Finding The Right USB Modem
Smartphones and tablets can access the Internet through data networks, but laptop users can be stuck without an Ethernet or wireless connection. Using a wireless modem that plugs into a USB port gives you Internet access wherever you are.
What Is A USB Modem?
- USB-compatible modems, or dongles, plug into a USB port on your computer to provide it with mobile Internet access. Instead of connecting to a local Wi-Fi network, it connects to the same mobile networks that your smartphone uses.
- You cant necessarily plug a modem into a USB port and get Internet access straight away. It has to be able to access a data network through a network provider, so if youre in the middle of nowhere you might be out of luck.
- Network providers sometimes sell dongles that are locked to their network, but you can also find unlocked models from companies like Huawei that can be used on different networks.
How Do Models Differ?
- Broadband speed is a major factor when choosing between these modems. Speed is usually measured in megabits per second, or Mbps. More Mbps means faster downloads and makes it easier to access data-intensive services like video streaming. Speed is also limited by network type. HSPA+ is limited to 52 Mbps and other GSM networks can be slower, so you wont find a 100 Mbps 3G dongle.
- Modems often have different upload and download speeds, so if you use services like video conferencing that need a lot of outbound data traffic you should look at both numbers.
- Locked USB dongles are restricted to one network provider, so you are bound by their speed limits and data caps. With an unlocked modem from a third-party manufacturer like Huawei, you can choose a wireless network provider yourself, which makes it easier to find a speed limit and a usage cap that suit you.
What Are the Alternatives to USB Modems?
- Portable Wi-Fi hotspots work a lot like USB modems, but you connect to them over a wireless network instead of plugging them into your laptop. This means that you can use them to access the Internet from several devices at once. These can also be locked or unlocked.
- You can find SIM cards for laptops that allow you to access data networks. This only works if your computer has the right slot for one, though, and they arent as common as USB ports.
- If necessary, you can use your smartphone as a hotspot and tether your computer to it for mobile data access. This is a quick way to use up a data allowance though, and some networks charge extra for it.
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