Guide to Mobile Broadband Providers

Separating the wheat from the chaff is not easy when it comes to mobile broadband tariffs. There is so much on offer and much depends on where you are located. Quite often the best place to start is by picking a provider you feel happy with.

Joe Linford of Broadband Genie has written a guest blog post introducing the main providers out there. You can email Joe (joe.linford@genieventures.co.uk) or follow him and the Broadband Genie team on Twitter.

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Whatever your mobile broadband needs, it pays to be clued up about the best deals and know which providers offer what, so that you can make an informed decision on which deals to choose.

There are five main mobile broadband providers in the UK, and all of them offer a range of deals, so there’s lots of choice. As a guide, a good benchmark is that mobile broadband will cost approximately £15 per month for a 12 or 18 month contract which allows you to download up to 3GB of data per month. Beyond that, you just need to look out for larger download limits, shorter contracts, or freebie extras – whatever makes it work for you.

Packages and offers change frequently, so before you make a decision it’s well worth visiting a mobile broadband comparison site for all the most up to date information, as well as various ways to compare prices.

3 Mobile

3 Mobile has been offering mobile broadband since August 2007, and has been working hard to get itself to the forefront of the mobile broadband market, including becoming the first provider to launch one of the hugely popular ‘free’ laptop deals. It is also one of two UK operators to have a network capable of 7.2Mb speeds.

3 currently lists nearly twenty mobile broadband options, which vary from very lightweight deals such as one with a 1GB download limit for £7.50 per month (18 month contract), right up to a the £35 per month 5GB 24 month contract, which includes an ultra-portable Samsung netbook. Plus, if you’re already a 3 customer, you’re currently being offered 25 per cent off an 18 month mobile broadband package.

O2

O2 started life as BT Cellnet – one of the UKs first mobile networks. It began offering mobile broadband in April 2008, with a focus on customer service which means that while its prices are higher than some, hopefully the service you get matches up. O2 is also the only provider to offer a 30 day ‘happiness guarantee’; so that if your service doesn’t meet expectations, you can return everything within 30 days for a full refund.

As with 3, O2 offers around 20 different mobile broadband packages, starting from £15 per month, over an 18 month contract for 3GB of data per month – which also gets you unlimited Wi-Fi access at over 5,000 public hotspots. The company also has laptop deals starting at £25 per month for 3GB, and pay as you go options which are frequently discounted.

Orange

Orange belongs to French telecoms giant France Telecom, and its UK mobile operation is in the very early stages of merging with T-Mobile to create the largest mobile broadband provider in the UK.

It currently has the cheapest package on the market at just £5, although that’s only available to existing Orange customers (0.5GB per month, 18 months). In terms of offers, Orange tends to favour the introductory low price, so for example its 3GB, 18 month contract is £7.50 for the first three months, going up to £15 after that. Or if it’s a laptop you want Orange currently has Compaq and Asus models from £25 – £40 per month.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is a subsidiary of German telecoms company Deutsche Telekom, and will form the other half of the Orange merger if the whole deal goes ahead. It’s got a reputation as an unexciting but reliable network, offering mobile broadband from late 2006, and becoming the first operator to launch pay as you go deals in 2007. Its network is capable of speeds of up to 4.5Mb but the company has hinted that it expects to achieve 14.4Mb in the near future.

Its range of mobile broadband deals is a little more limited than some: it has two contracts on offer (3GB 18-month or 5GB 24 month); four laptop deals (Samsung, Dell and Advent machines at £25 -£30 per month) and four pay-as-you-go options.

Vodafone

Vodafone is the only UK mobile broadband provider to be British-owned. Not only did it help pioneer mobile broadband, it also has one of the fastest networks, capable of 7.2Mb

Vodafone has a good range of mobile broadband contracts, including a competitively priced 5GB per month deal at £18. Laptops are Samsungs and Dells from around £21 per month; and top-ups on Vodafone’s pay-as-you-go deal don’t expire – unlike top-ups with all other providers.