Mobile Broadband Buying Guide

Check your e-mail, Facebook, bank account and much more -- all while on the go.

Mobile broadband has changed the way many people work, socialise and live. The ability to access the Internet from your mobile phone means you can easily check social-networking sites, choose a restaurant to eat at or find cinema session times without your computer. It has also become a very powerful business tool; thanks to mobile broadband, many people are never without their e-mail, whether they access it via a smartphone or a notebook.

Unlike fixed wireless broadband, which relies on separate infrastructure, mobile broadband uses the same cell towers that service mobile phones. This means that coverage is high in metropolitan areas and download speeds are comparable to ADSL2+ broadband.

If you only need a wireless broadband service to surf the Internet and check e-mails at home, you can check out our full fixed wireless broadband buying guide. This buying guide will give you more information on what mobile broadband means, what kind of plans are available, and what uses it is suitable for.

The technology

Mobile broadband uses the same GSM and 3G technologies that provide voice and data to your mobile phone. Like mobiles, wireless broadband devices require SIM cards with a linked mobile number in order to determine your identity and charge your account. As a result, mobile broadband doesn’t require all-new technology to run: it employs the same transmission towers already used to service your mobile phone. These towers have been upgraded over the years to deliver faster Internet speeds and increase coverage and reliability, so that they are much more powerful than they once were. There are several different mobile Internet technologies, all of which are still available in some form.

GPRS

GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service, was the first technology to offer mobile Internet access in Australia. The technology is built off a 2G GSM network and provides download speeds of up to 80 kilobits per second (Kbps); this is comparable to a dial-up modem connection. Due to these slow speeds, GPRS mobile data is generally suited to text-based Internet services such as e-mail or basic Internet access viewed through a WAP browser. GPRS connections are still available on carriers that don't have an EDGE data network, or as a backup data connection on some 3G phones. For many users, GPRS's main function is Multimedia Messaging (MMS), which allows you to send pictures over SMS.

EDGE

Sometimes known as 2.5G, EDGE is an upgrade to GPRS that increases mobile download speeds to a theoretical maximum of 240Kbps. In Australia, this network is currently offered by Telstra and Vodafone as a fallback connection for devices that lose 3G reception. While compatible smartphones can browse the Internet over an EDGE connection, speeds are much slower than on a 3G network, and costs are usually much higher.

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James Hutchinson

PC World
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