4G home broadband is available without the need for a phone line, giving you high-speed internet from £22/month. We compare the major providers.
In the UK, 4G broadband is rapidly growing in popularity as an alternative to fixed home broadband delivered through a phone line or cable.
Wireless 4G broadband can now deliver similar speeds to fixed-line broadband, whilst giving you much more flexibility and no need for a phone line to be installed at your address. This makes it preferable in many rural locations without access to a BT Openreach or Virgin Media fibre connection. The flexibility also allows you to bring your broadband connection with you to other places (perfect if you’re renting temporarily, studying or occasionally travelling to other places).
At present, there are four 4G-based home broadband services available in the form of Three’s HomeFi, Three’s AI Cube, EE’s 4GEE Home and Vodafone’s GigaCube. In this article, we’ll compare the four providers in a number of categories including price, mobile connectivity, coverage and hardware. We’ll also discuss how 4G broadband compares to traditional fixed-line providers such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin.
- 1 4G Home Broadband: How It Works
- 2 Overview of 4G Broadband Providers
- 3 In-Depth Comparison of 4G Broadband Providers
- 4 Comparison to Fixed Broadband
- 5 More Information
4G Home Broadband: How It Works
As an alternative to fixed-line broadband, 4G broadband has recently been growing quickly in popularity. Rather than having your home broadband connection delivered through a phone line or cable, 4G broadband allows you to receive broadband internet at home using a wireless connection.
4G home broadband services use the same mobile network infrastructure that serves your mobile phone. It can deliver maximum download speeds of up to 300Mbit/s, though speeds closer to 15 to 30Mbit/s are much more common in practice. As it doesn’t require a new phone line to be set up at your address, this makes it a good alternative to fixed-line broadband connections in both urban and rural areas (this is especially the case if you aren’t able to get fibre broadband from BT Openreach and Virgin Media).
With 4G home broadband, you’ll get a router that works in much the same way as a normal fixed-line broadband router or ‘hub’. The router creates a wi-fi network for your other devices to use, so you can connect your laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV and other smart devices to the network. There’s no difference in what you can do and what content you can access when connected to a wi-fi network that uses 4G technology in the background (i.e. you can still stream all of the normal things like iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify, etc whilst connected to that network).
The only key difference is how your router connects to the internet behind the scenes: it’ll be using a wireless 4G network connection rather than a landline or cable connection. For this reason, customers using a 4G home broadband connection may be able to cancel their home landline connection if they don’t need it for other reasons (saving you in the region of £20/month).
Overview of 4G Broadband Providers
There are currently four main home broadband services based on 4G technology: Three’s HomeFi, Three’s AI Cube, EE’s 4GEE Home and Vodafone’s GigaCube. Each of them allows you to get your home devices connected to the internet without the need for you to use a BT phone line or Virgin Media cable.
The following table shows an overview comparing the four main providers:
|Three HomeFi||Three AI Cube||EE 4GEE Home||Vodafone GigaCube|
|4G Broadband Plans|
|Price:||From £22/month||From £25/month||From £35/month||From £35/month|
|Data Allowance:||Unlimited||Unlimited||50GB – 500GB||60GB – 300GB|
|Contact Length:||24 months||24 months||18 months||18 months|
|4G Coverage:||99% (check)||99% (check)||99% (check)||99% (check)|
|4G Speeds:||Up to 150Mbit/s
(Category 4 LTE)
|Up to 300Mbit/s
(Category 6 LTE)
|Up to 300Mbit/s
(Category 6 LTE)
|Up to 300Mbit/s
(Category 6 LTE)
|External Antenna:||2x SMA connector||No||2x SMA connector||2x TS9 connector|
|Travel:||UK & abroad||UK & abroad||UK only||Registered postcode only|
|Home Network Connectivity|
|Wi-Fi Devices:||Up to 32 devices||Up to 64 devices||Up to 32 devices||Up to 20 devices|
|Ethernet:||1x Gigabit Ethernet||1x Gigabit Ethernet||2x Gigabit Ethernet||1x Gigabit Ethernet|
|Router Model:||Huawei B311||Huawei B900||Alcatel-made||Huawei B528|
|Other Features:||–||360° Alexa speaker||–||–|
|Review:||HomeFi Review||AI Cube Review||4GEE Home Review||GigaCube Review|
Three are currently the most aggressive player in the 4G broadband area, with competitively-priced unlimited data plans from only £22/month. EE and Vodafone are also strong players in this area but both of them charge a premium for 4G broadband compared to regular fixed-line broadband (you’ll typically need to pay something like £45/month for only 100GB of data on EE and Vodafone).
As of yet, O2 is the only major mobile network to have not yet launched a 4G home broadband solution. O2 exited the home broadband market in 2013, though rumours suggest they might return to the market later this year.
As an alternative to the four options listed above, it’s also possible to build your own 4G broadband solution. This can be done by buying an unlocked 4G router like the Huawei B525 (approx £120). You can then combine this with a SIM card from any mobile network offering enough data for your usage (we recommend the unlimited data SIM card from Three which costs £20/month on a 12-month contract).
In-Depth Comparison of 4G Broadband Providers
Where possible, we’d always strongly recommend choosing a broadband plan that gives you unlimited downloads. This means you won’t need to worry about how much data you’re using, or any additional charges you might incur for going over your allowance. You’ll also be able to stream and download to your heart’s content.
Unlimited Data Plans
At present, unlimited data is only available on two 4G-based home broadband plans. These are Three’s HomeFi and Three’s AI Cube service:
|4G Broadband Service||Data Allowance||Contract Length||Price|
|Three HomeFi||Unlimited Data||24 month contract||£22/month|
|Three AI Cube||Unlimited Data||24 month contract||£25/month|
You’ll need to sign up to a 24-month contract for both the HomeFi and the AI Cube service. Alternatively, a range of Pay As You Go plans are also available but you’ll need to top-up and pay for your usage on a per-gigabyte basis.
Limited Data Plans
On 4GEE Home and Vodafone GigaCube, price plans start from £35/month. However, most users will need to choose a price plan with at least 100GB or 200GB of data per month. This is likely to cost you substantially more:
|4G Broadband Service||Data Allowance||Contract Length||Price|
|Vodafone GigaCube||60GB Data||18 month contract||£35/month|
|4GEE Home||50GB Data||18 month contract||£35/month|
|4GEE Home||100GB Data||18 month contract||£45/month|
|Vodafone GigaCube||100GB Data||18 month contract||£45/month|
|4GEE Home||200GB Data||18 month contract||£50/month|
|Vodafone GigaCube||200GB Data||18 month contract||£60/month|
|4GEE Home||300GB Data||18 month contract||£80/month|
|Vodafone GigaCube||300GB Data||18 month contract||£80/month|
|4GEE Home||500GB Data||18 month contract||£100/month|
On the Vodafone GigaCube, it’s possible to choose a one-month rolling contract by paying an upfront fee of £120 for the router.
Mobile Connectivity & Coverage
All four services (HomeFi, AI Cube, 4GEE Home and GigaCube) claim to offer 99% population coverage across the UK. However, the most important thing is really what the coverage is like where you live and this will differ depending on your location and your proximity to the nearest phone mast.
One way to get an initial estimate of coverage would be to use the relevant online coverage checker for your network:
- Check Three coverage (for HomeFi and AI Cube)
- Check EE coverage (for 4GEE Home)
- Check Vodafone coverage (for GigaCube)
For GigaCube, an additional check is required during the signup process to determine the amount of 4G capacity available in your local area.
In terms of maximum download speeds, you can get Category 6 LTE speeds (up to 300Mbit/s) on the Three AI Cube, 4GEE Home and Vodafone GigaCube. In reality, however, it’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere close to this maximum speed – something more like 30Mbit/s is a much more realistic download speed.
The HomeFi, being a slightly cheaper service, only supports up to Category 4 LTE download speeds. In theory, this can be up to 150Mbit/s, with speeds of around 15Mbit/s being much more realistic.
The Three HomeFi, 4GEE Home and Vodafone GigaCube allow you to attach an external antenna to improve the strength of your 4G signal. This can lead to a more stable connection with higher download speeds, especially if you’re living in an area with poor or marginal coverage.
A professional outdoor antenna installation service is available for 4GEE Home, whereas customers of HomeFi and GigaCube will need to purchase and install their own antenna. The AI Cube doesn’t have support for an external antenna, making it a less attractive choice in areas with poor or marginal coverage.
Finally, it’s worth thinking about how the four services compare when it comes to mobility and using your broadband connection in other places (e.g. whilst you’re visiting a friend or going somewhere on holiday).
Three’s HomeFi and AI Cube are the clear winners in this area. You can plug the router in anywhere in the UK to spin up an instant 4G broadband connection (subject to coverage being available at that location). You can also use the service at no extra cost in 71 other destinations including Europe, the USA, Australia and more (a fair usage limit applies for data usage abroad).
The 4GEE Home service can only be used in the UK, whereas usage of Vodafone GigaCube is limited to your registered postcode.
Alongside the mobile connectivity, it’s also worth having a look at your home network connectivity.
On the Three AI Cube, 4GEE Home and Vodafone GigaCube, you’ll get a dual-band home wi-fi network supporting up to 802.11ac wi-fi (also known as ‘Wi-Fi 5’). What this means is your home wi-fi network will operate in two different frequency bands: the traditional 2.4GHz band along with the newer 5GHz band. Providing your other devices are compatible with this newer technology, it should offer you better performance and faster download speeds on your home wi-fi network.
The HomeFi only supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (802.11n or ‘Wi-Fi 4’) meaning performance will cap out at around 300Mbit/s on your home wi-fi network.
The AI Cube supports up to 64 devices on your home wi-fi network at one time, whereas the 4GEE Home Router supports 32 devices and the Vodafone GigaCube supports 20 devices. The HomeFi supports 32 devices at one time.
Ethernet (Wired Connections)
If you’re looking to connect a wired device like a desktop computer to your network, it can be useful having an Ethernet socket on your router. All four routers have Gigabit Ethernet connectivity (with most of them having a single socket, except from the 4GEE Home Router which has two Gigabit Ethernet sockets). The Gigabit Ethernet socket can also be used to attach your 4G router to a mesh networking solution such as Whole Home Wi-Fi (possibly allowing you to bypass the limitations of wi-fi connectivity on your router).
The four home broadband services come with a different customised router. A Huawei-made router is used on most of the services (a Huawei B311 router on the HomeFi, a Huawei B900 router on the AI Cube and a Huawei B528 router on GigaCube). 4GEE Home uses a custom router manufactured by Alcatel.
Of note, Three’s AI Cube service comes with a Huawei B900 router which also doubles up as an Amazon Alexa smart speaker. This means you can use the router in the same way as you would an Amazon Echo speaker (e.g. for listening to music, making internet-based phone calls, controlling your smart home devices, etc). The router has four far-field microphones and a 360° speaker.
Comparison to Fixed Broadband
4G broadband uses mobile network technology, in contrast to traditional “fixed line” broadband which uses a landline or cable connection.
Advantages of 4G Broadband
The advantages of using 4G broadband instead of traditional fixed-line broadband are:
- 4G broadband isn’t limited by your landline or cable connection. The download speeds you can get using 4G home broadband are not constrained by what your landline or cable connection can support. For instance, in many rural locations, BT Openreach and Virgin Media have refused to install fibre broadband connections due to the prohibitive cost. In such areas, 4G broadband is a much better solution (it’s also far more economical for ISPs to install a single 4G mast, rather than installing a cable connection in these areas).
- 4G broadband is faster to set up. There’s no engineer visit, and no need to wait for a phone line to be installed and activated. If you’ve moved into a new-build house, or into a different address, 4G broadband could get you connected to the internet much faster.
- There’s no need to pay for a landline you don’t use. Unless you’d like to keep your landline for other reasons, it’s possible to cancel it when you’re using 4G home broadband. This can save you in the region of £20/month on line rental.
- You can normally bring 4G broadband with you to other locations. For instance, if you’re going away for the weekend, you can normally bring your 4G broadband router with you (except from the Vodafone GigaCube where your service is restricted to only working in one postcode). With some 4G broadband providers such as Three’s HomeFi and AI Cube, you can also bring your broadband connection with you to other countries (roaming at no extra charge is available in 71 destinations including Europe, the USA, Australia and more).
- 4G & 5G broadband will eventually over-take fixed broadband in download speed. At present, 4G broadband is comparable in speed to a traditional fixed broadband connection. In the next few years, this is likely to change quickly with 5G technology and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) playing a big role in this. 5G FWA will offer increased network capacity along with download speeds of up to 1Gbit/s (1,000Mbit/s).
Disadvantages of 4G Broadband
However, there are also some disadvantages of 4G broadband at the moment:
- 4G broadband is more easily affected by network congestion and poor weather. For instance, you may see a reduction in your download speed due to poor weather conditions or lots of other people using the service in your area. This tends to be less of a problem on traditional fixed broadband services.
- Download speeds can vary depending on location and proximity to nearby masts. For this reason, the maximum download speeds stated can rarely be obtained in practice. You can maximise coverage and download speed by placing your router close to a window, ideally on an upper floor and facing towards your nearest phone mast. An external antenna can also be helpful if your router allows you to use one.
- Latency or “ping” is higher on 4G broadband. Latency (also known as “lag” or “ping”) refers to the amount of time it takes for data to travel up and then back down from the internet. On a 4G connection, the typical latency is around ~50ms (0.05 seconds). Meanwhile, fixed broadband connections typically offer lower latency of around 10-20ms (0.01-0.02 seconds). This shouldn’t noticeably affect things like browsing the internet or watching online videos, but it may affect fast-paced online gaming. With 5G technology, latency should reduce to around 1ms (0.001 seconds).
- 4G broadband is typically more expensive. Historically, 4G broadband has been more expensive than a fixed broadband connection, especially if you want a data allowance that’s large enough for a typical family’s usage. Nowadays, the gap is much closer than before with unlimited 4G home broadband available on Three from £22/month. However, other networks like EE and Vodafone still charge a lot more for this (e.g. you’ll pay a lot more and you won’t have an unlimited data allowance).
UK Internet Service Providers
The following table shows a list of UK internet service providers (ISPs) and the type of home broadband connection they offer:
|Internet Service Provider (ISP)||Connection Type|
|BT Broadband*||Fixed (ADSL & fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)|
|EE||Fixed (ADSL & fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)
4G Mobile (4GEE Home)
|Now Broadband||Fixed (ADSL & fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)|
|Plusnet||Fixed (ADSL & fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)|
|TalkTalk||Fixed (ADSL & fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)|
|Three||4G Mobile (HomeFi & AI Cube)|
|Sky||Fixed (ADSL & Fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)|
|Virgin Media||Fixed (fibre using Virgin Media cables)|
|Vodafone||Fixed (fibre using BT/Openreach landlines)
4G Mobile (Vodafone GigaCube)
As EE and Vodafone offer both fixed-line and 4G home broadband, they currently price their 4G broadband services at a premium to their fixed-line products.