3G/4G-LTE USB internet modem Uganda buyers’ guide: The battle of speed vs cost

We believe that 3G USB internet modems or dongles have run their course. Mi-Fis are the new internet dongles for several reasons we already listed.

But if you are looking for a cheap, quick and dirty way to get online, then you couldn’t recommend anything more than 3G or 4G LTE USB modems.

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Read more: The Mi-Fi is the new USB Internet dongle

Why the USB dongle still rocks

Before owning a smartphone, the only way I used to access mobile internet way back in 2009/10 was through 3G USB dongles — specifically Uganda Orange’s black and sleek dongles.  Despite their shortcomings, we still have some love left for USB modems for their sleekness, light weight, low power consumption, portability and  most importantly affordability.

3G vs 4G-LTE USB modems: Battle of cost vs speed

The difference between 3G and 4G LTE USB modems is clear; 3G USB dongles are much cheaper. A 3G dongles start at price of Ugx 55,000 (on MTN Uganda). On the other hand, the cheapest 4G LTE USB dongle on the market is the Huawei E3372 priced at Ugx 99,000 from MTN Uganda. For the same price you could get a 4G LTE modem from Vodafone Uganda too.


However, 3G USB dongles are much slower than their 4G counterparts. The fastest 3G modem can boast of speeds of upto 42Mbps while the fastest 4G modem goes as fast as 150Mbps. So it’s purely cost vs speed. Otherwise both modems handle only a single user.

If you want to turn your USB modem into a wireless Wi-Fi hotspot so that other people can share your data connection, then you’ve to follow this step by step hack. There’s a bit of geeking that goes into it, which isn’t worth it if you’re not ready for some serious goofing around with the command line.

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3G and 4G LTE USB modem prices in Uganda

What we can notice is that 3G USB dongles are getting cheaper as faster ones are introduced in the market.  For instance the first USB 3G (7.2Mbps) dongles were priced at Ugx 99,000 back in 2009/10 on Orange Uganda. Today, that’s the price of faster 3G+ dongle (42Mbps) while the slower ones (7.2Mbps top speeds) go as low as Ugx 55,000.

We can also notice aggressive price wars between MTN and Airtel Uganda. The two seem to go toe-to-toe against each other when it comes to pricing. Airtel seems to support devices from both ZTE and Huawei while MTN seems to be stuck with only Huawei internet devices.

However, Airtel Uganda’s real Achilles heel’s is lack of a 4G LTE network. MTN is going to capitalize on this weakness for a while which could cement its position as “Uganda’s internet leader”.

Read more: MTN vs Airtel Uganda: Which one is truly the smartphone network?

Africell Uganda while it was under the Orange group was once the market leader in the mobile internet industry. But the mobile telecom seems to have failed to recover from the transition. Vodafone Uganda on the other hand has attractive prices and packages, but it fails when it comes to options and coverage.

Smart Telecom seems to have its priorities upside down. The mobile telecom is promoting smart watches and social media bundles at the expense of basic internet devices such as modems and Mifis whose price information we failed to obtain from their twitter channel and website. UTL, well, it’s UTL!

Here’s a complete price comparison of 3G and 4G LTE USB modems across MTN, Airtel, Africell, Vodafone and Smile Uganda.

USB Modem/DongleTypeNetworkOffersPrice
3G Modems
Huawei E303*
3G (7.2Mbps top speeds)MTN Uganda 1GB data valid for 3 monthUgx 55,000
Huawei E3531*3G (21.6Mbps top speeds)MTN Uganda 3GB data valid for 3 monthUgx 65,000
ZTE MF7103G (21.6Mbps top speeds)Airtel Uganda 3GB data valid for 1 monthUgx 65,000
Huawei E3531
3G (21Mbps top speeds)Africell Uganda 1GB data valid for 1 monthUgx 68,500
Huawei E3131s3G (21Mbps top speeds)MTN Uganda3G data for 3 monthsUgx 69,000
Huawei E3151*3G(42Mbps )Airtel Uganda6.5GB for 1 monthUgx 91,000
Huawei E31513G(42Mbps )MTN Uganda5GB for 3 monthUgx 99,000
4G LTE USB Modems
Vodafone 4G USB modem4G LTEVodafone Uganda2GBUgx 99,000
Huawei E3372*4G LTEMTN Uganda5GBUgx 99,000
Huawei E3372

4G LTEAfricell Uganda2GB data valid for 1 monthUgx 169,000
Smile Uganda 4G USB dongle4G LTESmile Uganda2GB of data valid for 1 monthUgx 175,000
* means deal. Prices subject to change at vendor's wish

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