Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband (sometimes called mobile wireless) refers to internet services supplied directly to your mobile phone, tablet (for example, iPad), or small portable SIM-based modems, via the 3G, 4G and 5G mobile (cell) phone network.The Telstra 3G network in Australia is being switched off in June 2024, Telstra have committed to replacing existing 3G coverage with 4G.

It requires a SIM card in the receiving device to work.

It is only supplied by Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, or by any resellers of those mobile networks.

Mobile broadband is different to Fixed Wireless.

This image describes the difference between mobile internet and fixed wireless internet.

Image credit: nbn

How does mobile broadband work?

Mobile voice and internet

Mobile broadband uses the existing mobile phone network, distributed across a range of towers and “cells” across Australia.

A dedicated mobile broadband connection does not necessarily include a voice connection, however.

Mobile broadband requires reception, in the same way your television or radio does.

Mobile reception tends to be measured in “bars”, or sometimes dots, on the screen of your phone or portable modem.

There may be ways to improve your signal and experience with appropriate equipment.

Can I get mobile broadband?

Make sure that the telco has coverage in the areas you plan to use a mobile broadband connection (e.g. at home, work, school). You can check coverage maps on telcos’ websites or give location information to the sales person in store or over the phone so they can check coverage for you. The coverage maps will also tell you whether it is 3G, 4G or 5G that is available at your location.

Note: Most Telstra resellers do not have full network access, please check that a reseller will work at your location before choosing one as your provider.

Check coverage here:

A graphic showing the relative coverage of the three main mobile suppliers in Australia

A graphic showing the relative coverage of the three main mobile suppliers in Australia.

Image credit: BIRRR

Note that even if a map suggests you’re in a coverage area, your specific location may be in a “black spot” due to local geography – hills, thick tree coverage, and so on. Always confirm with your mobile broadband provider that you can get coverage at your location before entering into a contract.

Mobile signals can be blocked or disrupted by vegetation, heavy trees cover, hills/mountains, tall buildings, and other factors that may prevent you from physically seeing the tower.

The Regional Tech Hub Desk Check is a free service that can assist you with determining if there is mobile reception in your area and help connect you with a specialist who can advise on boosting equipment and antennas that can improve your reception. Our website also has helpful tips of improving your mobile connection.

 

Network Extension Equipment Suppliers and Specialists

If you can get some mobile coverage at your location (or close to your location), a network extension device (such as an antenna or booster) may assist you in improving your signal. Ensure any equipment you purchase is licensed, as illegal repeaters/boosters can interfere with the mobile network and are likely to attract a large fine if you are caught using them.

 

  • Telco Antennas – Advice, equipment and installation
  • OnWireless – Advice, equipment and installation
  • Powertec Technologies – Equipment provider
  • RFI – Equipment provider
  • NB Tec – Equipment provider – offers a licensed solution that is a modem/antenna & booster in one that can connect to Telstra, Optus or Vodafone mobile networks.

If you plan to spend money on antennas or boosting equipment, please ensure these are 4G compatible, due to the Telstra 3G networking being switched off in  June 2024. Be aware that boosting your 3G service may not deliver faster speeds or reliability.

Understanding mobile broadband plans

Plans are supplied by individual internet service providers.

Most mobile phone (voice) plans will include some data, but the included data can often be very small – just a few gigabytes.

A dedicated mobile broadband plan only includes data, with no voice services.

To learn more about internet speeds and choosing an internet plan, see Discover Internet Options.

Mobile broadband setup and equipment

Since mobile broadband is delivered “over the air”, the connection process is much faster. While a fixed line connection can require visits from a technician and waiting for several business days (if not weeks), mobile broadband is usually plug and play. You pull your mobile broadband modem out of the box, pop in the SIM card, connect your laptop to your new Wi-F connection, and you’re online.

SIM-enabled tablet

If you’ve got a SIM-enabled iPad or Android tablet, you can simply put in a data-SIM and then use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot to share its connection with another device.

USB Modem

A USB modem is a great portable mobile broadband solution, provided you only need to take one computer online at a time. While it doesn’t need to be recharged, it needs to be plugged in directly to the device you want to get connected.

Portable Wireless Hotspot

A portable wireless hotspot lets you share a mobile broadband connection with a number of devices simultaneously. These are typically battery-powered, recharged by plugging into a standard power point. They operate as a small modem and router in one.

Fixed Home Wireless Modem

A fixed home wireless modem is much more like a traditional modem, in that it needs to be plugged into a power outlet to work. As such, these are more appropriate for those who don’t need their mobile broadband on the go.

Most modern day mobile broadband modems also have built-in antennas and routers to share the connection among many devices.

A note about routers

Routers broadcast a wireless (Wi-Fi) signal throughout your premises. Any Wi-Fi enabled equipment, including laptops, computers, phones, tablets, printers, sensors, televisions, and so on, can connect to this Wi-Fi signal, and thus access the Internet.