If you need Internet access on the go on your laptop then a dongle might be the solution you need.
Not everyone has a 3G enabled tablet or smart phone. If you are happy with your laptop and want to expand its capabilities to include 3G Internet access then a dongle is what you need.
What is a 3G Dongle?
Dongles are slightly larger than a standard USB pen-drive. They plug into a USB socket on your computer and stick out about three inches (eight centimetres). When you buy a dongle it comes with a sim-card for your chosen mobile network and allows you to access the Internet over that network.
How Does a Dongle Work?
You can buy dongles that include various amounts of data transfer. When you have used the included data you top up, exactly the same as you would with a pay as you go phone.
If there is any credit on the dongle then it gives you the same 3G connection you can get on an iPad or other tablet computer.
Pros and Cons of 3G Broadband
3G is the dream; well actually, 4G is now the dream that we were told 3G would be. The dream Internet connection is fast enough to watch live TV anywhere on your laptop, tablet or smart phone. The dream should also be affordable.
In reality Internet access via a mobile phone network is expensive and slow. Even if you buy a ‘fast’ dongle you are still limited by the network limitations that you connect to.
Your connection speed depends on two things, coverage and available bandwidth. Mobile network coverage maps are widely available both online and in retailers. Bandwidth is the thorny issue in my experience and you will find little information on it anywhere.
The coverage maps tell you where you will have a signal. However, you can have a signal and an Internet connection, but still have zero usability because the data transfer takes place at 0.002Mb per second, rather than the 2Mb minimum that you expect. At that speed even your home page will take 48 hours to load.
The best way to think of bandwidth is as network capacity. If the network has problems handling phone calls at busy times then it will drop lower-priority data calls like a hot potato. I tried a 3G dongle at home when I had no fixed line. I had a 4 bar connection and it worked from 6am until 8am. At 8am the connection slowed from 1.5Mb to 0.2 Mb when all the builders left home and started using their phones. At 3pm when the schools finish for the day my connection dropped to 2 bits/sec (0.002 Mb). I took the dongle back to the retailer and got most of my money back.
Pros and Cons of Broadband Dongles
If you are visiting another country then buying a pre-paid dongle can work out cheaper than paying roaming charges on your home network. In a town or city you can expect better network coverage and capacity than I had out in rural France.
Be aware that the dongle sticks out of your computer and is likely to be bent if you use your laptop on your lap. You can only really use a dongle-equipped laptop computer on a desk.
The writer, John Turnbull, lives in France and uses a prepaid data inclusive pay as you go dongle when he visits England every summer.