What Does Mobile Broadband Capable Mean?

By Allison Horky

3G and 4G tablets can access a data network with mobile broadband.
i Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Mobile broadband is the collective term used to describe any mobile Internet service. This technology is designed to bring the Internet to any device that is equipped to transfer data over the 3G and 4G networks. It cannot be utilized by wireless-only devices that rely on a Wi-Fi hotspot for connectivity.


The Internet became integrated into households in 1993, when 56KB per second connections were available by using traditional phone lines. Broadband become possible in 1996 due to Rogers Communications in Canada, which launched North America's first cable modem service. Broadband covers a variety of services, from cable to power lines to wireless internet. Once households began to experience faster connectivity, they demanded companies provide the capability to take this high-speed access with them everywhere. Mobile broadband became popular after the release of the 3G-equipped iPhone in 2007. Reports state that mobile broadband users will hit one billion during 2011.


Mobile broadband is available for purchase from a large variety of companies. The leading providers are Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T Mobile, Comcast and US Cellular. These companies offer variety within their plans for transferring small to large quantities of data per month. The devices that are mobile broadband enabled have an indication on their screen or device exterior. For example, the iPad says 3G in the upper-left hand corner as well as on the back of the tablet.


Mobile broadband reaches your computer through a universal serial bus (USB) device. You plug the USB into your port to establish the connection. The transmitter on the USB taps into the service provider's data network. There must be coverage in your area in order for you to use your mobile broadband device. 4G data networks are more sparse than 3G. Peak speeds for mobile broadband on a 3G network are 500KB to 3MB per second. If you are on a 4G network, data transfers at a rate of 5MB to 12MB per second. Upload speeds are generally slower than download speeds.


Verizon Wireless, the leading mobile broadband company according to Top Ten Reviews 2011, offers 3G and 4G plans, which can also be used with tablets, starting at $20 per month for transferring 1GB of data. The company's most expensive plan is $80 per month for 10GB of data transfer. Their prepaid plans for 3G USB modems range from $15 per day for 100MB of transfer to monthly plans of $80 for 5GB of data transfer. The prices between competitors changes based on the features of their plans, but these prices are similar to the leading competitors.