What is 4G home broadband?
4G home broadband uses the mobile network to provide home internet access the same way as you'd get online on your smartphone or tablet.
It uses a broadband router that's similar to those from regular broadband providers, but designed to use a SIM card rather than be plugged into your phone socket. It's more sophisticated than a regular mobile WiFi device, giving you options that are usually only available on a regular broadband router.
You can also move the router wherever you want to in your home to get the best signal, or to improve the wireless range in places you need it most. It's not tied to being plugged into a phone socket, so doesn't usually need to stay in a fixed place like a regular broadband router.
Can I get 4G home broadband?
If you live in an area with decent mobile coverage, the chances are good you can get it.
Given the extent of mobile coverage in the UK these days, there aren't too many areas that don't get a signal, even in rural areas. Despite the name, you don't even need to be in a 4G area to get it - 3G/HSPA or H+ areas can still get pretty good speeds.
Even if the signal is poor inside your house, you probably aren't out of luck - your supplier can usually fit an external antenna to your house that plugs into your router and will boost the signal, providing you with a better connection. However, most people find that this isn't necessary and are fine with just the router.
Who supplies 4G home broadband?
Each of these providers offer specialist 4G home broadband routers with generous usage allowances.
EE have the widest range of data allowances available, starting at £30 a month for 100GB on an 18 month contract, all the way up to £100 for 500GB of data. You can get the same data deals on a 30 day rolling contract, and just pay the £100 for the home router up front. If you have a mobile contract with them, they'll also boost your mobile data for that by 5GB a month.
Three offer a range of contract lengths with their Huawei HomeFi router. Data is usually capped at 40GB on pay monthly contracts, starting at £23 a month on a 24 month contract. But right now they're running an excellent offer for £22 a month on a 24 month contract with unlimited data!
Who is 4G home broadband suitable for?
4G home broadband is best for people living in areas where fibre isn't available and standard broadband speeds are poor.
Anyone who can get a decent mobile signal can get a 4G home broadband router. However, if you're able to get fibre broadband in your area, or decent speeds with standard broadband over copper phone lines, then that would usually be the more economical solution.
One of the great things about 4G home broadband is that it doesn't rely on a phone line. So, provided there's a signal (and you can use your mobile phone to check this in advance), you can take it with you and use it wherever you move.
This makes 4G home broadband a great solution for people in short term lets. You can move house, turn your home router on, and your broadband is up and running without the hassle of having to transfer your broadband account and wait for your supplier to get your phone line activated.
The same also applies if you like to take long UK holidays over the summer, such as staying at caravan parks or holiday cottages that may not provide wireless internet options as standard. Just remember to pack your home router, and you're all set!
What sort of speeds would I get?
4G speeds vary depending on a number of factors. Generally a 4G home router will achieve a slightly better speed than a mobile phone thanks to the improved antenna.
The range of speeds that you should expect to achieve with a 4G signal are dependent on many factors, such as where you live, how far away you are from a cell tower, and even the building materials used in your house. Theoretically, given perfect conditions, you could get up to 42Mbps on a 4G connection. In reality, most people won't achieve that, but it's not unreasonable to expect between 20Mbps to 30Mbps.
Our own speed test graph is compiled of results from hundreds of thousands of users every month illustrates that mobile broadband speeds not only hold their own against standard broadband providers, but also achieve better average speeds than many of the well known providers!
Even in a non-4G area with only HSPA or H+ data signal will likely be able to achieve broadband-speed connections, so if you're in an area without any fibre service and no 4G, you have a good chance of beating your standard phone line broadband speed.
Of course, speeds will improve even more over the next couple of years, with the much faster 5G technology due to start rolling out in the UK from 2020.
Is it more expensive than standard broadband?
We all know that mobile data can cost an arm and a leg, there's no getting around that fact, but 4G home broadband might be cheaper than you think.
While prices aren't as low as the budget landline providers with unlimited data allowances, 4G home broadband providers tend to be more generous with data allowances on their home routers. For example, 50GB of mobile data on a standard EE plan currently costs £30 a month, but for £35 a month on EE's 4GEE home router you get 100GB.
Special offers can improve things even more. Currently Three are running an excellent offer with unlimited data on a 24 contract that's only £22 a month!
Will I need to worry about data usage?
If you're a heavy user who streams a lot of TV and movies from Amazon, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and similar services, then you'll need to keep an eye on your usage.
Your 4G home broadband supplier should provide you with tools to allow you to see how much of your monthly allowance you've used so far, so you'll know if you need to cut back or pay for an additional usage add-on for a particularly active month. You can usually find these in the settings of your online account.
If you find that you're regularly hitting your usage allowance, making sure that you stream TV and movies in standard definition rather than HD will use a lot less data. Check your settings on your chosen streaming provider to see if you can set SD to default.
If you're a gamer, you're probably used to buying full games as downloadable content now, and downloading just one game can use a lot of data. You may find that buying games on disc will greatly reduce the amount you need to download for installation as a good majority of the data will be transferred to your console from the disc with just patches and updates needing to be downloaded.
Of course, if you find that you regularly need a higher data allowance then it can get significantly more expensive. However, sometimes you can strike lucky with deals. For example, Three currently have an offer on that has unlimited data for only £22 a month on a 24 month contract. That's cheaper than many standard broadband deals!