The best pocket WiFi and WiFi dongles available

Is that a dongle in your pocket?

What is a WiFi dongle?

A WiFi dongle (or internet dongle) is a small device that is plugged into a desktop computer or laptop (typically via USB). Some WiFi dongles use a SIM card to generate a portable WiFi network when plugged in (effectively the same as tethering from your smartphone), others enable the connected device to access the internet, without generating a WiFi signal of their own. Then there are pocket WiFi devices, portable modems that generate a WiFi signal when powered on.

USB WiFi dongles are most commonly intended for a single user, while pocket WiFi devices encourage multiple connections.

In the age of widespread NBN, smartphone tethering and more recently, unlimited mobile data plans, the old WiFi dongle is becoming a bit of a fossil. Once a saviour amongst students, the humble dongle has more or less seen its day but it’s not quite ready to take its place in the Smithsonian next to the Nokia 3310.

Families on the move and folks who regularly travel for work still require the kind of bandwidth, and consistency tethering can’t offer. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the very best pocket WiFi and WiFi dongles you can get in 2021.

Most Pocket WiFi and WiFi dongles listed below is available as an add-on to a mobile broadband plan while others are available for an upfront cost on a prepaid arrangement.

Before we get started, here’s a quick glance at this week’s most popular mobile broadband plans.

The best WiFi dongles

Best WiFi Dongles Australia

Telstra 4GX USB Modem

As it turns out, there aren’t a lot of USB WiFi dongles these days. With USB-C slowly becoming the norm (even with laptops), it’s not hard to see why. Though there are still a few telcos offering a classic USB modem as an affordable mobile broadband solution.

One of the most popular choices in Australia is Telstra’s branded 4GX USB modem.

This lightweight plug-and-play dongle will connect you to the Telstra 3G/4G network via your laptop’s USB port. Once plugged in, you can connect up to 5 devices to the WiFi network.

The Telstra 4GX USB modem costs as low as $2.75 per month on a 36-month mobile broadband plan but you can also opt for a 12 or 24-month plan if you want to pay it off quicker or simply pay $99 upfront and sign up for a month-to-month mobile broadband plan or prepaid plan (more on that below).

Optus 4G USB modem

Optus also sells its own branded 4G USB modem at a super-cheap $39 outright. For that cheap price, you get a pretty barebones WiFi dongle. It’s a lightweight (50g) USB-powered 3G/4G dongle that comes with 4GB of data out of the box.

It’s available for purchase outright but you can use it with a month-to-month mobile broadband SIM if you don’t like the idea of recharging every month.

The best pocket WiFi devices

Best Pocket WiFi Australia

Telstra 5G WiFi Pro

This portable powerhouse is a future-proof 5G modem that fits in the palm of your hand and a solid NBN alternative.

The Telstra 5G WiFi Pro offers 30 simultaneous WiFi connections, support for WiFi 6, and an ethernet port for wired gigabit speeds. The 4,500mAh battery lasts up to 9 hours, and the device weighs a light 200g.

There are 4G WiFi devices with better battery life if that’s a major consideration. Still, if you’re able to take advantage of super-fast 5G speeds, Telstra’s 5G WiFi Pro is one of the only portable solutions currently available on the market.

No need to worry if you can’t get Telstra 5G yet either, as the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro also supports 4G, so you can expect the same reliable 4G speeds when you’re not within 5G coverage.

The one downside to Telstra’s 5G pocket WiFi is that it doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back a whopping $479 outright, or an additional $19.95 per month over 24 months if you add it to your monthly mobile broadband bill. Here’s a small selection of Telstra’s most popular mobile broadband plans that the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro is available on.

Optus 4G Pocket WiFi modem

Optus offers the E5577 4G WiFi modem. This compact 4G pocket WiFi device supports up to 16 connections at once and comes with 50GB of data at purchase.  At 80g, it’s also a lot lighter than Telstra’s pocket WiFi device.

Optus no longer offers its Pocket WiFi devices on a month-to-month payment plan so the 4G WiFi modem will cost you $99 upfront. After that, you’re required to recharge every month or switch over to a postpaid mobile broadband plan.

It’s also worth noting that Optus doesn’t currently its 5G network on any of its mobile broadband or pocket WiFi devices, so you’ll be stuck with 4G if you commit to any of the currently available devices.

Here are the most popular 4G data plans on the Optus network this week.

Vodafone Pocket WiFi 3

For Voda customers, there’s the telco’s branded Huawei modem, the 4G Pocket WiFi 3. At only 6 hours battery life (and running on the Vodafone network), this might not be the best choice for those who travel to remote areas for work.

Still, it does offer up to 16 connections at once, and if you’re living in a metropolitan area, you shouldn’t really struggle to get Vodafone reception these days.

The Vodafone Pocket WiFi 3 4G isn’t available as a plan add-on anymore, rather an upfront payment of $99. That gets you 55GB of data to use over your first 30 days after which you’ll need to recharge or switch over to a month-to-month mobile broadband plan. Here are the most popular mobile broadband plans from Vodafone this month.

Nighthawk M2

Next up is another from Telstra, the old faithful Nighthawk portable modem. This robust pocket WiFi device has been around for years now, and it’s still one of the best on the market. This pocket rocket offers 20 device connections, up to 16-hours of battery life, and an LCD touchscreen that offers usage and signal updates.

The one downside is that it’s only a touch cheaper than the HTC 5G Hub and won’t prepare you for the 5G future. With that in mind, signing up for a 24 or 36-month contract might not be the best idea for folks readying up for 5G. But if 4G’s fast enough for your needs, the Nighthawk is still a stellar option.

You can grab the Nighthawk M2 on any of the plans above, but if you really want to maximise your data, you can also opt for a prepaid mobile data plan through Telstra.

Spintel Pocket WiFi  (Netgear AC800S)

Spintel offers the Netgear AC800S modem. This pocket WiFi device offers up to 15 simultaneous connections and 4G speeds courtesy of the Optus network. It boasts 11 hours of battery life (continuous usage) and is light enough at 132g that it’s not a hassle to carry around in your pocket. Spintel offers the Netgear AC800S for $290 outright or $16 per month on either of Spintel’s top-value mobile broadband plans.

Here’s how much Spintel charges for access to its 4G mobile broadband plans.

The best Home Wireless Broadband devices

Best Home Wireless Australia

A future where the term “internet dongle” falls out of circulation is surely the saddest timeline of all, and its untimely end will be thanks to the  introduction of Home Wireless Broadband; a name that’s definitively not as fun to type. Still, the news of Home Wireless Broadband’s arrival (and soon 5G Home Wireless) is just what the doctor ordered for people who can’t access fixed-line broadband for whatever reason.

The data caps on Home Wireless Broadband plans are typically much higher than what we’ve come to expect from mobile broadband plans, and the price is becoming friendlier by the day (reasonable even?).

The only downside is you can’t take Home Wireless wherever you go. That’s still the benefit of pocket WiFi devices and, one last time, dongles.

Here are the most popular Home Wireless Broadband plans available.

Vodafone WiFi Hub 2.0

Vodafone has joined the chorus of Home Wireless Broadband providers with two reasonably priced plans and a new device, the Vodafone WiFi Hub 2.0. The WiFi Hub 2.0 is designed for in-home use and is plugged into the wall (rather than battery-powered for mobile use). It supports up to 64 connections and comes at no extra cost when you sign up for one of the provider’s mobile broadband plans for 36 months.

Note: Vodafone’s Home Wireless Broadband plans are only available in-store or over the phone. You can call 1300 100 515 to place an order. To view Vodafone’s Home Wireless broadband plans, head over to the provider’s plan page. 

Optus 5G Home (Nokia FastMile 5G Gateway)

Optus is really banking on home 5G. It’s already selling 5G Home Broadband plans with a Nokia 5G modem. It comes with Unlimited data, a 50Mbps Satisfaction Guarantee, and one month free.

Availability is extremely limited at the time of writing, so you will need to check if you can get 5G at your address before signing up. It’s also super early days for 5G technology, so you run the risk of being an early adopter.

After Optus removed its 4G Home Wireless broadband plans, 5G home is the only NBN alternative if offers. Thankfully, the deals are decent, at $75 or $90 per month with unlimited data and a 50Mbps speed satisfaction guarantee.

Exetel NetComm NL1901ACV

Exetel currently holds second place for value on Home Wireless Broadband. You can nab a decent amount of data at a reasonable price and have the cost of the 4G NetComm NL1901ACV modem discounted by 50% on a 12-month contract. Best of all, Exetel offers this plan month-to-month, where you pay for the modem upfront. Home Wireless Broadband modems are subject to the whims of any mobile network so opting for a month-to-month arrangement means you can switch providers if you’re getting unsatisfactory service without paying any additional fees.

While Exetel’s plans are tops, the NetComm NL1901ACV modem could be better. It only offers speeds of up to 12/1 Mbps, which is equivalent to NBN Basic I and doesn’t take full advantage of the Optus 4G network. On the flip side, it supports up to 64 simultaneous connections and has 4 gigabit ethernet ports.

The best prepaid internet dongles

Optus 4G USB modem

Optus also sells a  branded Huawei E3772 prepaid 4G USB modem at $39 outright. For that price, you get a pretty barebones WiFi dongle. It’s a lightweight (50g) USB-powered 3G/4G dongle that comes with 4GB of data out of the box. After that, you simply recharge monthly like any other prepaid service.

You also get it for half that price at $19 through Officeworks.

After your included 4GB is used, you’ll need to recharge with a prepaid mobile broadband plan through Optus. Prepaid data SIMs start at $30 for 25GB through Optus and include 200GB of rollover data (essentially a pool of your monthly unused data).

If you end up using more data than anticipated, you’re not locked to prepaid. You can always pop a postpaid Optus data SIM in the same dongle if you’d prefer to get a bill. Here are some of the most popular mobile broadband plans from Optus this week.

Telstra Prepaid 4GX USB WiFi modem

We’ve already touched on Telstra’s popular 4GX modem above but that same dongle can be purchased outright and put on a prepaid plan (rather than a month-to-month arrangement). If you buy it directly through Telstra, the 4GX USB modem will cost you $49 but you can also find it marginally cheaper through Officeworks at $47 outright.

Once you’ve purchased the device, you’ll need to remember to recharge your Telstra prepaid mobile broadband plan every 14 – 28 days or every 12 months if you’d prefer a long-expiry option. Here’s a quick look at some of Telstra’s most popular prepaid mobile broadband plans.

Telstra Prepaid 4GX WiFi Plus

Another solid prepaid solution for your mobile internet needs is the Telstra Prepaid 4GX Wi-Fi Plus pocket WiFi device. It’s available at $69 outright through Telstra and Officeworks. That upfront cost nets you 5GB out of the gate.

The Telstra Prepaid 4GX WiFi Plus offers 8 hours of battery life and can support up to 10 connected devices at once.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

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