The Best 4G Mobile Broadband
- January 23, 2018 - The 4G mobile broadband landscape has changed since we originally published this review in 2015. We’ve updated this page to reflect Verizon and AT&T’s most recent features, and will conduct a complete overhaul later this year to revamp our methodology.
Ideally, mobile broadband should make your life easier — you don’t want to have to worry about video calls dropping, sneaky equipment fees, or stingy data caps while using internet on the daily. Whether you’re making video calls, streaming music, or uploading photos to social media, the best mobile broadband should work smoothly and unobtrusively. We dug into the offerings of the 7 most well-established mobile broadband providers, but Verizon and AT&T came out on top with their top-of-the-line speeds, generous data limits, and superior customer support.
If you’re looking for the fastest, most reliable mobile broadband service available, Verizon Wireless is unlikely to disappoint. In an industry where 30% customer service satisfaction is the norm, Verizon Wireless has by far the highest in the industry at 61.7%. And with coverage in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, along with Canada and Mexico in their most expensive package, you won’t need to worry about spotty broadband while travelling. Just note that if you’re on a budget, it may do to consider other carriers: with plans ranging from $35-70 per month, Verizon doesn’t come cheap for individual users, though there are decent discounts for family plans.
If you don’t want to compromise fast speeds with a lower monthly bill, consider AT&T. Its 55.9% customer satisfaction rating isn’t quite as good as Verizon’s, but its coverage is just as widespread. It also offers similar speeds and data caps, but at lower prices, ranging from $14-65 per month. If you’re planning on signing up for an individual plan, and don’t mind passing over some of Verizon’s special features (such as international data) to save a bit more each month, AT&T may be right for you.
How We Found the Best 4G Mobile Broadband
We gathered a list of 15 4G mobile broadband providers and reviewed 7 of the best companies based on 32 unique features.
What 4G Mobile Broadband Features Matter and Why
Contract discusses factors common in internet service provider contracts, including fees and contract length. Many of the top Internet service providers charge activation or early termination fees and increase the monthly rate over time. The best Internet service providers don’t charge these fees and guarantee steady prices throughout the terms of the contract. Some Internet service providers require customers to sign lengthy contracts, while others allow customers to get service without a contract. Contract is an important category because it identifies many of the important factors to consider when signing up with an Internet service provider.
Most Important Contract Features
- Money-Back Guarantee – The Internet service provider offers some form of money back guarantee within an allotted time period.
- No Activation Fees – The Internet service provider doesn’t charge any activation fees.
- No Contract – You can get Internet service without signing any contract.
- No Early Termination Fees – The Internet service provider does not charge a termination fee if you cancel your contract early.
- No Long-Term Contract – You can get Internet service without signing a contract that is longer than one year.
- No Price Increases – The Internet service provider does not automatically increase prices at certain time periods.
- Short-Term Contract – You can get Internet service without signing a contract that is longer than six months.
Equipment discusses the various components of the Internet service that are provided by the company. In most cases, this includes an Ethernet cable and a modem. For those who go with a satellite Internet provider, this also includes any mounting and cable equipment necessary to the system. Some Internet service providers give customers the modem for free, which is great because otherwise there is usually a monthly lease fee for this equipment. Obviously these things are crucial to any Internet service, but the category itself shouldn’t be overly important since almost all companies already provide these items.
Most Important Equipment Features
- Free Shipping – The Internet provider will ship any equipment needed for free.
- Internet Modem – The Internet service provider offers an Internet modem or device to rent or buy.
- Mobile Hotspot – The Internet service provider offers access to a mobile hotspot device to rent or buy.
- Mobile Router – The Internet service provider offers access to a mobile router to rent or buy.
- Wireless Stick – The Internet service provider offers a wireless stick to rent or buy.
Performance and Speed
Performance and Speed deals with the speeds offered by the Internet service providers as well as any limitations on data usage, which only come into play for satellite and 4G Internet service. Available speeds vary dramatically based on the type of Internet service, as do the data restrictions. Some companies allow unlimited data usage, while others slow the Internet speed or charge users extra once they have exceeded a certain point. Certain companies enable customers to purchase additional data if they surpass this limit. This category is one of the most important to think about when choosing an Internet service provider, as it has the largest effect on the overall performance of the Internet.
Most Important Performance and Speed Features
- Extensive Data – The Internet service offers more than 20 GB of data per month.
- High Speed Plus – The Internet service offers download speeds between 11 and 25 Mbps.
- Moderate Data – The Internet service offers 10 to 20 GB of data per month.
- No Bandwidth Throttling – The internet service provider will not throttle your bandwidth, regardless of usage.
- Standard High Speed – The Internet service offers download speeds up to 10 Mbps.
- Unlimited Data – The Internet service allows unlimited data usage.
Account explains how consumers can manage their Internet service through an online account. Through this account, users can update their contact and payment information, and even view and pay their bills online. Those with satellite Internet can also monitor their available bandwidth online. All of these features are extremely important, but the category as a whole shouldn’t play a big part in the decision-making process, simply because almost all companies score highly in this area.
Most Important Account Features
- Make Payment – You can make a payment online.
- Monitor Data Usage – You can monitor your monthly data usage online.
- Update Contact Information – You can update your contact information online.
- Update Payment Method – You can update your payment method online.
- View Bill – You can view your bill online.
Support has to do with the different ways that customers can reach an Internet service provider with questions or concerns, and how frequently the company’s support channels are available. The main types of support offered are email, phone, live chat, and social media support. The best Internet service providers have one or more methods of support available 24/7, as well as knowledgeable technical support staff to assist users in case problems arise. This category may not affect a consumer’s day-to-day usage of the Internet service, but if an issue occurs, it is very important.
Most Important Support Features
- 24-Hour Support – You can receive customer service or support 24 hours a day through a dedicated support line.
- Email/Ticket – The Internet service provider has an email or ticket system dedicated to support.
- Live Chat – The Internet service provider offers live chat support.
- Phone – You can contact the Internet service provider by phone to get support.
- Social Media – You can contact the Internet service provider with questions through social media websites.
- Tech Support – The Internet service provider offers technical support.
Learning Materials are the resources found on the Internet service provider’s website that introduce customers to their products and services and walk them through solutions to technical problems. An FAQ is provided on almost every company’s website, and a knowledge base provides more detailed explanations. User guides are useful for learning how to set up the Internet service and troubleshoot basic issues. For those answers that can’t be found anywhere else, the top Internet providers have a forum where users can talk to each other and members of the company about the service. These features can be very useful, but probably do not have a large impact on most people’s purchasing decision.
Most Important Learning Materials Features
- FAQ – The Internet provider has a list of answers to frequently asked questions.
- Forum – The Internet provider has an interactive forum where users can post questions and answers.
- Knowledge Base – The Internet provider has a knowledge base of detailed help articles.
- User Guide – A user guide or training manual is offered by the Internet provider.
Signing Up encompasses the various different ways that new customers can sign up for the Internet service and the tools offered by the Internet provider to simplify the process. Most Internet providers allow people to sign up with them online, over the phone, or through an authorized dealer. One resource provided by many of the best Internet service providers is an online plan selector tool that guides customers to the plan best suited for their needs. An online tool to help locate a local dealer is also useful to those who prefer to sign up with an authorized dealer at a retail location. Signing Up is not the most important category, but it is something that Internet service providers should get right.
Most Important Signing up Features
- Authorized Dealers – You can sign up for Internet service in person through an authorized dealer at a retail location.
- Find a Dealer – The Internet service provider’s website has a feature that helps you find a dealer closest to you.
- No Credit Check – You can get Internet service without going through a credit check.
- Online – You can sign up for Internet service online.
- Phone – You can sign up for Internet service by phone.
- Plan Selector – The Internet service provider’s website provides a plan selector tool to help you pick the right plan for your needs.
Our Picks for the Best 4G Mobile Broadband
In an industry rampant with poor customer service, Verizon Wireless stands out for its exceptional ratings from customer service groups like JD Power, Broadband Now, and the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). If 24/7, high-quality customer service is a priority for you, Verizon’s is without equal (though AT&T is a close runner up). Verizon also has one of the largest networks among mobile broadband providers, spanning 50 states and Puerto Rico for every plan. If you’ll be travelling in Canada or Mexico, you can also receive service there through the Unlimited Beyond plan.
Verizon offers two impressive unlimited data plans, with speeds ranging up to 12Mbps-15Mbps for up to 22GB of data usage— fast enough to stream dozens of hours of HD video. If you’re interested in the best mobile broadband services available, check out our deep dive review of Verizon Wireless — including plans, rates, and disclaimers — here.
With monthly prices starting at $14, AT&T manages to stay affordable while also offering nationwide coverage, with maximum download and upload speeds matching those of Verizon. To be clear, it’s not the absolute cheapest provider around — for that, look to more basic carriers like FreedomPop or Cricket Wireless — but it’s a decent chunk of change cheaper than Verizon. And since AT&T’s speeds have been proven to be second only to Verizon in several independent speed tests, it’s safe to say that your speeds will still be excellent despite the lower monthly cost.
While its customer service isn’t rated quite as highly as Verizon’s, AT&T still receives respectable scores from JD Power, Broadband Now, and the ASCI — in fact, it’s runner-up only to Verizon under all three rating scores. The main con to keep in mind for AT&T is that the opportunities for group or family discounts are slim: While Verizon does offer group discounts for its unlimited plans, AT&T charges a $20 fee for additional lines per plan. For data-hungry families, consider Verizon’s Unlimited plans — if your family doesn’t need quite as much data, take a look at Cricket Wireless. But if you’re just planning on signing up for an individual plan, we recommend taking a look at our focused AT&T mobile broadband review.