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Mobile Broadband: What Is It and How Does It Work?

In the last few decades, the way we use the internet has evolved in so many ways. We used to spend only minutes on the internet, everything had to be hard-wired, and connection speeds were glacial compared to today.

Enter mobile broadband, and now even our watches can get high-speed internet access. With mobile broadband, we can connect to the internet via powerful cellular networks no matter where we are, without being tethered to our homes.

But what is mobile broadband exactly, how does it work, and can it replace traditional broadband? Read on for the answers.

How Does Fixed-line Broadband Work?

To really understand mobile broadband, we first need to explain traditional broadband (AKA fixed-line broadband) and to do that, we need to briefly touch on its predecessor dial-up internet. Before broadband, the primary method of connecting to the internet was through a dial-up connection. You may or may not remember that lovely dial-up internet sound that signaled an internet connection was in progress. We've come a long way since then.

Dial-up internet works by using your landline phone as a single pathway for any downloading, uploading, or calling. With a dial-up connection, you can't talk on the phone while being online—your computer dials into a modem located at your internet service provider, and once you are connected you can interface with the "world wide web."

After years of dial-up internet that was slow and and could easily fail on you, fixed-line broadband gave us improved access and reliability with connection speeds that took a fraction of the time. You may be surprised to learn that traditional broadband uses the same phone lines as dial-up, albeit much more efficiently. Broadband can be 100 or even 1000 times faster than dial-up internet. Unlike dial-up internet, broadband splits your data into multiple channels, enabling you to surf the web and make calls from a home phone at the same time.

What Is Mobile Broadband?

Mobile broadband builds off of fixed-line broadband by expanding the freedom you have when connecting to the internet. Instead of being fixed to a phone line, mobile broadband works by connecting a device directly to cell phone towers. These compatible devices send data packets back and forth with the cell towers without having to connect to a wire.

Many different types of devices are compatible with mobile broadband networks. The most popular modern cell phones have SIM cards that can access 3G, 4G, and now 5G networks without being connected to WiFi. You can also purchase mobile hotspots or dongles that connect you to your devices and act as a mobile access point for the internet.

Phones can also act as hotspots for your other devices. Mobile broadband networks are centralized on how much data you allot to that device per pay period. That's why understanding how much data you need is such an important factor in picking the right phone plan.

Instead of paying for access by the minute, you pay by the gigabyte of data. Some carriers offer deals that let you get unlimited data, allowing you to utilize the internet on your phone no matter where in the country you are.

Benefits of Mobile Broadband

The clearest benefit of mobile broadband is that you can go wherever you want without having to look for a connection point.

While both wireless and wired home connections require you to either plugin or stay near the access point, mobile broadband internet connects you directly to local cell towers. This means that you can travel without worrying about how to connect to the internet, so long as you have purchased a data plan for your device.

It is also very convenient given that a huge percentage of people already own devices that can act as mobile hotspots. Now that home internet and cell phone networks have been made separate, not everyone is willing to take on the extra expense of in-home internet.

In fact, some homes don’t even have a fixed-line as an option anymore due to changes in our infrastructure. Mobile broadband is fast, reliable, and easy to use wherever you are.

Cons of Mobile Broadband

The biggest issue with mobile broadband is the cost. You could potentially be paying per gigabyte of data, which will usually come out to more than you would be paying for home internet given how much data we go through in the modern era.

Many fixed-line plans are considerably cheaper than what you can get a limited data mobile broadband plan for.

Another issue is that you need to be in an area where cell service is excellent. Since you are not getting your internet through a wired connection, you need to make sure that you have strong access to local cell towers.

If you don’t, you could end up with slow speeds and poor connection rates. Mobile broadband definitely has a time and place, but for most people, it will not act as a suitable substitute for in-home internet.

The Bottom Line

The emergence of broadband into the public eye changed the way we use the internet, and mobile broadband is poised to do the same in the coming years.

While we are not yet at the point where mobile networks can replace fixed-line networks, both from a financial and structural standpoint, they are still a major part of how we interface with the internet.

Because so many people have a smartphone, many people already have access to the internet using mobile broadband whenever they are not close to a trusted WiFi connection point.

With 5G on the scene, these networks are better than ever, and it is important to have devices that are compatible with these networks given how much society is trending towards requiring mobile access to the internet.

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