The Difference Between Wi-Fi & Broadband Cards

by Joe McElroy

Though they have many similarities, the differences between mobile broadband cards and Wi-Fi can have a big impact on both your connectivity and your wallet. Wi-Fi uses a broadcasting modem that allows you to wirelessly connect to traditional Internet service providers. Mobile broadband cards connect you to the Internet through the same cellular network that cellphones use.


Most modern laptops are already Wi-Fi enabled. You can connect to the Internet anywhere that uses a wireless modem. Public places such as libraries, hotels and coffee shops often offer Wi-Fi access. Most locations are free, though a few charge. Some require that you get a password from the operators before you complete the connection. Mobile broadband cards use a portable device that can be put into a port in your computer. It allows you to connect to the Internet through a cellular provider. You can literally connect anywhere that you get a cellular signal. Like a cellphone, though, you have to pay a monthly fee to a provider. Many providers also put a limit on the amount of data you can use in a month.

Signal Strength

Wi-Fi signals are highly localized. They're achieved by attaching a broadcasting modem to the modem from an Internet service provider. If you're in range of the broadcasting modem, your laptop will detect the network. Most Wi-Fi networks don't broadcast far beyond a single building. Even within the building, the farther you are from the main modem, the weaker your signal will be. A mobile broadband card uses the cellular network of your provider. If you use the same provider for your cellphone as for your broadband card, you can check what connectivity will be at a given location before taking your laptop out. Just look at how strong your phone signal is. If the signal is weak, you will have low speed connections or may not be able to connect at all.


Most Wi-Fi providers are free, provided you use their other services. A coffee shop or hotel will usually not give you the network password if you're not a customer. Libraries in most larger towns offer free Wi-Fi for all of their patrons. Wi-Fi will rarely cost you anything except the cost of a broadcasting modem if you set up a Wi-Fi network up in your home. A mobile broadband card requires you to either sign a contract with a cellular provider or use a prepaid card. There are various plans you can choose from, depending on the provider, for how much data you can use each month.


If you have a laptop, you're very likely to already be wireless-enabled. If you travel a lot, you'll be able to use your laptop to connect to the Wi-Fi provided by the hotels and many of the restaurants that you patronize. If you're often in remote locations or need to access the Internet while en route to a destination, the investment in a mobile broadband card may be worthwhile, provided that the provider you choose has good signal coverage in the areas you travel. Remember that it's not an either-or situation. If you pay for a broadband card and are in a bad signal range, you still have Wi-Fi access as soon as you reach a business that offers Wi-Fi to its customers.

About the Author

Joe McElroy has been writing on politics and culture since 1983. His articles have appeared in a diverse array of publications, including the "Chicago Daily Observer" and "Immaculata" magazine. McElroy works occasionally as a strategic consultant to federal candidates. He majored in American history at Northwestern University.

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