The best pocket WiFi and WiFi dongles available
Optus AC800S Modem
Best pocket WiFi11 hours of usageUp to 15 users
Best WiFi dongleLightweightUp to 5 users
Optus Home Wireless
Best alternativePotential for 1GbpsDual-band
Vodafone Pocket WiFi
For Voda customersUp to 16 connections$7 p/mth hardware
What is a WiFi dongle?
In the age of widespread NBN, smartphone tethering and high data caps on mobile plans, the old pocket WiFi (or 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 travel regularly for work still require the kind of bandwidth and consistency tethering just can’t offer. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the very best pocket WiFi and WiFi dongles you can get in 2020.
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 pocket WiFi
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 to a 24-month mobile broadband plan. Though you can fork out $252 for it upfront if you’d prefer a month-to-month arrangement. Once again, this device doesn’t haven’t any 5G capability so keep that in mind if the next-gen network is coming to your area.
Here are the most popular 4G data plans from Optus this week.
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 total cost of the device is $90, so you just need to decide how short or long you’d like your payment period to be.
This portable powerhouse is a future-proof 5G modem that fits in the palm of your hand and it’s a solid NBN alternative. It supports up to 20 connections at once, boasts a healthy all-day battery life and will only cost you an additional $17 per month on a 24-month arrangement or $11.33 on a 36-month agreement.
No need to worry if you can’t get Telstra 5G yet either, as the HTC 5G Hub also supports 4G. So in the meantime, you can expect the same speeds you would expect on any other 4G hotspot.
Here’s a small selection of Telstra’s mobile broadband plans that you can add an HTC 5G hotspot to.
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 to 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 offers the TPLink WiFi M7350 modem. It’s essentially a light version of the pocket WiFi models offered by Telstra and Optus, 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 (which is added to your bill). It offers 4G connectivity but only 10 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
A future where the term “internet dongle” falls out of circulation is surely the saddest timeline of all and its untimely end will be brought about by 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 Internet 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 best Home Wireless Broadband plans available right now.
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 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 1 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 shacked to slow internet connection.
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 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.
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’s is branded as the Telstra 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, directly into 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 obviously leads the way in terms of hardware pricing but it’s worth checking out the mobile broadband plans offered by each provider before you commit.