• An Internet dongle connects to your laptop via USB
  • Pocket Wi-Fi is battery powered and creates a Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Both connect to mobile networks to deliver Internet everywhere

A laptop with an Internet dongle in the side and someone typing on the keyboard

If you need to connect your laptop to the Internet while you’re away from your home or office Wi-Fi connection, then an Internet dongle or Wi-Fi hotspot could be an excellent solution. These devices allow for a quick connection no matter where you are. 

With many smartphones today offering the ability to share your mobile phone’s data connection, there are fewer data-only mobile broadband plans and modems on offer today than in the past.

There are some important differences between Internet dongles and pocket Wi-Fi plans, however, which we’ll break down below to help you find the right solution for your needs.

To find out more about how we recommend plans, click here.

Internet dongle vs Pocket Wi-Fi

There are two main types of devices used to offer a mobile broadband connection to your laptop: An Internet dongle and a Pocket Wi-Fi device. While these both offer you easy access to a mobile broadband connection, they work a bit differently, and may suit different needs.

An Internet dongle is a small modem that plugs into the USB port of your laptop. As it connects via USB, it can only connect to a single device at a time.

It will draw power directly from your laptop‌ which is important to consider if your laptop struggles to get you through the day.

Pocket Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is more like a modem router for mobile broadband. It is typically battery powered and connects to the Internet through an embedded SIM card, but then creates a Wi-Fi network so you can connect multiple devices at a time.

This type of solution is particularly useful for situations where you need to provide the Internet for more users, like a family road trip or a remote office meeting.

4G vs 5G

When choosing an Internet dongle or Pocket Wi-Fi modem today, you need to consider your speed and budget needs. For performance, you’ll want to choose a device that supports the 5G networks and 5G speeds on offer from the major telcos. 

Currently, only Optus and Telstra offer 5G Internet dongles.

However, if budget is more important, you may make do with a 4G model. Vodafone, Spintel and Telstra all have 4G dongles available.

Prepaid Internet dongle vs postpaid Internet dongle

Just like when you choose a mobile plan, Internet dongles are available for both prepaid and postpaid plans.

Prepaid lets you remain in control of your spending, paying up front for both the Internet dongle and the data inclusions on your mobile broadband plan. 

Postpaid, meanwhile, will put you on a plan where you will need to pay off the dongle over time with regular monthly repayments. Depending on the telco, you may end up locked into a contract for a longer period as well, which may help you save each month but will probably cost you a lot more in the long run.

Can you get an unlimited data prepaid Internet dongle?

Unfortunately, no telco is currently offering unlimited data mobile broadband plans with an Internet dongle or Pocket Wi-Fi device. 

There are plans with large data allowances up to 400GB per month, though, which should be enough for most users. 

There are home wireless broadband plans that offer unlimited data using the same technology and similar modems. However, these plans are typically locked to a single location in your home and cannot be moved around.

Compare available Internet dongles and pocket Wi-Fi

There are dozens of different Internet dongles and Pocket Wi-Fi devices available to purchase online. You can easily pick them up from online retailers like Officeworks and Amazon, though you should be aware that those devices may not be 100% compatible with the networks offered by your mobile broadband plan provider.

If you buy directly from your provider, you can feel confident the device will work effectively on the network. Obviously performance will depend on the strength of your mobile network where you are using it.

Here are some dongles on offer from leading mobile providers right now:

Modem

Provider

Network compatibility

Outright Price

Telstra 4GX Hotspot

Telstra

4G

$144

Telstra 4GX USB Modem

Telstra

4G

$99

Inseego MiFi X Pro 5G

Telstra

5G

$480

Netgear Nighthawk M6

Telstra | Optus

5G

$624

Netgear Nighthawk M6 pro

Telstra

5G

$840

Optus USB Modem

Optus

4G

$39

Optus Wifi Modem Lite

Optus

4G

$69

Optus Portable Modem

Optus

4G

$99

ZTE MU5001 5G Modem

Optus

5G

$435

Vodafone Pocket WiFi 4 4G

Vodafone

4G

$96

Inseego 5G Mi-Fi M2000

Tangerine Telecom

5G

$499

What to look for when choosing an Internet dongle or Pocket Wi-Fi device

The first thing you need to do is determine what you need to connect. If it’s a single laptop, you can consider an Internet dongle, but if it’s an iPad or multiple devices, you’re going to need a Pocket Wi-Fi device.

You should consider whether you need 4G or 5G connectivity. 5G can be faster, depending on your mobile plan, but 4G is typically cheaper, both for the dongle and the plan.

If you opt for a Pocket Wi-Fi device, look at how many devices you can connect simultaneously, as well as the battery life. Also, consider whether you can use it when plugged in to charge like a traditional dongle. 

How do Internet dongles work?

Internet dongles are just stripped down, basic modems. When you plug in a dongle, it draws power from your laptop to activate the modem, which connects to the mobile network to deliver a data connection.

Once connected, it delivers an Internet connection to your laptop in the same way it works if you plug your phone into an ethernet port.

How do Pocket Wi-Fi devices work?

Pocket Wi-Fi devices are compact battery powered modem routers. 

Just like a dongle, a Pocket Wi-Fi device connects to the 4G and 5G networks to create an Internet connection, but then Pocket Wi-Fi devices create a wireless network you can use to connect multiple devices to, including mobile phone, tablets and laptops.

Just like your Wi-Fi network at home, you’ll need to connect to the SSID of the hotspot, and enter the password to connect.

Alternatives to Wi-Fi dongles

With most modern smartphones today offering the ability to create a wireless hotspot from its mobile data connections, the best alternative is your phone.

However, it’s important to remember that using your phone in hotspot mode drains the battery much faster than usual, so it may not suit those with intense data requirements.

If you need to connect multiple devices to the Internet simultaneously, consider a Pocket Wi-Fi device instead of an Internet dongle.

Speak to the team to help find the best dongle for you

If you need a bit of help to find the right dongle or Pocket Wi-Fi device for your needs, give the helpful team at Compare Broadband a call. Our team of experts can talk you through different options to help you choose the right dongle and mobile broadband plan for your needs.

FAQ

What’s the difference between an Internet dongle and pocket Wi-Fi

While both an Internet dongle and Pocket Wi-Fi let you connect to the Internet using mobile broadband connections, a dongle plugs into a laptop using a USB connection, while Pocket Wi-Fi devices are battery powered and create a Wi-Fi network that multiple devices can connect to.

Can you use dongles overseas?

Absolutely. You’ll need to make sure that your mobile data plan allows for international roaming, though. Depending on where you go, there may also be some network compatibility issues between the frequencies the dongle supports and the frequencies used in different countries.

Can I use a dongle or pocket Wi-Fi at home?

Mobile broadband is designed to be anywhere you can get a mobile connection, and that includes your home.

However, you probably wouldn’t want to use mobile broadband as your primary connection to the Internet due to its premium price. If you’re only looking to use the connection at home, consider the NBN or a home wireless connection.

Can I use my Pocket Wi-Fi as a Wi-Fi extender?

Generally no, but it depends on your Pocket Wi-Fi device. Some models do allow for a Wi-Fi extender function. Check the manufacturer’s website before you buy to check if your model supports the additional functionality.

How do I install an Internet dongle?

Plug it into your laptop and you’re pretty much good to go. You may be prompted to install some software first, but dongles today are designed to be plug and play.