What is a dongle?

A WiFi dongle is a vital bit of kit for anyone that wants to connect to the internet on the move.

How does a dongle work?

It’s basically a portable USB device – which can also be referred to as a ‘stick’, ‘internet stick’, ‘USB modem’, ‘mobile dongle’, ‘USB dongle’, ‘USB network adapter’ or ‘USB mobile broadband stick’ – and it behaves like a small modem.

Just plug it into your computer’s USB port and it will instantly connect you to the same 3G, 4G and 5G networks that your smartphones uses, no software necessary. It’s an incredibly helpful bit of kit for anyone who needs to connect to the internet on the move.

What are the advantages of WiFi dongles?

More of our modern lives demand being connected to the internet most of the time. One of the advantages of using a WiFi dongle is the simplicity of it: just plug it in and you’re away. There’s no engineers, no wires and no hassle. They’re not really an ideal replacement for a good home broadband connection as yet, but they’re highly functional for anyone needing to connect on the move.

Dongles also give you greater flexibility in your day-to-day life, too. You can get online from anywhere that has a mobile phone signal. They are portable and, because they use the power of your laptop, they don’t require charging. All you need is a mobile contract to get going, you usually get the dongle for free.

You might want to consider getting a WiFi dongle if…

You travel a lot.

A USB dongle is a small device that you can carry around in your pocket. If you commute to work, then dongles can be handy to access the internet on buses and trains. If you’re in an airport with busy WiFi hotspots, just plug it in and you’re good to go. With a dongle you always have the option to connect without having to locate a WiFi hotspot or ask for a password.

You work in unreliable locations.

If some days you find yourself in shared workspaces, cafés or coffee shops, and have to battle to access their WiFi, a dongle for internet access can be a real saving grace.

You can’t get fibre broadband at home.

Fibre broadband is increasingly becoming the norm across the world as it fires superfast internet speeds into your home and allows you to enjoy the best the web has to offer in the best way possible.

How fast is the internet on a dongle?

The internet speed you can achieve while using a WiFi dongle depends on the mobile device you are using, the network it’s connected to and the strength of the coverage where you are.

If you are using a modern device, are connected to a 4G network and have excellent coverage, you should find doing most things online to be plain sailing. However, if you are looking to download and upload big files or watch 4K movies with poor network coverage on an old device, you may find the whole process a little cumbersome.

What are the drawbacks of Wi-Fi dongles?

Until 5G is fully rolled out, 4G is the most widely available signal and it’s not ideal for streaming or uploading big files. When you’re using your dongle, it’s best to keep your online tasks pretty basic.

The stability of your internet connection will also depend on your mobile provider’s reception in the area: if it’s not very good, your internet connection won’t be very good either.

Another thing to consider is download limits. Your home broadband package probably doesn’t come with any, but mobile broadband usually does. You’ll need to get the right package for your needs from your service provider, something we’d be more than happy to help with at Virgin Media.

Speaking of fast connections, you should also note that until 5G arrives with solid nationwide coverage, a Wi-Fi dongle is simply no substitute for a good home broadband connection. The speeds you can achieve are minimal in comparison to the superfast speeds delivered by Virgin Media.

Are Wi-Fi dongles as fast as home broadband?

In a word: no. Dongles are an ideal solution for internet connection on the move, but are not yet an adequate replacement for home broadband, especially if you like all the best things the web provides: HD streaming, online gaming, web chats and video conferencing, for example.

Virgin Media delivers superfast speeds up to 7x faster than BT or Sky and the kind of steady, smooth connections that make using the internet a real joy. The good news is: we don’t use BT’s copper wire or phone lines, we deliver superfast broadband thanks to our lightning-quick fibre piped direct into your home.

Use our postcode checker today to make sure we’re in your area.

What are the alternatives to dongles?

If you want to get online on your laptop fast, then there is no better way than a mobile broadband dongle. You don’t need to locate a WiFi hotpost and enter a password, you simply plug it in and you’re away.

However, should you wish to get multiple electronic devices online at the same time, then you will require an alternative with a bit more oomph: you’ll be in the market for a MiFi dongle.

Related articles

Useful links