31 January 2014

Public WiFi hotspots: an alternative to mobile broadband?

Can WiFi be used as an alternative to mobile broadband for workers on the move? Here's a look at WiFi hotspots in London.

With the proliferation of WiFi Hotspots, it’s now being suggested by some that WiFi can be used as an alternative to mobile broadband. If you regularly work on the move for your business, do you think this is a viable option?

There are several problems with connectivity on the go:

  • Can you actually find a connection?
  • If you find one is it (a) stable, and/or (b) fast enough?
  •  Is the connection trustworthy?

Let’s first take look at mobile broadband. Last year mobile service providers spent literally billions of pounds in securing a slice of frequencies set aside for 4G. Mobile broadband is now much faster than it was, but the download and upload speeds are determined by many factors, such as:

  • the quality of the dongle you are using
  • whether it’s a Premium USB or a MiFi (routers that act as WiFi hotspots)
  • the quality of your mobile phone
  • whether or not there are other users in your immediate area sharing the signal.


Very often, businesspeople using hotspots are doing so during brief coffee breaks or while working on the move; be it catching up with emails, visiting websites or using apps. Therefore their connection needs to be quick.  

In the recent trials conducted between Broadband Genie and PC Advisor, which aimed to find out whether Hotspots can replace mobile broadband throughout London, the best WiFi service via a mobile service provider came via 3-Mobile. However, it’s fair to say that results were varied and WiFi was unpredictable in both quality and reliability, depending on the location.


While it was possible to get WiFi, sometimes it was slow to load, and there were several cases of broken connections. For people relying on an internet connection to do their work, this is likely to be less than acceptable, resulting in wasted time and/or a reduction in productivity.


Many Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t secure and this brings about another issue. As a business user, you never know who may be snooping around while you’re working on an insecure connection. Therefore, it would always be wise to ensure that you are only accessing secure sites when using Wi-Fi hotspots.


If you are using the net in London for personal reasons, it’s pretty fair to say that you can get by on WiFi, even if it isn’t perfect. For business users however, ideally you’ll have a combination of WiFi and mobile broadband. While 3G and 4G may not be available in the underground, often WiFi reaches saturation point during busy periods in the city. There will always be situations where one is available and the other isn’t, and if time spent on the net is money, the smart option is to have both for those times when one isn’t up to scratch.

Author bio: Kerry Butters is writing for the UK broadband comparison website Broadband Genie