What do I need to access wireless broadband on my desktop PC?
I guess it depends on what you mean by 'wireless'. This particular issue is one of the most widely misunderstood by our readers, and we've published a number of guides and articles on the subject. But here's a brief overview.
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'Wireless' can mean two things. You could mean mean wireless with a little W - wireless as a way to transmit something from one point to another, without physical wires. That means it's travelling on radio waves.
Wireless with a big W is what is more accurately known, in this industry, as Mobile Broadband. So 'wireless' is an adjective, and 'Wireless' in a noun.
Before we break this down any further, let's also consider what a modem is. The word modem stands for MOdulator/DEModulator. The signal carrying your internet data is transmitted as a jumble of information; the modem sits at the other end of the line, takes in the signal, and translates the jumble of info into a language your computer can understand.
Mobile Broadband is a service that you pay for. The actual connection to the internet is transmitted from a local mobile tower. The signal is captured by a modem, and then connected to your computer. Mobile Broadband can take numerous form factors. Your modem can be a chip inside your smartphone, or a small USB device, or a standalone device that requires AC power. But they all do roughly the same thing, and they have a SIM card inside (which enables the connection to the mobile tower) and a small antenna inside.
The other type of wireless is a short range connection from your modem to your computer. This is more accurately known as Wi-Fi; it's a wireless transmission standard that works up to about 50m. It usually operates on the exact same frequency as your portable landline phone. In fact, it operates on a frequency similar to your microwave oven. Microwaves and portable phones can even interfere with Wi-Fi transmission.
Wi-Fi isn't a service you pay for. It's a feature of the modem that you buy. So regardless of how you get your connection - be it over a telephone line, or over a fibre optic line, or over a mobile transmission - you can buy a modem that uses Wi-Fi to relay that connection, wirelessly, to your computer.
In direct answer to your question - the best way to get a wireless connection to your desktop PC is to get an ADSL2+ connection (over a copper line), and then buy a Wi-Fi modem. Most laptops, smartphones and tablets have a Wi-Fi receiver built in. Most desktops do not. So sometimes you have to a buy a small receiver that plugs into a USB port on your PC. To make issues more confusing, this device looks a lot like USB 'Dongle' modems that come with Mobile Broadband connections. It's very important to know the difference.
The WORST way to get a mobile broadband connection to your desktop PC is to use Mobile Broadband. Mobile Broadband is best suited to on-the-go connections out of the home - it's not capable of a steady, reliable home connection. Mobile Broadband plans come with far less data and are capable of much slower speeds than a fixed-line connection.
Here at CompareBroadband, we're interested in finding the best solution to your internet needs. But when you call an ISP, it's important to use the terminology correctly, before you're signed up for a 24 month contract to a service that's unsuitable. If you call up an ISP and ask for "Wireless", they may hook you up to a service that's easy to set up, convenient, and completely unusable. What you're more likely looking for is "an ADSL2+ connection with a Wi-Fi enabled modem/router".
Adam at CompareBroadband
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