What is a 3g dongle?
A 3g dongle is a simple connectivity device that will allow you to connect to 3g mobile broadband from your laptop or pc.
In some cases (mifi) a 3g dongle can act as a hub that will allow multiple points of access, meaning that a limited amount, usually around 5 or so devices can connect to the device and share the 3g internet connection.
The main benefit of a 3g dongle is that it will allow internet access from anywhere that has network coverage. This kind of coverage has become synonymous with tablet devices such as apples iPad 2. Allowing data usage on the move, for things such as apps and general internet browsing.
3g dongle coverage and signal strength
Across the UK and USA, your 3g dongle signal strength will differ depending on the network operator that you decide to enter into a contract with. The UK has some decent competition between operators but only 3 has decided to focus its efforts on 3g data and offers a ridiculous amount more data for your money than any other network. Usually in the ratio of 15:1gb.
The USA has great coverage across all of the states and you will struggle to find an area where you will struggle to get a good signal.
General average coverage says that there is a 99% coverage rate across the UK (and the same in USA) but this can be misleading, as signal strength is barely usable in some areas. The BBC are currently running an analysis (the first of its kind) to assess the usability of 3g data connections on the 4 major UK network operators to give consumers a clearer picture so that they can make an informed decision.
Where is best to use your 3g dongle?
Generally the best places to use them due to the large number of mobile users (and therefore a higher number of mobile transmitters) are major cities, places such as London, Leeds and Manchester will never have any problems with connectivity.
However, train journeys can be troublesome as they will go through countryside regions that have sparse network coverage, basically anywhere that you will get a signal on your mobile phone then you will get similar signal on your 3g dongle.
The coverage is much more reliable than in the UK, coverage is great almost everywhere, take a look at the image below to see what I mean. The “no service” areas are all covered by other networks to get as close to 100% coverage as possible.
Do I recommend a 3g dongle?
For the casual internet user who’s primary usage is to read emails and browse sites of no immediate importance then a 3g dongle can be a little overkill, however if you are going on long train journeys or travel often then these things can be a life saver.
For business people who require constant connectivity then a 3g dongle is an absolute must, I often travel all over the UK as part of my job and with my 3g dongle I can easily stay in contact with work and get things done on the move, so in short, I say YES!
Casual users may want to check out a pay as you go option whereas people who require the internet often can pick up a contract for around £10-£15 ($15-20) per month.