a tethering option (tethering makes your phone into mobile broadband router so you can connect with other devices via wifi or Bluetooth). Most modern smartphones do, and, generally, UK mobile providers allow tethering. So you could pick up a prepaid SIM card, put it in your smartphone and tether away.

Get all the info on what's on in London direct to your inbox every month