Data Dongle vs MiFi Hub - What's The Difference?

February 8, 2023

Getting broadband in a remote place with a data dongle

Let’s be honest, most of us are used to, and often expect, to be online no matter where we are or what we’re doing. The need to get online is often just as important when we’re on the go, so reliable internet access on the move is as important as it’s ever been.

Do you want to be able to access the internet wherever you go, but you’re not sure you can hotspot from your phone for hours on end or rely on patchy public Wi-Fi? If that’s an issue for you right now, an internet dongle or MiFi hub might be your answer. But what are they, and how do they compare?

We’ve already covered MiFi devices in detail on a recent blog, so this time around we’re going to focus mainly on internet dongles, as well as the main differences between the two.

So, here’s everything you need to know about data dongles and whether to get a dongle or MiFi.

What is a data dongle and what does it do?

Around the same size as a USB stick, mobile data dongles plug directly into the USB port on the side of your laptop or tablet. They act as a portable modem, allowing you to access the internet when you’re on the go or strengthen your existing connection.

The only things you need for the average data dongle to work are a data plan from your network provider and a mobile signal.  

How does a data dongle work?

Quite simply, a Wi-Fi dongle connects to the mobile network in the same way your smartphone does, whether that’s 3G, 4G or 5G. Just plug your data dongle into your computer, laptop or tablet and within seconds you’ll be able to get online using your provider’s mobile data network. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a data dongle?

The biggest advantage of a data dongle is its portability: they’re small and handy enough to take with you anywhere whilst you’re on the go. These compact pocket devices can help you stay connected and quickly access the internet from anywhere with a mobile phone signal. 

Internet dongles are also super easy to use due to their plug in and play design. They don’t require charging, or a mains power connection, since they power themselves directly from your laptop.

Whilst data dongles have these benefits, they’re not always the best option for portable Wi-Fi.

The main drawback of an internet dongle is that it can only connect to one device at a time, meaning you can’t share your Wi-Fi with other devices or users. It also requires you to have a USB port on your device, so they can only really connect to your laptop or certain tablet models.

Business woman using her phone while on a laptop

What are the alternatives to a data dongle?

Depending on what you need mobile broadband for and when you’ll use it, you may want to consider using MiFi (also known as mobile Wi-Fi).

MiFi devices are often confused with dongles, but they actually connect to the internet in a different way and have their own range of capabilities. So, what’s the main difference?

What is the difference between a dongle and MiFi?

Unlike a data dongle, which can only be used by the one device it’s plugged into (which is pretty much only a laptop), MiFi acts as a mobile broadband router. It’s essentially a smaller-sized, battery-powered version of your home broadband router, with the added advantage that you don’t need to plug in. It creates a personal Wi-Fi hotspot that allows multiple users to share an internet connection.

The biggest difference between MiFi and a data dongle is that MiFi hubs allow you to connect lots of devices simultaneously. They give you the freedom to access the internet from your phone and laptop whilst sharing it with your friends, family, and colleagues.

Is a dongle as good as MiFi?

The limitation of only being able to connect to one device at a time is a real deal-breaker for most people. Understandably so in a household with more than one person wanting to be online at the same time! You also have the added disadvantage that there aren’t as many dongle deals to choose from, as an increasing number of people switch to more innovative options.

Crucially, you get much more flexibility with mobile Wi-Fi than an internet dongle– for instance, you could put your Mobile Wi-Fi by a window to ensure you get the best signal and improve the connection for all who use it, wherever in the house, or garden, they are.

Better yet, you can also use portable Wi-Fi with iPads and tablets that don’t have a USB slot for dongles.  MiFi offers much more versatility compared to a dongle but is still portable enough to carry with you when you’re away from home.

Should you get a dongle or mobile broadband router?

If you want the freedom to connect multiple devices and share your internet access with others, then a MiFi router will be your best option. It also means you aren’t restricted to using devices that are compatible with a USB data dongle.

Our 4G Plus MiFi provides fast, stable Wi-Fi that you can share with up to 32 Wi-Fi enabled devices and has maximum download speeds of 300Mbps. Just charge it up and take it with you wherever you go. It's perfect for when you're travelling, working on the move or don't have access to Home Broadband.

If you only want to get online from one device, you can check out our Data Only SIMs. If your laptop has a SIM card slot or a tablet or iPad with 3G, 4G, or 5G connectivity, you can use your Data Only SIM to connect to our network on the go. We offer Pay Monthly Data Only SIMs and Pay As You Go Data Only SIMs with a range of data allowances and costs. 

If you already have an internet dongle and are happy with it, you can also use our Pay Monthly Data SIMs and Pay As You Go Data SIMs  to connect to the Three network. If you’re looking for unlimited data, you’ll need to pick up a Pay Monthly plan on either a fixed term or rolling monthly basis.

If you’re ready to get online from almost anywhere you can check out our MiFi and mobile broadband deals. Or you can check out our MiFi guide to learn more about how portable Wi-Fi works.