Broadband services have existed for some time now, and we are all very familiar with what broadband is. When you think about broadband services, generally fixed network providers come to mind with a fibre or DSL connection. But nowadays, mobile operators also provide broadband services, including fixed broadband as well as mobile broadband. Mobile Broadband is a broadband service that uses a mobile network to establish a data connection instead of using a fixed network with a physical cable coming into your house. In mobile communications, the term Mobile Broadband, abbreviated as MBB, represents any mobile devices that provide high-speed internet services through a mobile network.
What is mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband is a high-speed internet service that is delivered over a mobile network through 3G, 4G and 5G cellular technologies. Cellular technologies from 3G onwards can offer data rates that can support mobile broadband. 3G enhancements like HSPA and EVDO added high-speed mobile internet capability in UMTS and CDMA2000 networks. With 4G LTE networks, mobile broadband can provide average speeds of over 60 Mbps, further improved by the 5G NR networks. The speeds depend on where you are and what the coverage status in your area is. In order to use a mobile broadband connection, a customer can use a USB dongle or mobile broadband router to create WiFi coverage. Customers can also use their mobile phones as a WiFi hotspot.
Is mobile broadband the same as WiFi?
Mobile broadband is not the same as WiFi but there is an indirect relationship between the two. Mobile broadband requires a 3G, 4G or 5G modem to create a connectivity backhaul but requires another medium such as a cable, USB dongle or WiFi access point to allow end-user devices such as laptops to connect to the modem. The medium which is getting more popular nowadays is the mobile broadband router which has a built-in modem to connect to the cellular network and a router capability to allow end-user devices to connect to it.
Can I get unlimited mobile broadband?
Yes. The business model for mobile broadband has changed again slightly, and unlimited data is gaining popularity. With 4G LTE and 5G NR, many mobile operators in the UK and other parts of the world already offer unlimited mobile data. In some cases, cheaper tariffs are made available by putting a speed cap. For example, it is possible that a mobile operator may decide to offer an unlimited 5G mobile broadband service for £30 per month but can provide a discounted tariff (cheaper than £30 as an example) with a speed cap of 10 Mbps. A speed cap means that your maximum speed never exceeds the capped limit, and as a result, you consume fewer data per session than someone without a speed cap.
Is mobile broadband any good?
With the recent launch of the 5G mobile broadband service called eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), you can get average download speeds of around 150 Mbps in many parts of the UK. 4G mobile broadband powered by LTE-Advanced can offer average download speeds of around 60-65 Mbps. We have done some posts on 4G and 5G mobile broadband speeds in the UK. Look at this post for average 4G LTE speeds and this one for 5G home broadband.
What technologies enable mobile broadband?
HSPA and HSPA+
HSPA or High-Speed Packet Access is a technology introduced in the 3G UMTS networks that followed the GSM path. The original UMTS networks (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) could already offer decent data speeds, but HSPA provided a big boost. HSPA is a collective term that combines HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) and HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access). The downlink helps with the downloads, and the uplink helps with the uploads. HSPA can enable peak download speeds of up to 14.4 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.76 Mbps.
After the introduction of HSPA, there were further enhancements that led to Evolved High-Speed Packet Access or HSPA+. HSPA+ is a technology upgrade to HSPA which increases the peak download speeds to up to 42 Mbps and upload speeds to up to 11.5 Mbps.
EVDO is a technology that was introduced in the CDMA based 3G networks called CDMA2000. CDMA2000 was the 3G path for cdmaOne networks, just like UMTS was the 3G path for the GSM networks. EVDO stands for EVolution Data Optimized and it can provide peak download speeds of up to 14.7 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.4 Mbps. The equivalent of EVDO in the UMTS based 3G networks is HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access).
LTE is the technology behind the fourth generation (4G) of mobile networks and stands for Long Term Evolution. LTE networks can offer peak speeds of up to 300 Mbps in the downlink for downloads and 75 Mbps in the uplink for uploads. The later versions of LTE; LTE Advanced and LTE Pro can offer even higher speeds.
In case you are wondering why you don’t often (or ever) get these super-high speeds when using LTE, let us give you a bit of clarification. The speeds above are the peak data speeds and not something you generally get. In real life (outside the test labs), your mobile network is serving many people which means that the available bandwidth is distributed among multiple users. As a result, the speed that each user gets is considerably lower than the maximum speed. The network coverage (i.e. how far you are from the 4G LTE base station) also determines the quality of service that you get.
eMBB through 5G
Even though LTE can already offer super-high speeds for an average user, 5G will take things to a whole new level. 5G mobile broadband eMBB stands for Enhanced Mobile Broadband, and it is the mobile broadband service enabled by the New Radio (NR) technology that 5G employs. 5G is very different from earlier mobile technologies with lots of use cases where mobile broadband is one of the simplest. Under ideal network conditions, 5G can offer data speeds over 10 Gbps with a latency of as low as 1 millisecond. The average speeds that the users get can be considerably lower for the reasons mentioned above. Check out this post for average 5G mobile broadband speeds:
How does Mobile Broadband – MBB work?
If you want to start using mobile broadband, you basically need two things; a mobile device and a mobile connection. Mobile technologies are backwards compatible which means that the devices for later generations (e.g. 4G) can also work with earlier generations (e.g. 3G, 2G etc.). So you are safer when you buy mobile devices for the later generations.
It is quite easy nowadays to get mobile devices that can create a hotspot. If you get enough data with your current smartphone plan, you can create a mobile spot to create WiFi coverage for other internet-enabled devices. You may need to check with your mobile operator if you have any limitations on how much data you can use when tethering. You can use the same approach if you have a SIM-enabled tablet. Alternatively, you can buy a purpose-built device like a portable mobile broadband router equivalent to your home broadband router.
If you are using a mobile broadband router or a tablet, you will need a 3G, 4G or 5G data-only SIM from your mobile operator. If you live in a country where 3G services were enabled through CDMA2000 (and not UMTS/HSPA), it is best to get both the device and the connection from your operator because EVDO devices don’t require an external SIM.
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.