Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question : I live five miles outside a town that has good broadband but I can't get it at my house. I keep reading about various broadband schemes that will cover my area but nothing has happened. My nephew told me that I should try a mobile broadband service. But will that be as good as normal broadband? I watch Netflix and browse the internet and use Facebook. Who has the best service?
For the usage habits you describe, a mobile broadband package should be okay (with some possible limitations). It largely depends on whether the signal in your area is strong enough.
Mobile broadband uses the available cellular signal (from Vodafone or Three or Eir mobile) and turns it into a home Wi-Fi service. It does this usually through a standalone broadband box, although sometimes a small aerial on your roof is needed.
It's a different type of service to what they call a 'fixed wireless' broadband package, which is where an antenna or aerial on your roof connects directly to a mast a couple of kilometres away.
The biggest mobile broadband service provider in Ireland is Three. In areas where you can get a decent 4G signal, it's a pretty good service, with speeds of up to 40 or 50 megabits per second. You can expect to pay between €30 and €45 per month.
The first thing you need to establish is whether your house has a reasonable mobile signal (and, if so, from what network).
To be fair to Three, it has a good interactive map that shows you exactly where its 4G mobile coverage is. You can find that here: three.ie/explore/coverage-checker. This also indicates whether the coverage is available both indoors and outdoors or just outdoors. This is an important point (and a welcome disclosure from Three) - an operator may say it has your area covered, but that often means outdoors. Walls and roofs and doors (and even windows) dilute a mobile signal, sometimes reducing its strength by well over half.
In a situation where you have a decent 4G signal outside your house, but only a 3G (or worse) inside, you can usually buy a small antenna (around €25 to €50 with cabling) to mount on your roof or external wall. This is then cabled back into the small mobile broadband router you'll be using, which sits inside your house.
A little more about this router: operators like Three give you one for free if you sign an 18-month contract. If you go for a prepaid service or just want to do it all yourself, it costs around €150 to buy one.
Vodafone's mobile broadband service is more expensive than Three's, though its network is slightly faster. The operator charges €45 per month.
The other key difference between Three and Vodafone is the amount of data offered. Three gives you 750GB, whereas Vodafone limits it to 150GB. If you live by yourself and only use your broadband for casual stuff a few hours a day, Vodafone's 150GB is probably fine. But if you have a family or want to watch Netflix in its best resolution, forget it: 150GB simply isn't enough. You'd be much better getting Three's solution (which is also cheaper).
To give an example of what I'm talking about on this score, an hour's viewing of Netflix in '4K' (its recommended top resolution) uses about 7GB of data. So you'd be stuck at less than an hour a day on Vodafone's service. Having said this, many people won't need 4K on their screens, especially if it's a laptop, tablet or phone.
A related question you might have is: what speed do I actually need in my broadband package?
Again, I'll use the analogy of a single person compared to a family. A single user doing what you say you do (Netflix, Facebook, browsing) needs a minimum of about 20Mbs (more if you want to use services like 4K video). A family, where at least two people might use the service at the same time, needs around 50Mbs. This is based on a home with several rooms. (In three or four years, they will be on the basic, slow end of things.)
In general, the bigger your house, the weaker the reception will be in the room farthest away from the broadband router. This is the same for any broadband service. So you might find that if your router is in your living room, you'll clock (say) 35Mbs there but just 10Mbs (or less) in your bedroom on the other side of the house. (You can test the speed of your broadband on Speedtest.net or by downloading the free Speedtest app from Ookla.)
So bear all of this in mind when you're checking the reception of the operator in your house.
If you don't consider yourself handy with tech gear, you might want to get someone to help set all of this up. You mention a nephew as having introduced this idea in the first place - might he help you here?
Recommendation: Three Unlimited Broadband (€30 per month from Three, 18 month contract)
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