back to article Mobile broadband or WiFi? You betcha

Our increasing appetite for sending and receiving data on the move fuels ever increasing need for wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi access and mobile broadband are usual ways of meeting this need. So what's best? At this stage, WiFi is ahead in convenience terms, but it is debatable by how much - particularly when roaming - and for …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward

    OK, I hate to be a smartarse but...

    - WiFi access at home is "free" but access to the internet beyond presumably comes with some sort of ISP charge which is rolled into the cost of a mobile broadband modem.

    - WiFi speed is not only affected by the quality of your WiFi connection but also the quality of the WiFi provider's connection to the Internet beyond.

    - The encryption intrinsic to mobile broadband does not obviate the need to take measures to protect your laptop from physical or network compromise. In the end it is all about risk management and while there are some basic steps that can be taken - often defined by the ubiquity of certain technologies like WPA(2), firewall, full disk encryption - ultimately decisions need to be made weighing the risks against the costs and onwards unto the benefits.

    Can i get some sort of prize for using "in the end" and "ultimately" in the same run-on sentence?

  2. JeffyPooh
    Thumb Down

    Mobile broadband - got that T-shirt

    I live in the forest mere minutes from civilization. DSL is not available. Cable TV is not available. So for years we suffered with only dial-up. We knew about mobile (cellular) broadband, but it was always about a trillion dollars a month for any amount of usage.

    Then one of our local wireless telcos (Telus) started offering "Unlimited" EVDO access for under $100 a month. So we grabbed it. After about ten months, the slime balls at Telus decided that 'unlimited' meant "5GB a month is cool", and they cut us off. Lying liars.

    Now another wireless telco (Rogers) is offering an explicit (ie. honest, ie. not lying, ie. not Deceptive Marketing Practices) 5GB per month over HSPA for about the same price. So we're using that one now. So far they've been perfectly honest about what's what. But we've had to scale back to limited usage to stay around 3-5 GB a month. It's really tight!!

    WiMax is coming soon... coming soon... coming soon... coming soon...

    Until then, we'll continue to back-fill with some sort of mobile broadband at twice the price and one-third the service.

    Rogers HSPA isn't bad, except it isn't really unfettered access to the web. There seems to be plenty of blocked ports and a few websites were (for a time) simply not available. My Sanyo R227 Internet radio just sings perfectly when I take it into town and connect it to a real Cable modem at my Dad's house. But at my home using HSPA - some stations and all On Demand simply don't work.

    In summary - mobile broadband sucks. It's expensive and they make it seem like there is some huge International bit shortage. In spite of other wireless options (WiMax) being presented without such insane limits.

  3. OFace

    Campus wide, baby

    I am a student, who also works part time fixing PC's at the campus I am on - we have wireless throughout the area, so I end up configuring iphones, blackberries, laptops, even desktops sometimes for wireless. As much as wireless 3G roaming looks attractive, seamless wifi throughout an environment such as a university or office complex is SO much better for consistent speed, I tell thee!

    Mines the one with the access point built in...

  4. dave smith
    Thumb Up

    PAYG is finally here

    travel to Switzerland a lot. Just bought a Swisscom USB broabdand dongle on PAYG, 7.50CHF per day (unlimited GB within FUP), since this particular one was unlocked another 3.99 from ebay got me a O2 Broadband SIM. This one costs £2 per day for 500mb.

    Roaming rates are obscene, but I can live with the odd payg sim in each country until contract pricing and roaming is cheaper. Its so much cheaper and more convenient that hotel broadband too!

  5. Fred

    Already use 3G

    I use a combination of Ubuntu laptop and a 3 skypephone.

    £5 internet add-on(PAYG) gets me 2 gig of download allowance with an average connection of 45Kps, and this is in a rural area!

    The phone is less than £40 (simply drop into argos), and neatly connects over bluetooth DUN.

    I would NEVER trust an usecured WiFi network: if someone is up to something dodgy, then the common belief (NOT mine) is that if others are sharing the connection then it makes tracing very difficult.

  6. Mark Southee

    3G Coverage

    Everyone seems to forget that 3G coverage (in the UK at least), is pretty poor. The networks only seem interested in the big urban areas, and the rest of the country can go hang. I was in the alps last summer and could get a gsm mobile signal on the top of Mont Blanc. Try doing that in Snowdonia, the Lakes and the Scottish Highlands, never mind 3G

  7. Apocalypse Later
    Thumb Down


    "as mobile broadband is often slower"

    Indeed. It isn't broadband at all unless you are sitting in the shadow of a cellphone tower. I use it in a fixed location for the "always on" aspect, for which it is preferable to a dial-up modem. Maybe I get a little more speed than dial-up, but only because dialup is also abysmal out here in the sticks. The idea that this is the answer for those people who are too rural for landline broadband is simply ridiculous.

    And the Orange dongle is braindead when it comes to maintaining connection. If the signal goes down, it won't find it again without the computer being rebooted. Restarting the connection software, or telling it to run a search, won't work. This in a FIXED location, mind. I have no idea how people on the move cope.

  8. Tom Williams
    Thumb Up

    I heart mobile broadband

    I've been using mobile internet for years as I'm constantly moving around - fixed-line ISPs want you to sign long contracts, and I'm never at one address long enough! I made do with GPRS for a loooong time and finally upgraded to HSDPA about a year ago. It is fantastic.

    Anywhere I go, on the train, at home, even heading up the motorway (not computing while driving, of course) I can usually get some kind of link, enough to fetch e-mails and the odd web-page. When in a city location, my download speeds are impressive, and I've used VoIP and video 'calling' without problems.

    Although the cost of a mobile broadband contract is generally higher than that of a fixed line, the flexibility it offers is priceless. No 'extra' costs either like paying for public hotspot airtime (Openzone etc.).

  9. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Look at Europe on the map. Compare its size with, say, Australia,USA, China, Russia, ...

    So why should we Europeans have to pay so much for so little?

  11. passionate indifference

    rural living vs. urban living when it comes to service provision

    It's so easy to say "you shoudn't expect to get the high quality of service citydwellers get if you live in the sticks". I'm trying to think of counter-arguments. Service provision is run by private enterprise, so, to me, the only benefit they get from running services into rural areas is if they can offset the loss against any value added in PR, brand value, goodwill etc. In fact, I bet lot of people factor high-quality services as a reason to move to an urban area.

    Back on-topic now. I like mobile broadband as they're cute little devices, they're easy to use, and, most of all, they're Teh Internets Inna Box that you can buy from the high street. As a concept, they're brill. Flatmate of mine wanted one because she couldn't be arsed setting up internet in her house. Wifi access may bring higher speeds, but as the article says, the setup and billing is complicated and it brings no real benefits - you can (barely) watch iPlayer over mobile broadband.

    /me leaving my coat behind - it's 44C here in Melbourne...

  12. Shinku
    Thumb Up

    Mobile Broadband Rules

    Having bought an eee some time ago I decided it made sense to accompany such a portable device with an equally portable connection of some kind so I bought me a 3 (UK) PAYG dongle (Huawei E220) for a pretty reasonable 40 quid. I'd read reviews and I'd heard the service was abysmal but never one to take reviews as gospel truth I figured I'd give it a go. At £10/1GB, £15/3GB or £25/7GB it's pricey to say the least (not to mention the fact that topups expire after 30 days). However, the convenience of being able to connect pretty much anywhere made me overlook the costs because I knew I'd only use it occasionally and I wouldn't be doing anything particularly heavy with it, that's what ADSL is for.

    Now I'm glad I did, but right out of the box I wasn't quite as pleased. Trying to make the dongle install properly was a right pain in the ass despite the dongle having a U3-style flash based optical drive simulator with the drivers on it. The drivers are awful, the connection to the laptop would often just flat out die or it would seem to be connected yet would not be recognised. Terrible, pathetic, nasty, cheap... just plain crap. When I eventually got the thing installed, the device itself seemed stable but the connection it provided wasn't so much.

    Now I've taken the SIM from the dongle and put it into an HTC Tytn II and it's absolutely brilliant. I don't get 3G at home but why would I need to when I have ADSL already? In an emergency though I can get GPRS which makes it a nice backup even if it's not particularly quick. Out and about, however, I do get HSDPA, and when I have that HSDPA it really is like having broadband in your pocket, it far surpassed my expectations. As an added bonus, with every topup I get 90 days of Skype traffic for free outside of my regular usage.

    So in summary, if you have a decent device to connect with and you have a half decent signal, HSDPA rocks. If you have a cheaply made dongle with drivers that could've easily been written by a 5 year old and a mediocre signal then you'll probably be less lucky. It's extremely convenient but it's also extremely expensive. On the other hand, WIFI is faster and more consistent if you're not going anywhere. Most access points these days seem to be secured (so no "borrowing" WIFI) and I'm not sure I'd want to pay for a connection I could only use at (for example) Starbucks which is insecure and only works in one location when I could drop the same cash on a top up for my HSDPA and go anywhere with it.

    Oh yeah, one final point, make sure you bring a portable nuclear power station, those HSDPA radios suck juice like a class full of preschoolers at cookie time.

  13. Owen Geddes

    A few comments

    It is very true that wireless broadband is evolving very quickly. The introduction of WiMAX was not mentioned - this will come to many markets and certainly initially will just look like bigger hotspots in metropolitan areas.

    The case made that mobile broadband is more secure than public wifi because traffic is encrypted is not necessarily true. Sure if an AP does not have a WEP/WPA key then the air transmission is clear and could be picked up. But once the traffic has 'landed' at the base station/AP then I dont believe its is any more secure. That traffic still has to hit the open internet, so it is exactly the same at that point - both insecure unless the user does something to encrypt.

    It should also be noted that wifi operators with a centralised architecture actually transit data from the AP back to their core via encrypted VPN tunnels or private lines anyway - so are no less secure than a mobile network. Those that have a distributed architecture egress the data directly onto the the Internet - which is no different to a mobile operator egressing traffic to the Internet from their core anyway.

    So other than the air interface the statement that wifi networks are less secure is not true.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Mobile broadband

    I signed up with broadband-through-my-phone ages ago, and just before I moved into my new flat discovered that I could use my shiny new smartphone as an HSDPA/3G/GPRS/EDGE modem.

    It's perfectly good for checking emails- just about anywhere as well as downloading maps on Mobile Google Maps. It even lets me connect (painfully slowly) to my work VPN so I can continue to work even when the network's down. I can even get El Reg RSS feeds. So far, so good.

    However, I can't get on Youtube, I can't get naughty movies and I can't play TF2.

    Mobile broadband is great, but it'll never beat wired broadband until they stop being arses with it and get the near-zero lag my Telewest line used to have.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That'll be a first.

    "Security will (and must) take priority over all other factors, including cost"

    Cost and convenience will fight it out for first place in the priority list.

    Third place will be whatever has had most push in the media.

    Security will be a distant fourth apart from in particularly vulnerable organisations where the admins will spend their lives shouting at various people who know just enough to use wireless technology but not enough to realise that downloading next year's growth figures over it is a bad plan.

  16. Andrew Woodvine

    Security of USB dongles/data cards

    "Probably the only security issue with mobile broadband is loss or theft of the USB dongle or data card, and with it a user’s access credentials."

    There is no user stored data on USB dongles/data cards - the users access credentials (which are generic anyway, unless you are using a private APN) are stored on the laptop.

    Some dongles now act as a memory card reader as well, so the only risk would be if you had a memory card in the dongle and then had it lost/stolen.

    Also, it's worth remembering that you don't necessarily need a dongle/data card to connect your computer to to the cellular network. I get my laptop online on the move by connecting it over WiFi to my phone. The advantage of this is that it gives me "unlimited" data at no extra cost. I use an iPhone with the PdaNet application to do this.

  17. Will
    Thumb Up

    3G saved my sanity

    I live in deepest darkest Cornwall and can't get ADSL due to Aluminium cables and distance from the exchange. I was stuck with one way satellite which really does suck. Not only do they have crippling caps and costs but you need to use dial up for your uplink and quite often I found the ACK signal for the incoming data was exceeding the dial up capability so you never acheived the full download speed potential! Then 3G came along and I've not looked back, I'm with "three" for £25 a month 7GB transfer a month. Admittedly the modem doesn't move and I guess the tower in a rural area doesn't get huge amounts of use but I find the speeds are pretty damn good, quite often downloading at over 100k/s.

  18. Rtrdo


    I've been thinking for a while about laptops and netbooks. All the manufacturers want to charge you for addons like 3G or whatever, but I have a better idea - for the consumer at least:

    An Internet USB port or even 2, under a lid - with enough space to put your 3G dongle, your faster WIFI card, your Flash drive for readyboost or whatever.

    That would be a major selling point in a laptop to me. No more dongles sticking out the back.

  19. Martin Silver badge

    Joikuspot + netbook?

    That's what I use. Works well enough to stream Youtube. And when roaming, I don't need anything better than that.

    Who are these people who NEED to download gigabytes of data in milliseconds while roaming?

  20. Jerome

    Must it be either / or?

    I have a limited need for internet while on the move, but it always annoyed me that I couldn't get it on the occasions I've needed it. What I wanted was pay as you go, but all the deals that claim to be PAYG are nothing of the sort. I've ended up going with Virgin's offer - a fiver a month, albeit for only 1GB.

    It remains to be seen what kind of speed I can get out of it, however. I've heard vastly varying reports, but no-one claiming it's at all consistent. If only all the wifi providers would band together and offer a "broadband anywhere" service, with wifi in conjunction with mobile broadband for ubiquitous coverage. Surely that's the way the market will go in the end?

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. Mage Silver badge

    3G isn't Broadband,

    Even 14.4Mbps HSPA+ isn't broadband

    100ms + latency common

    Disconnects or not able to connect. Certainly not "Always on"

    Up to 50% coverage variation when more users connect

    Speeds below dialup if the sector is full.

    Mobile might be an alternative to Dialup. It's MOBILE. not an alternative for WiFi or real Broadband.

    It's technically Mobile Midband.


    Midband FAQ

    Comments on Ireland's NBS using i-HSPA from 3


    Mobile (so called) "Broadband" and Mobile WiMax is incredibly over sold. It can only approach Broadband when the signal is near perfect and no-one else is using the mast. Even so the latency is terrible.

    Because of how HSDPA works, at 250ms a 2Mbps Mobile connection will take longer to load a web page than 1Mbps VSAT at 790ms Latency (2 way satellite).

    VOIP performance and capacity using a decent codec is laughable on HSDPA. 3G native calls are better quality and you can have about 10 to 20 for each VOIP call.

  23. Nigel Wright
    Thumb Down

    Mobile "broadband" Yeah!

    I have a 3 mobile broadband account - 5GB for £7.50 per month. Bargain! But it's slow, unreliable and coverage is very patchy even in urban areas or main towns/cities. I perservere with it only because it is so cheap (special offer through Quidco, it was half the normal cost) and it does the job in an emergency, but tbh it's performance is no better than dial-up at best.


  24. This post has been deleted by its author

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022