Dongle – Everything you Need to Know

Dongles are pocket-sized devices that allow connects computers and smart devices to the internet via a mobile network

What is a dongle and how does it work?

For most Australians during, the internet has become the primary means of accessing the outside world, and this is especially true during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, internet connectivity is now a mainstay – stable, reliable, and affordable for the vast majority of the population.

Among the many available gadgets for internet access, dongles stand out for several reasons. These feathery, thumb-sized devices allow you to connect your smart devices and computers to the internet at anytime, anywhere, with minimal set up required. Many top telcos make it even easier to own and use a dongle, offering them up free of charge as perks for their mobile broadband plans.

TO use a dongle to access the internet, just plug it into your device like a thumb drive (some connect wirelessly), and the device will automatically connect to the internet. No complex installations, no power requirements, and the only maintenance needed is paying for a data plan.

Dongle plans available from Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone

You’ll find a number of prepaid or postpaid data plans for your dongle. Let’s take a look at what Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have to offer:

  • Telstra dongle plans

Telstra’s dongles give you high-speed, reliable internet access on their 3G, 4G, and even 5G networks, depending on your location. Their dongles, which are usually the Netgear Nighthawk M2 Mobile Hotspot, come as an add-on to their line of mobile broadband plans. Telstra is currently the only telco in Australia to offer the Nighthawk M2, with connection speeds as good as it gets. The Nighthawk M2 can also connect up to 20 devices at the same time, and has a battery life of up to 16 hours.

But if you’re on a low budget, you can opt for Telstra plans paired with lower-grade dongles. These deals can save you up to $12 monthly. All the plans are contract-free. You simply need to pay the pro-rated value of your dongle if you want to break away from the network. There are no termination fees or penalties.

  • Optus dongle plans

The main similarity between the dongle plans from Optus and those of most other top telcos is that they come with free dongles (or pocket Wi-Fi) as a bonus. But Optus wildly differs from the rest when it comes to data inclusions in their dongle plans. The average data allowance of their dongle falls between 200GB and 500GB. The plans are also contract-free. You also have the option of walking away from the network with the plan’s pocket Wi-Fi, which will cost you $216 upfront.

  • Vodafone dongle plans

Vodafone offers a pocket Wi-Fi instead of a traditional dongle. The plans are also contract-free with no penalties for leaving the telco, and they come with generous data allowances (between 20GB – 60GB).

Network speed when using a dongle

Dongles work with mobile networks, and their speeds depend on the carrier, your location, and your device. But dongles generally give great speeds – they compete favorably with NBN speeds. In certain locations with 5G coverage, they can supersede NBN speeds significantly (up to 20 times faster). Even with 4G coverage, you can get high download speeds of 20Mbps – 100 Mbps (NBN speeds range between 12Mbps and 100Mbps).

The difference between a dongle and a modem

The words dongle and modem are used interchangeably to refer to a wide range of devices. That’s because their original technical definitions are quite open-ended. Technically, a dongle refers to any external peripheral that allows a computer to run a specific software program. In the context of internet connectivity, it’s simply any device that allows a computer to run software that facilitates internet connection. However, it’s mostly associated with USB-sized devices that enable internet connection on smart devices and computers.

On the other hand, a modem, short for Modulator/Demodulator, technically refers to a networking device that facilitates the exchange of analog and digital signals (internet connection) between computers.

From their definitions, it’s clear that both modem and dongles can sometimes refer to the same device, such as a pocket Wi-Fi.

Summing up

Dongles are one of the most readily available means of accessing high-speed internet connections. You can get them as an add-on to your mobile broadband plan, or you can buy them separately, depending on your personal preferences. Compared to fixed broadband, dongles are much more portable and require zero set up. At worse, they can offer speeds similar to those of NBN, and at best, they can surpass NBN speeds by up to 20 times.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.