If you’re looking for 4G or 5G broadband, you can choose either a mobile broadband dongle or a home broadband router.

In the UK, 4G and 5G broadband has rapidly grown in popularity: both for mobile broadband and for home broadband without the need for a phone line.

When choosing a 4G or 5G broadband plan, you can decide whether to take it as a mobile broadband or home broadband package. Whilst both use the same underlying 4G and 5G technology, there are significant differences between what you can do with the two.

In general, mobile broadband dongles are designed to be more portable so they’re usually fairly small battery-powered devices. Meanwhile, a 4G or 5G home broadband router is normally optimised for maximum speed and performance. It can handle a larger number of connected devices at the same time and will normally allow you to use an external antenna to improve your coverage and download speeds further.

In this article, we’ll compare 4G and 5G mobile broadband to 4G and 5G home broadband products.

Mobile Broadband Dongle VS Home Broadband Router

There are two types of 4G and 5G-powered broadband: mobile broadband (MBB) and home broadband (HBB, which is also known as fixed wireless access or FWA). Whilst both products use the same underlying 4G and 5G technology, they differ in terms of their advantages and cost.

The following table shows a side-by-side comparison between using a 4G or 5G mobile broadband dongle and home broadband router:

4G & 5G Mobile Broadband Dongle 4G & 5G Home Broadband Router
Overview
Best for: Getting online when you’re out and about (e.g. in the car, on the train, on holiday, etc). Getting online when you’re at home (or in other places if you bring your router with you).
Examples: Three Mi-Fi (Huawei E5573bs-322)
4GEE WiFi & 5GEE WiFi
Vodafone R218
O2 Mobile Broadband
Three HomeFi Plus (Huawei B535)
Three AI Cube (Huawei B900)
Vodafone Gigacube
4GEE Home & 5GEE Home
Price: Plans start from £9/month, or from £22/month with unlimited data. Unlocked dongles are available from £20. Plans start from £20/month with unlimited data. Unlocked home broadband routers are available from £80.
Mobile Connectivity
Choice of networks: Three, EE, Vodafone, O2, BT & Virgin. Three, EE & Vodafone.
Portability: Most portable. Normally a pocket-sized device that runs on battery. Use it wherever a 4G or 5G signal is available. Less portable as the router is much heavier & larger (similar to the size of a book). Needs to be plugged in to a mains power supply.
Download speeds: Dongle will be constrained by size & power. Will therefore have a smaller antenna and will offer slower speeds on 4G & 5G. Has a larger antenna so can pick up a much better signal. Up to 300Mbit/s on 4G and up to 1Gbit/s on 5G.
External antenna: Not supported (typically). Normally supported (router dependent).
Home Network Connectivity
Wi-Fi: Weaker wi-fi signal as constrained by size & power. Normally up to 10-20 devices maximum. Usually has a stronger & faster wi-fi signal. Normally up to 64 devices at the same time.
Ethernet: Not supported (typically). Normally supported. Up to 4 Gigabit ethernet ports (router dependent).
More Information
Read our 4G & 5G mobile broadband guide Read our 4G & 5G home broadband guide

In terms of performance and network connectivity options, a home broadband router will usually outperform a mobile broadband dongle. We’d therefore recommend this option to the majority of readers, unless you require the portability offered by a mobile broadband dongle.

4G & 5G Broadband: By Network

BT

On BT, it’s possible to choose a 4G Mini Hub. This allows you to access 4G mobile broadband whilst you’re out and about. The hub supports up to 20 devices on wi-fi at one time and offers up to 8 hours of battery life on one charge.

Unfortunately, BT does not currently offer 4G or 5G home broadband. This is because they mainly focus on their fibre-based home broadband service. Customers looking for a 4G or 5G home broadband service are normally directed to EE instead (which is also a part of the BT Group).

EE

EEOn EE, you can choose from 4G & 5G mobile broadband dongles as well as 4G & 5G home broadband routers.

If you’re looking for a mobile broadband service on EE, a range of dongles are available including 4GEE WiFi and the HTC 5G Hub (5GEE WiFi). The specifications of your dongle will depending on the device you buy but it will normally be possible to connect up to 20 devices at the same time.

If you’re looking for a 4G home broadband service, EE offers 4GEE Home. Alternatively, if you’re living in a 5G coverage area, you can choose the recently-launched 5GEE Home service which comes with a faster Huawei 5G CPE Pro router. The 4G service is available for a lower monthly price but you’ll need to choose the 5G service for a larger amount of data (1,000GB per month).

The following table shows a list of 4G & 5G home broadband plans on EE:

ServiceData AllowanceContract LengthUpfront PriceMonthly Price

4GEE Home
100GB Data18 month contract£0£35/month

BT 4G Home Router
100GB Data18 month contract£0£35/month

4GEE Home
200GB Data18 month contract£0£40/month

BT 4G Home Router
200GB Data18 month contract£0£40/month

4GEE Home
300GB Data18 month contract£0£45/month

BT 4G Home Router
300GB Data18 month contract£0£45/month

4GEE Home
500GB Data18 month contract£0£50/month

BT 4G Home Router
500GB Data18 month contract£0£50/month

5GEE Home
1000GB Data18 month contract£100£70/month

For more information, see our guide to EE home broadband.

O2

In the UK, O2 currently offers a range of mobile broadband devices including a USB dongle or a pocket-sized mobile wi-fi hotspot. Depending on the dongle you choose, it’s possible to have up to 16 to 20 devices connected to your wi-fi network at the same time.

Unfortunately, O2 doesn’t currently offer a 4G home broadband service.

Three

Three offers 4G mobile broadband in the UK as well as a popular 4G & 5G home broadband service.

If you’re looking for 4G mobile broadband, Three offers the Mi-Fi (currently the Huawei E5573bs-322) from £9/month. You’ll pay £22/month for unlimited data on the Mi-Fi. The battery-powered device can give you download speeds of up to 150Mbit/s with up to 10 devices able to use the Mi-Fi at one time.

For 4G home broadband on Three, you can currently choose between the HomeFi Plus router (Huawei B535) and the AI Cube router (Huawei B900). Both devices allow you to access download speeds of up to 300Mbit/s. You’ll be able to share your wi-fi connection with up to 64 other devices and you can connect a wired device through the Ethernet functionality. Extra features are also available depending on your router (e.g. the Huawei B535 allows you to use an external antenna to improve coverage whereas the AI Cube has a built-in Amazon Alexa smart speaker).

Customers living in selected parts of London can choose Three’s 5G home broadband service instead.

ServiceData AllowanceContract LengthUpfront PriceMonthly Price

Three HomeFi Plus
Unlimited Data24 month contract£0£20/month
with special offer

Three AI Cube
Unlimited Data24 month contract£0£25/month

Three 5G Home
Unlimited Data24 month contract£0£29/month

For more information, see our guides to Three mobile broadband and Three home broadband.

Virgin Mobile

On Virgin, it’s possible to get a 4G mobile broadband service. You’ll be provided with a Huawei E5573BS mobile wi-fi hotspot which allows up to 10 devices to connect to the internet at the same time. The hotspot offers up to 4 hours of battery life and is available on a range of plans with between 3GB and 15GB of data per month.

Unfortunately, Virgin Media doesn’t currently offer a 4G home broadband service. Instead, they focus exclusively on providing a cable-based home broadband service. This can offer up to gigabit download speeds in areas with Gig1 broadband.

Vodafone

On Vodafone, it’s possible to choose between a 4G mobile broadband and 4G home broadband service. It’s also possible to choose 5G home broadband through Vodafone GigaCube.

If you’re looking for mobile broadband on Vodafone, they offer the Vodafone R218 mobile wi-fi hotspot. This comes on a range of price plans from £17/month with different amounts of data. Alternatively, you can get an unlimited data plan from £28/month. The hotspot allows you to connect up to 10 devices to the internet at the same time.

If you’re looking for 4G or 5G home broadband, this is available through the Vodafone GigaCube service. With price plans starting from £30/month, the entry-level price is a lot higher than with 4G mobile broadband. You will, however, get a much more powerful router. For instance, the 5G GigaCube router supports download speeds of more than 1,000Mbit/s (1Gbit/s). The average download speed when connected to 5G is between 150-250Mbit/s, with up to 64 devices able to connect to the router at one time.

The following table shows a list of Vodafone’s GigaCube plans, when taken on an 18-month contract:

ServiceData AllowanceContract LengthUpfront PriceMonthly Price

Vodafone GigaCube 4G
100GB Data18 month contract£0£30/month

Vodafone GigaCube 5G
100GB Data18 month contract£100£30/month

Vodafone GigaCube 4G
200GB Data18 month contract£0£40/month

Vodafone GigaCube 5G
200GB Data18 month contract£50£40/month

Vodafone GigaCube 4G
300GB Data18 month contract£0£50/month

Vodafone GigaCube 5G
Unlimited Data18 month contract£50£50/month

For more information, see our review of the Vodafone GigaCube and our overview of Vodafone’s home broadband plans.

More Information

For more information, see our in-depth guides to 4G & 5G mobile broadband and 4G & 5G home broadband in the UK. We’ve also reviewed all of the major home broadband providers in the UK.

Your Comments 2 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 2 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hi Ken. Thanks for the very useful website. I’m looking for a system to set-up on my boat, so ideally a router thats powered via USB (or 12 Vdc) as we don’t always have mains power. But also with sockets for an external antenna.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for your comment, and a very good question! Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on USB-powered routers, so I don’t have anything I’m able to recommend at the moment. Perhaps someone else reading this article might be able to help?
      Ken

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