Rapid uptake of ‘dongles' by mobile internet users threatens fixed-line broadband

3 Dongle
3 Dongle

LONDON - More than one million UK consumers will be using mobile phone networks to access the internet via laptops by the end of the year, according to 3UK.

The mobile operator claims the number of users accessing the web over its 3G network has increased 14-fold since it launched its mobile broadband offering in December.

3UK is just one of a number of mobile networks offering wireless broadband speeds and prices that are challenging fixed-line rivals, including BT, Sky and Virgin Media.

Vodafone, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile have all launched USB modems, also known as dongles, that enable consumers to access the internet wirelessly from a laptop.

Their introduction has ensured that the mobile internet is no longer a slow and clunky experience. Broadband speeds of up to 3.6Mb a second are now available, well above the UK fixed-line average of 2.95Mb, according to online comparison site Broadband Expert.

In theory, this means consumers may no longer need a fixed-line connection, a potential cause of concern for companies including Talk Talk, Tiscali and Virgin Media, which have invested heavily in expanding their broadband offerings.

UK mobile internet access is increasing rapidly, with Morgan Stanley estimating that 50,000 consumers are buying the dongles each month. It is too early to say how serious the threat to the fixed-line internet giants is, but the balance of power appears to be shifting.

'Mobile broadband is proving a highly attractive option for UK consumers,' said Pete Nuthall, analyst for European telecoms at Forrester Research. 'However, I don't see it affecting the main fixed-line telecoms providers over the next two or three years.'

Mobile broadband
  • T-Mobile's Web 'n' Walk Plus service costs from £29 a month as part of a 12-month contract. The dongle costs £149.99.
  • 3 UK offers its Broadband Plus from £10 a month as part of a 12-month contract. The dongle costs £49.99.
  • Orange Internet Everywhere costs from £15 a month over two years. Free dongle.
  • Vodafone's service costs £15 a month over two years. The dongle costs £29.
  • Source: Carphone Warehouse


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