Want to surf the web on the go? A plug-in mobile internet dongle is probably the best solution. A wireless dongle is far more reliable than the basic Wi-Fi open networks. The additional access is great; you're not limited to Wi-Fi points any more, your connection is more reliable, and you needn't worry about signal strengths coming and going all the time.

mobile internet on a laptop

As with any piece of technology there are limits to using mobile broadband; the bandwidth is slower, downloads can take longer, and - as with your home broadband connection - the connection can occasionally prove inconsistent. You may find your connection is subject to the old "going through a tunnel" syndrome from time to time, but these issues often sort themselves out when you change location. If you're a dongle convert and find that the signal drops repeatedly, or if you can't even pick up a signal to start with, here's a guide to getting your computer back online again.

The Knowhow

Follow the guidelines below to troubleshoot a problematic mobile broadband connection:

Check for signal and connection issues Reinstalling the modem
Reinstalling the software Still having connection problems?
Customer support website for your mobile internet provider  

Check for signal and connection issues

Check the signal status on your PC; to do this, go to the Wi-Fi icon on your Desktop taskbar (bottom-right-hand corner of the screen) and click on the icon (see below):

wireless signal

From here, you will see a list of the available wireless networks to connect to, and the status of each connection (in the example below, the HCLDEV network has a strong signal, and the SKY77018 is particularly weak):

windows connections are available

From the list above, we can see a list of the available internet connections; start by refreshing the connections (click on the Refresh button in the top right-hand-corner; highlighted in red).

If your dongle network provider's name appears, click on this and then tick the box marked Connect Automatically. If it doesn't, then proceed to the Network and Sharing Center (also highlighted in red above).

basic network information in windows

From the Network and Sharing Center, you can choose to manually connect to a network (highlighted in red) or to Troubleshoot problems with your current connections (also highlighted in red). Work through the instruction wizards provided to setup or troubleshoot your connect.

If the network and sharing centre indicates that there is a poor or non-existent connection, try re-connecting by moving to a different location. Moving higher up or closer to the windows of a building if you're inside can help.

Please note that if the problem persists, there may be problems with the mobile signal in your area. Check on your mobile broadband provider's website to check the coverage status in your area.

Back to top

Reinstalling the modem

If you're getting errors relating to the modem or connection, reinstall the device drivers:

  • Click Start windows start, type Device Manager in the start search box and press Enter
  • Look in the list to see if the 3G modem is listed. This will normally be located in the Modem section
  • If the 3G modem is not listed, try it in a different port on your computer. If the 3G modem still can't be detected, contact your mobile broadband provider
  • If the 3G modem is listed, right click it and select uninstall
  • Right click any device in the list and click scan for hardware changes
  • Try connecting to the internet again
Back to top

Reinstalling the software

Try reinstalling the mobile broadband software if you encounter software errors. You may need any installation discs that came with the modem to complete this process:

  • Click Start windows start, type programs and features in the start search box and press Enter
  • Locate the Mobile broadband software in the list and highlight it
  • Press uninstall on the bar above the list of programs
  • Follow the uninstall wizard to remove the software from your computer
  • Re-connect the modem to your computer
  • Click on the launch setup icon that appears on the autoplay window and follow the instructions to reinstall the mobile broadband software back onto your computer
  • Try the connection again
Back to top

Connection problems still driving you around the bend?

If your computer suddenly freezes when you plug-in your mobile internet dongle, check the capacity (the technical specifications) of your computer; can it handle the plug-in? Lower-powered models such as Netbooks may have trouble running large downloads, which may be causing your computer to freeze.

1. What other programs have you got running on your computer? Running too many applications simultaneously may lead to a problem and could cause your PC to freeze. Try bringing one or more applications to an end and then re-launching the dongle.

2. Look for a network conflict. If you tap into two or more networks on one PC (i.e. a home wireless broadband connection and a wireless mobile network via your dongle) your computer may have trouble identifying the priority. Look at your network connections by clicking on the network icon in the bottom right-hand corner of your computer screen (on the toolbar). Right-click on the dongle network and select Connect to prioritise that particular connection.

3. Check your recent downloads. If the dongle's software isn't to blame, the problem may lie with another recent installation; check your most recent software downloads and try uninstalling and reinstalling them to see if that rectifies the problem.

4. Check your anti-virus software. Open up your anti-virus software and check the permissions settings; the default settings may restrict access to wireless networks as a security measure and you may need to enable them in order to connect your dongle. This conflict of interest may be causing your computer to freeze.

5. Check the security settings on the dongle itself. Have you got unrestricted access to the internet? Your dongle may be pre-set to restrict access to 18+ websites. If this is the case, you may have to confirm your age to proceed to your chosen page. Alternatively, you may be restricted according to the extent of your downloads. If your internet access is restricted to 10MB/month, and you have been consistently downloading during that time, your mobile internet provider may have restricted your internet access according to their fair usage policy*.

6. Check the compatibility of your current operating system; most dongles will work with Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X Panther or later versions of the same software.

7. It may sound obvious, but check your cable connections; is the dongle plugged in correctly? Could the USB port perhaps be faulty? Try the dongle in another port just in case. Take the dongle apart by removing the case; remove and re-insert the SIM card as you would with a faulty mobile phone; this re-sets the system and rectifies screen freezes in most cases.

8. Try re-connecting in another browser; you may have to download and install another browser, but there may be compatibility issues so it is well-worth a try before getting in touch with your MB provider.

9. Check that your browser settings enable MB connections; you can change these by going to the Options/Preferences tab in your browser window and under the Internet Connections tab check that LAN settings are enabled.

10. Try using the dongle closer to a window; weather conditions have been known to interfere with a good MB signal and this is a good way to get around the problem.

11. Invest in an antenna clip to enhance the reception; an antenna clip is a small, detachable device which hones in on the available connection and helps your PC to establish a better grip on the connection.

12. One very simple way to enhance your MB connection is by unplugging the dongle and then reattaching it using a short USB cable; this is a good way to improve problematic connections.

*A 'fair usage' policy is one which permits the user to download a reasonable amount of content online; any usage in excess of this reasonable amount is then restricted according to the provider's policy.

Back to top

Customer support websites for your mobile internet provider:

O2 vodafone 3 orange

Updated On:

Jul 27, 2012

How useful was this article?




Show all services

© DSG Retail Limited 2017. DSG Retail Limited, 1 Portal Way, London, W3 6RS. Registered in England No. 504877, VAT number: 226 6599 33