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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 for 4G and 5G internet on the go.
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.
- : Telstra 4GX WiFi USB Modem
- : Optus 4G USB modem
- : Telstra 5G WiFi Pro
- : Optus 4G Pocket WiFi
- : Pocket WiFi 3
- : Nighthawk M2 Mobile Router
- : Spintel Pocket WiFi
- : Optus 5G Home
- : Vodafone WiFi Hub 2.0
- : Optus 4G USB modem
- : Telstra Prepaid 4GX USB WiFi
Before we get started, here's a quick glance at this week's most popular mobile broadband plans.
The best WiFi dongles
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 $4 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 $144 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 only 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
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 (but it does come with 50GB data). 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.
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 $10 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
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.
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.
That said, 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.
If you're happy to go with 4G speeds, check out the most popular Optus home wireless plans below.
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.
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.
Popular WiFi modem plans
To recap, here’s a shortlist of popular WiFi data plans that are compatible with pocket WiFi modems or USB WiFi adapters for PC and Mac.
Which WiFi dongle is best?
As is often the case, it's hard to pin down a definitive best WiFi dongle or pocket WiFi device because there's such a wide range of use cases. In our firsthand experience, Telstra and Netgear's range of Nighthawk modems have been fast and dependable portable solutions whether you're on a postpaid or prepaid internet plan for your mobile broadband needs. But if you only need to use mobile broadband connection on the odd occassion, you might be better served with cheaper external WiFi adapter (or USB WiFi dongle). In that category, we'd recommend Telstra's 4GX USB modem for reliable speeds and the Optus 4G USB modem for a portable prepaid internet connection on a budget.
Can you get unlimited data on a WiFi dongle?
Even though mobile plans have recently shifted to an unlimited data model, there still aren't any options for unlimited WiFi data on a dongle. Optus is the first provider to offer unlimited data on its 5G Home product but that's still a home broadband solution, not a portable WiFi dongle. Still, if you really need unlimited data on the go, we recommend checking out an unlimited mobile plan provider like Felix Mobile, which allows you to tether your phone's WiFi connection using a personal hotspot.
How do I use a WiFi dongle?
Most USB WiFi dongles these days are plug-and-play. All you need to do is plug the WiFi dongle into your computer or laptops USB port and the name of the device should appear in your WiFi connections list (e.g. Telstra 4GX USB modem). Pocket WiFi devices, on the other hand, don't physically connect your computer or laptop at all. You simply insert your mobile broadband SIM card into the device, power it on and search for the Pocket WiFi modem's connection in your WiFi settings.
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