All tablets sold today support Wi-Fi.
However most tablets don’t include 3G/4G networking which means that you are restricted to accessing the Internet using Wi-Fi only.
This is OK at Home or in the office, but how about when you travel and there is no Wi-Fi available or out of security reasons you don’t want to use public Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi + 3G /4G or Wi-Fi – Only Tablets
If you are looking to buy a Tablet and are unsure whether or not you actually need Mobile data access via 3G or 4G then you should consider the following:
- Wi-Fi + 3G/4G enabled Tablets will cost more than Wi-Fi only tablets
- With Wi-Fi + 3G/4G tablets you will have Internet access from practically anywhere including when driving in your car.
- To use 3G or 4G you will need a Sim and data plan from a mobile operator.
- Your choice of tablet is very restricted as most don’t include it.
Connecting to Mobile Networks Alternative Methods
Just because your Tablet doesn’t support 3G or 4g networking you can still use these networks on your tablet using a variety of techniques::
- A GSM (3g/4G) )dongle
- A MiFi Hub
3G and 4G Dongles
If your tablet doesn’t have built in 3g/4G support you may be able to use a 3G/4G dongle just as you do on a laptop.
The dongle looks like a standard memory stick but it is in fact a small mobile phone without the keypad and screen.
Most dongles that you buy are locked to a network, and so you should first decide on the network operator based on your location and the reception in that area.
Dongles that you buy usually have the SIM card already installed and pre-loaded with an allowance.
You can use a dongle with a pay as you go plan or a contract. Most mobile providers will offer both plans.
Note: Your Tablet needs a USB or Micro USB port
Here is a video showing how to use a dongle (sound is little bad but you can see how it is done)
Important Note: it is not guaranteed to work on all devices, and it may require that your tablet is rooted.
If you have a mobile phone then you can often use it to create a Wi-Fi hotspot which you can use to connect to the Internet
The diagram below illustrates the process:
Note: Not all Phones support tethering or some restrict it.
Using a Mi-Fi Hub
A MI-Fi hub is the modern equivalent of tethering and allows multiple devices to easily connect to the Internet via a 3G/4G mobile network.
Your tablet connects to the hub using Wi-Fi and the Hub connects to the mobile network using 3Gor 4G.
Mi-Fi hubs are low cost ( around £20 to £40) and many will work hours without being connected to the mains.
Again you will need a SIM card and a data plan.
3G/4G Equipped Tablet
On tablets with built in 3G/4G mobile network support you have control of your mobile connection.
Because mobile data plans tend to charge for downloading data and therefore when using your tablet on a 3G/4G network you may want to set some restrictions.
For example the Nexus 7 ( with mobile access sim) allows you to:
• Set a data usage warning level
• Set a data usage limit.
• Restrict data usage by App.
• Identify mobile hotspots and restrict background downloads.
If you are worried about mobile charges when you are traveling abroad or just want to restrict 3G/4G connections you can turn 3G/4G off and leave Wi-Fi only access.
There are several ways of doing this
Settings>Wireless & Networks> More.. Enable Airplane mode.
Settings>Wireless & Networks>Wi-Fi— Enable.
In the system/status bar you should see an Airplane icon and Wi-Fi should be active.
Alternatively under Settings>Wireless & Networks>More>Mobile Networks – uncheck “Data Enabled.”
There are also 3G/4G widgets available that will toggle 3G/4G on and off.
Data Only SIMs
Most mobile operators offer data only SIMs usually for 4G networks.
These are meant to be used in tablets and Wireless routes(Mi-Fi) as they don’t include any texts or minutes.
You need to make sure that you have a good 4G connection in the location you want to use it.
Overview Mobile Networks 3G and 4G
Mobile phone networks were originally designed to carry voice signals (telephone calls).
But over the last 10 years with the growth of the Internet they have been upgraded to include the ability to carry data signals and connect to the Internet.
Each upgrade has been called generation and it start with 1G ( first generation) mobile networks and we are now using predominately 3G networks.
Although 3G networks provide Internet access to mobile devices they are considerably slower than Wi-Fi networks.
4G (fourth generation) are being deployed but are not universal.
There are a number of competing technologies all marketed as 4G. However all of these technologies are very fast and promise to deliver fast mobile Internet. See Wiki on 4G
Common Questions and Answers
Q- Do you have to have a data plan for a tablet?
A- No- Most tablets are Wi-Fi only. If they do have 3G or 4G built in then you will need a data plan to use 3G or 4G on the tablet
Q- Can You buy a tablet with built in Wi-Fi
A- Yes all tablets come with built in Wi-Fi
Q- Do you need Internet access for a tablet?
A- No not all the time. You can usually play games, read books, listen to music without an Internet connection. However to get new Apps send and receive email etc you will need an Internet connection.
Although most tablets don’t have 3G or 4G mobile access built in you can still connect them to the Internet using mobile networks with a variety of techniques.
Related Articles and Resources:
- Understanding Android Wi-Fi Settings and Connections
- Connecting Your Android Tablet to Public Wi-Fi Hotspots