Mobile broadband providers will offer you a mobile internet connection, but without a means of receiving that connection on your computer you will not be able to utilise it. There are different methods that can be used to receive said connection, for example a USB dongle, or by using a device that has the built in capability to accept a 3G signal. Another option is that of a mobile broadband data card, and it is this option that we will consider in more detail now.

Mobile broadband connections work in a similar way to a mobile phone signal, allowing for the portability that is the big advantage of mobile broadband instead of the fixed line alternative. Despite its early success, this is still a reasonably new technology however, meaning that in some rural areas you might struggle to receive a strong enough signal to rely on this as a stable means of accessing the internet. Check on a coverage map from different mobile broadband providers to ensure that you don’t sign up to a contract only to find that it isn’t suitable for your location.

Data cards come in different shapes and sizes, though the most common are the following:

  • Type II PCMCIA Modem Card – this card will fit the majority of laptop computers, and some netbooks.
  • PC Express Card – this card will fit into the PC Express 34/54 card slot that can also be found on many different portable computers.

It is important to check which type of data card will fit with your particular computer to ensure that your internet connection will be received. It’s also worth noting that some of these data cards will offer added extras, such as a memory card slot allowing extra storage for your laptop, or even GPS to provide navigation services wherever you may be.

The majority of data cards are actually provided by mobile broadband providers themselves when you sign up for a contract. Alternatively, they can be purchased from electronics or computer shops on the high street, though if buying outside of your particular contract you must ensure that they are not locked to a certain provider. The price will vary depending on the developer of the card, the mobile broadband plan that you choose and the type of card.

If you are considering taking out an internet plan from mobile broadband providers that include a free data card, it is important to consider certain factors:

  • The data card – will the type of card provided fit with your laptop? There’s no point in taking out a contract, even a very well priced one, if the technology won’t work with your computer.
  • The contract itself – does the contract include everything that you need? If it isn’t fast enough or doesn’t boast a high enough download limit you might find a better deal in buying a data card separately.
  • The cost – multiply the cost per month of your contract by the number of months, subtract the cost of the data card (this can usually be easily found using a search engine), divide the remainder by the number of months in your contract. This will let you know exactly how much of the contract is going on the data card and how much is going on your mobile broadband connection.