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How fast is mobile broadband?

4th March 2024

Mobile Broadband Dongle

Mobile broadband is a term for devices that let you get your gadgets online when there’s no Wi-Fi available. Most commonly these are battery-powered routers that broadcast a 4G or 5G signal, but there are also dongles that can be plugged directly into the device you want to get online.

Obviously, 5G ones are fastest, but they can also cost more, and for some uses 4G ones will be speedy enough. Below we’ll look at the sorts of speeds you can expect from both.

How fast is 5G mobile broadband?

If you want the fastest possible mobile broadband then you’ll want a 5G device, of which there are a number available.

At the time of writing, you can for example get the Vodafone 5G Mobile Hotspot. This Vodafone device is a rebranded ZTE MU5001 5G, and offers download speeds of up to 3.8Gbps.

That’s not an especially useful number though, since the UK’s networks aren’t actually capable of those sorts of speeds yet. In practice, an Opensignal report from September 2023 found that the average 5G download speed on Vodafone’s network was 114.3Mbps, so something in that region is more likely – though peak speeds could reach around 1Gbps.

Another option would be the Netgear Nighthawk M6, available from O2. This has theoretical top speeds of 3.6Gbps, while O2’s average 5G download speeds according to that Opensignal report are 77.0Mbps.

And then there’s EE, which stocks the EE 5G WiFi. EE’s current plans for this top out at 100Mbps, which is in line with the 99.5Mbps average found for EE by Opensignal.

Of course, you could also buy a 5G mobile broadband device from a third-party store and then put a different network’s SIM card in it, which you might want to, because while Three doesn’t currently sell any 5G mobile broadband routers, its average 5G download speed is much higher at 205.5Mbps according to the report above, while other reports have shown its peak speeds to approach 1Gbps.

You’ll only get any of these sorts of speeds in 5G areas though. If you’re using a 5G mobile broadband device in an area that only has a 4G signal, then you’ll get 4G speeds, detailed below.

How fast is 4G mobile broadband?

The speed of 4G mobile broadband will depend on a number of factors, including the mobile broadband device you’re using, the mobile network it’s connected to, and what the signal and coverage is like where you are.

However, to keep things simple we’ll focus on average and maximum speeds here.

In terms of maximum, the Netgear Nighthawk M1 offered by O2 claims download speeds of up to 1Gbps and upload speeds of up to 150Mbps.

The former in particular is far higher than most rival mobile broadband devices, such as the Alcatel Pocket Hotspot 4G (available from Vodafone), the EE 4G WiFi, the Three 4G MiFi, and the Vodafone 4G Mobile Hotspot, all of which top out at 300Mbps.

However, in practice you’re not likely to get anywhere near the maximum speed offered by any of these devices. Rather, you’ll be limited by the networks, which on 4G tend to top out at more like 90Mbps, and even then, average speeds will likely be a lot lower.

While there’s not much data on average mobile broadband speeds, for smartphones the average 4G download speed – according to Opensignal data from April 2020 – is 35.9Mbps on EE, 22.4Mbps on Three, 25.4Mbps on Vodafone, and 18.0Mbps on O2. We’re using this older data because most newer reports don’t split out 4G speeds.

So that’s a long way short of the maximum speeds, but should still be plenty for most requirements.

What about latency?

Latency is a measure of how long a network takes to respond to a request and it can affect the perception of speed, as well as making a big difference in things like online games.

It’s measured in milliseconds (ms) and on 4G mobile broadband you can expect it to average in the region of 36.0-48.3ms (depending on network, and according to April 2020 data from Opensignal), while on 5G it tends to average around 30-33ms (according to Ookla data from the second half of 2023).

In future, latency on 5G mobile broadband could potentially drop as low as 1ms, but even now it’s a lot less than that of 4G.

How do they compare to Wi-Fi?

In terms of home and office Wi-Fi you’ll generally find that 4G mobile broadband is slower, while 5G mobile broadband can rival or beat it. For example, according to an Ofcom report from September 2023, the median speed of UK home broadband (across all connection types) is 69.4Mbps, which is faster than the average speeds of 4G mobile broadband but slower than the average of 5G mobile broadband (at least in areas where 5G is available).

Some home broadband connections reach up to around 1Gbps, which would also be above the 5G average, but these are rare, and at the low end, some connections are below even 4G speeds.

Of course, comparing to home broadband isn’t entirely fair anyway – after all, 4G and 5G mobile broadband is designed for when you’re out and about, so it’s an alternative to either no connection or public Wi-Fi, which is typically slower than the internet people have in their homes.

There’s not much data on exact speeds, and it will vary a lot, but if you’ve used public Wi-Fi you’re probably familiar with how slow it can sometimes be, not to mention often having usage limits, high charges, and frustrating registration pages, as well as not being very secure, all of which you can avoid with mobile broadband.


What mobile broadband device is the fastest?

The fastest mobile broadband device available directly on a UK network at the time of writing is the Vodafone 5G Mobile Hotspot. For 4G, consider the Netgear Nighthawk M1. Though note that the speed of the network will often have more impact than the speed of the device.

What’s the fastest speed I can expect from mobile broadband?

In theory the fastest devices can exceed speeds of 3Gbps, but in practice peak speeds are likely to be more in the ballpark of 100Mbps on 4G, and 1Gbps on 5G, though this too will vary based on device, network, and coverage.

Is mobile broadband as fast as Wi-Fi?

Mobile broadband can potentially be even faster than Wi-Fi, but generally only when using 5G. 4G mobile broadband will be slower than most home internet connections, but potentially not by much.

Editorial Manager

James has been writing for us for over 10 years. Currently, he is Editorial Manager for our group of companies ( 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk) and sub-editor at TechRadar. He specialises in smartphones, mobile networks/ technology, tablets, and wearables.

In the past, James has also written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media, Smart TV Radar, and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV. He has a film studies degree from the University of Kent, Canterbury, and has over a decade’s worth of professional writing experience.

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