Quick tips on mobile broadband: Setup and terms you need to know
With mobile broadband, the Internet is everywhere. What is mobile broadband exactly? Quite simply, it's the wireless data signal (which is separate from a Wi-Fi signal) you get from your cell phone carrier. You can use mobile broadband with your tablet, smartphone or laptop, and it can be accessed anywhere there is a mobile data signal. Modern mobile broadband is fast, too—over 10 megabits per second in some areas with the latest 4G technology, which is comparable to your cable broadband connection at home.
It's fast enough to stream high-definition video to keep the kids entertained during unexpected waits at the doctor's office. You can download new applications for your devices on demand in mere seconds. With mobile broadband, the Internet is always there for sharing special moments on Facebook or Instagram.
Data plans vary from carrier to carrier, but many monthly and pay-as-you-go plans are reasonably priced, allowing you to access your favorite videos or games whenever you want.
So how do you get mobile broadband on your devices? Here are three great ways.
1. Built-in broadband
Many tablets (and even some notebooks now) have mobile broadband built right in. It uses the same basic technology as your cell phone to deliver data straight to your device.
The iPad is available in a Wi-Fi-only version that's better suited for use at home. It also comes in a Wi-Fi + Cellular model with data plans available from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. You'll pay a different monthly fee depending on how much data you need.
There are cellular versions of popular Android tablets too, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, in both 7" and 10" versions, and the Google Nexus 7.
Tablet PCs with mobile broadband built in tend to require a higher initial outlay than their Wi-Fi-only cousins.
2. Tethering to your phone
Most new smartphones come with the ability to tether. Tethering allows other devices to wirelessly share your phone's Internet connection. (It essentially turns your phone into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot.) Your Wi-Fi-only tablet or notebook will see it just like any other Wi-Fi connection.
Plus, depending on your rate plan, tethering probably won't cost you anything extra so long as you stay within your data limit.
3. Dedicated mobile broadband
Another reliable way to connect your devices when you're out and about is with a dedicated mobile broadband device.
They come in two flavors. The first is a USB stick that connects to your computer or Windows-powered tablet. It's very easy to set up—simply plug in and connect—but you can only connect one device to it at a time.
The second option, a mobile broadband hotspot, is the more versatile choice. It uses both cell phone technology and Wi-Fi to connect multiple devices wirelessly, giving you a dedicated connection to the Internet.
Pay your way
There's usually an initial cost for a dedicated mobile broadband device, just like buying a cell phone. That up-front cost can be anywhere between $50 and $200. You then pay for connectivity on a contract basis, or you pay as you go. If you sign up for a fixed-term contract, the price of the hardware is vastly reduced. Sometimes, it's even free.
Prices for monthly mobile broadband contracts start around $15 a month, increasing with the amount of data you'll need. If you're a video watcher and enjoy streaming music, you may need to spend between $35 and $50 a month.
Occasional users who just need to access social media and email while on the road should try a pay-as-you-go plan first. You'll save cash if your usage is very light.
For a modest price, mobile broadband frees your devices from the home and lets you use them to the fullest—anywhere. Your mobile devices aren't truly mobile without it.
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