If you live out in the sticks, the chances are that your telephone line is giving you pretty poor broadband speeds. Part of the problem is that broadband speed decreases depending on the distance from the nearest BT cabinet. As a result, broadband speed can be pretty terrible if you don’t live near a settlement. If you’re really unlucky, you might not have a line going into your house at all. Getting a line fitted by an engineer can be costly, so 4G may be a viable alternative.
Alternatives to traditional broadband
When you’re in this situation, there are a few potential solutions. One way to improve broadband speeds is to connect via satellite. The downside of this is that satellite broadband is typically very expensive for what you get and it’s often not very fast. Satellite internet can usually provide similar download speeds to 3G, but the latency is dire, meaning there is a delay before data starts downloading. As a result, internet browsing can be a slow experience and applications such as Skype are unusable.
Another solution to poor broadband is to use 4G. Most of the UK is now covered by fast 4G by at least one network. The advantage of 4G is that there is very little latency and the speeds are very fast. 4G can often rival fibre-based broadband in terms of download speed. For example, I am getting in excess of 60 Mbps download on my smartphone at the time of writing this blog - this is plenty fast enough for a large family to share.
How do you convert 4G into WiFi?
Converting a 4G signal into a WiFi hotspot is quite straightforward, you can even do it with your existing smartphone. The feature is often referred to as “tethering” or “portable hotspot”. To put it simply, your smartphone acts as a router and sets up a WiFi hotspot which other WiFi-enabled devices can connect to. All the connected devices can then access the internet through the 4G connection. If you have a spare 4G-enabled smartphone lying around, you could put a SIM in it and use it as a cheap hotspot.
If you’re looking for a more streamlined permanent solution, you should consider a MiFi. It’s a small box similar in size to a smartphone which creates a WiFi hotspot. All you need to do is put a SIM in it, turn it on and you’re done. The advantage of MiFis is that they are designed specifically designed with portability in mind, so you have the flexibility of putting it where the 4G signal is strongest. Additionally, MiFis are very simple to set up and use, there is usually only an on/off button.
How do I get a good 4G signal?
If you live in an area of poor mobile coverage, you might struggle with getting a 4G or 3G signal inside your house. My recommendation is to walk around with your smartphone and work out where you get the strongest signal. Typically, you will find that phone signal is stronger when you are higher up, so try upstairs. I would also suggest testing near the windows because waves can get through glass much easier than brick. If possible, try and get a clear line-of-sight with your nearest mast.
Finding the strongest 4G signal will help with getting the fastest speeds possible. The difference between 3 or 4 bars isn’t so noticeable, but the difference between 1 and 2 bars much more prevalent. Once you’ve found the best location for 4G coverage, this is where you should set up your hotspot. If this location isn’t the best for covering your house with WiFi, you might need an extender. For information about WiFi coverage, check out my blog: How To Make WiFi Cover Your House.
How much data do I need to buy?
The biggest expense of using 4G is not the cost of the equipment, but rather the cost of mobile data. Depending on how you use your internet connection, your usage may range from around 10 GB up to 100 GB or perhaps more. If you avoid downloading large files and watching lots of videos, you can easily keep your usage down to 10 - 20 GB, which will be much more wallet-friendly.
In my opinion, the best tactic to employ is to start with a certain monthly allowance, and then switch your tariff to a more appropriate allowance. If you’re looking for flexibility, giffgaff offer this with all of their goodybags. If you run out of data prematurely, you can start a new month’s allowance early, so you don’t have any downtime. If you want to change your goodybag to a different allowance, you are able to do this up to the evening before it’s set to renew.
The highest amount of data currently offered by giffgaff is 9 GB for £18, which may be enough for some, but large families will almost certainly need more. Depending on the deals available at the time, you may find that another network offers you more data for your money, bear in mind that every network has different levels of 4G coverage. If you want the ability to switch between networks, just make sure you buy a smartphone or MiFi which is network unlocked.
If you are in the unfortunate position where your landline is unusable for broadband, you should seriously consider a 4G solution. The biggest problem with 4G broadband is the cost associated with the limited data allowances, but prices will fall over time and perhaps one day we will stop using fixed broadband altogether.
Would you consider using it instead of fixed broadband? Are the prices too high compared to what we pay for fixed broadband? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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