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.

Every Pocket WiFi and WiFi dongle listed below is available as an add-on to a mobile broadband plan. 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

Huawei E8372 (Exetel, Spintel and Telstra)

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.

Currently, Telstra, Spintel, and Exetel all offer some variation of the Huawei E8372 internet dongle. Telstra brands its as the 4GX USB Modem, but it’s more or less the same, trusty thumbstick from all three providers.

This lightweight (40g) plug-and-play dongle will hook you up with 4G via your laptop’s USB port. Once plugged in, you can connect up to 5 devices to the WiFi network.

It’ll cost you $2.66 per month on a Telstra Mobile Broadband plan (and $95.76 in total), $99 outright through Spintel, and $69 upfront through Exetel.

Exetel leads the way in terms of hardware pricing, but it’s worth checking out each provider’s mobile broadband plans before you commit.

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. After that, you simply recharge monthly like any other prepaid service.

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 replaces last year’s HTC 5G Hub, offering 30 simultaneous WiFi connections, support for WiFi 6, and an ethernet port for wired gigabit speeds. The 4,500mAh battery will last you up to 9 hours, and it weighs in at a light 200 grams. 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 $599 outright, or an additional $24.95 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 Pocket WiFi AC800S Modem

Optus offers the Netgear AC800S Modem. This compact 4G device will give you about 11 hours of usage (and 260 hours of standby battery life) with up to 15 users connected. At 132 grams, it’s also a lot lighter than the Nighthawk and HTC 5G Hub.

Unlike Telstra’s devices, the Optus AC800S modem won’t cost you anything extra if you sign up for a 24-month mobile broadband plan. However, you can fork out $252 for it upfront if you’d prefer a month-to-month arrangement. Once again, this device doesn’t support 5G so keep that in mind if the next-gen network is coming to your area.

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. It’s also a good budget option. Whether you opt for a 12, 24 or 36-month payment plan, the Pocket WiFi 3 won’t cost you any more than $7.50 extra per month. The device’s total cost is $90, so you only need to decide how short or long you’d like your payment period to be.

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 TPLink WiFi M7350

Spintel offers the TPLink WiFi M7350 modem. It’s essentially a light version of Telstra and Optus’ pocket WiFi models, offering a little bit less in each department, including, and most importantly, price.

Spintel will send you a TPLink Mobile WiFi device for just $119 (added to your bill). It offers 4G connectivity, but only ten devices can access it simultaneously, and it will only give you 8 hours of usage. If you need a device that can cover you throughout the workday and into the night, you’ll be pushing it with Spintel’s hardware.

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 Cube 2

Vodafone might not sell Home Wireless plans specifically, but it does offer what’s effectively a Home Wireless modem (the Huawei WiFi Cube 2) with its suite of mobile broadband plans. Despite the branded name Vodafone gives it, this device is the same as what Optus offers below. It’s a plug-and-play modem with dual-band WiFi and support for up to 64 simultaneous users.

Users can also link this device with the Huawei SmartHome app.

Optus B818 Modem and 5G Home (if you can get it)

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.

Still, if you can’t get access to Optus 5G yet, there’s still the option of 4G Home Wireless Broadband. Optus is currently selling one of the most impressive deals in that space with one of the only 500GB 4G Home Wireless plans on the market and for $85 per month. If you don’t need that much data, save yourself some dosh and drop down to 200GB. Browser beware: you might be surprised at how much data you can use when you’re not shackled to a slow internet connection.

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.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

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