The Slow Death Of The USB Mobile Broadband Dongle

Roy Morgan's recent report on the popularity of mobile broadband in Australia has a few interesting findings. While just as many people continue to use Wi-Fi hotspots like Vodafone's Pocket WiFi 4G, the use of USB dongles is dying out rapidly across Australia.

It's no surprise to us, for one key reason -- Vodafone's USB 4G Modem is one of the newest USB dongles that you can buy, and it was released more than a year ago. Telstra's venerable USB 4G has been available for the last three years, although the Prepaid 4G USB was released much more recently in August 2013. The less-gracefully-named Optus E3276v2 is from January of that year.

The problem with each and every one of these dongles is that they don't support and of the carriers' next-generation 4G mobile networks -- Vodafone's low-band 850MHz, Optus's 4G Plus 700MHz and Telstra's 4GX 700MHz. With rollouts of these newer, faster and much more expansive networks already happening around Australia, and 4G Wi-Fi hotspots that support them already available, these existing dongles are fast becoming outdated.

The Roy Morgan report says that in the six-month period from April to September 2013, 2.1 million Australians (or 10.8 per cent of the population) used a USB dongle to access a mobile broadband connection. In the same period this year, that number had dropped to to 1.4 million (or 7.4 per cent) -- that's a 33 per cent drop in a single year. Now, USB dongles are far surpassed by Wi-Fi hotspots (17.5 per cent), but still beat out mobile broadband SIMs in tablets (3.7 per cent).

USB 3G and 4G dongles have a small but dedicated following in the enthusiast community, like Whirlpool's Wireless ISPs forum, where they're the device of choice for users looking for a simple and powerful mobile connection to the 'net -- often through a specialised 4G-compatible router like the Dovado PRO or Dovado GO. While most users are perfectly happy with a hotspot, they're not a one-size-fits-all solution.

We've contacted Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for a bit of an update on their plans for any future 4G dongles, and will report back with anything that we hear. [Roy Morgan]