What Is Mobile Broadband?

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Mobile broadband, also referred to as WWAN (for Wireless Wide Area Network), is a general term used to describe high-speed Internet access from mobile providers for portable devices. If you have a data plan on your cell phone that lets you email or visit websites over your cellular provider's network, that's mobile broadband. Mobile broadband services can also provide wireless Internet access on your laptop or netbook using built-in mobile broadband network cards or other portable network devices, such as USB modems or portable wi-fi, and mobile hotspots. This on-the-go fast Internet service is most commonly provided by the major cellular networks (e.g., Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile).

Types of Mobile Broadband

You've probably heard a lot of acronyms mentioned in regards to mobile broadband: GPRS, 3G, HSDPA, LTE, WiMAX, EV-DO, etc. These are all different standards--or flavors, if you will--of mobile broadband. Just as wireless networking evolved from 802.11b to 802.11n with faster speeds and other improved performance features, mobile broadband performance continues to evolve, and with so many players in this growing field, the technology is even branching off. 4G (fourth generation) mobile broadband, which includes WiMax and LTE standards, has superseded the fastest (so far) iteration of mobile Internet offerings.

Benefits and Features of Mobile Broadband

3G is fast enough for streaming online videos, downloading music, viewing Web photo albums, and video conferencing. If you've ever experienced being bumped from 3G to the lower GPRS data rate, you'll really, really appreciate your 3G service when you get it back. 4G promises up to 10 times the speed of 3G, which is currently described by the cellular companies as having typical download speeds of 700 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps and upload speeds of 500 Kbps to 1.2 Mbps--not as fast as fixed broadband from cable modems or FiOS, but about as fast as DSL. Note that speeds will vary due to conditions such as your signal strength.

Besides fast Internet access, mobile broadband offers wireless freedom and convenience, the hallmarks of new technology espoused especially by mobile professionals. Instead of having to search for--and be physically at--a wireless hotspot, your Internet access goes with you. This is particularly great for travel, as well as for working in unusual locations (like a park or in a car). According to Forrester Research, “Anytime, anywhere Internet connectivity can provide mobile workers with 11 additional hours of productivity per week.” (source: Gobi).

Also Known As: 3G, 4G, LTE, mobile data