Mobile broadband speed claims can be even more vague than fixed broadband, but it’s useful to know what you can achieve, and if it matches your expectations.
2G, 3G, 3.5G, HSPA: know your device
If you’re using a USB dongle or a MiFi portable hotspot it will be limited by the technology on board as well as the speed of your network provider.
For example, the Huawei E586 MiFi and E367 US dongles used by Three and Orange support HSPA+, with a top speed of 21.6Mbps downstream and 5.76Mbps upstream. Unlocked Dongles has a list of mobile broadband USB dongles and portable WiFi hotspots specifying top speeds for most devices on the UK market.
Check mobile broadband coverage
If you’re going to use your wireless broadband in one place, then you should know what the network can deliver - not all locations are equal.
Most networks offer coverage maps for both voice and data. They won’t all tell you whether you can get 2G, 3G or 3.5G in any spot, but they’ll tell you what sort of signal to expect and how fast it might be.
Orange and T-Mobile’s maps are very detailed and show coverage down to about 100m in urban areas. Three also has a telephone hotline you can call to get detailed technical information.
- Three or call 333 (free) from a Three mobile, or 0843 373 3333 (national rate) from any other phone
Hardwire your connection
Mobile broadband is unlikely to outstrip WiFi, but why introduce extra latency or interference?
USB 2.0 provides throughput of up to 240Mbps each way, so if you’re using a mobile hotspot or MiFi device, connect via USB and you will eliminate both the latency, interference and limited bandwidth of a WiFi connection.
Turn off sync and updates
Email, Dropbox and Windows updates can all be downloading and uploading data, so turn off anything that might be using the internet in the background. If you’re using a tablet or iPod Touch with a mobile broadband dongle, turn off iTunes or Google Play sync.
Take an average
Be prepared to make several tests at different times of day to get an accurate result.
Mobile broadband networks are heavily affected both by the number of users in the same cell as you, and the overall pressure on the internet. You’ll get very different speeds at the start of the day to when Britain’s Got Talent is canvassing the opinion of every slugbrained smart phone owner in your neighbourhood.
Try different mobile broadband speed tests
If you’re using a laptop you can try any broadband speed test, starting with the Recombu Digital Broadband Speed Test.
If you’re using a mobile device, then Mobile Speed Test will run from any browser, and you can adjust the test to try downloading with different-sized files. We also like the fact that it shows your speed against the various mobile standards in use.
There are also several mobile speed test apps for both Android on Google Play and iOS devices that will give you a speedometer-style readout.