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What is a Mobile Proxy (3G, 4G, 5G Proxy?) A Guide

Mobile proxies are the most exclusive proxy type, known for their effectiveness… and really high price. They’re most often used when the other types won’t do. This guide will teach you more about mobile proxies, why they work so well, and what you can expect from them.

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Alright, So What Is a Mobile Proxy?

A mobile proxy is an intermediary IP address that uses a cellular connection. In other words, when you use mobile proxy servers, you effectively send traffic via mobile devices connected to the networks of T-Mobile, Verizon, and similar mobile carriers. This gives you a new IP address and changes your perceived location.

There’s one important detail: it’s not enough for the connection to come from a mobile device – that device has to run on mobile data. A smartphone on Wi-Fi is considered a residential proxy and not a mobile proxy.

What Makes Them So Special (and Expensive)?

Mobile proxies have the best IP reputation, meaning that websites are very reluctant to block them. But why?

It has to do with IPv4 shortage. IPv4 is the dominant protocol of IP address, and it only supports over 4 billion unique IPs for everyone in the world. To make matters worse, many addresses are frozen by governmental institutions and unavailable to the general public.

Mobile operators entered the market late, when most IPv4 combinations had already been distributed. With these limitations, they had to service quickly swelling numbers of mobile devices. So, they came up with something called CGNAT technology, where each public IP address represents hundreds of customers behind it.

Now, if you were a website, what would you rather do: allow a mobile IP to perform automated actions or ban it and risk taking down a hundred other users? Pretty hard decision to make, right? As a result, it’s hard to get mobile IP proxies blocked, and they can get away with much more than any other proxy type.

As for the price, it’s hard to get IPs on celullar connections, and their bandwidth is more expensive compared to broadband. That’s why, you’ll pay double compared to regular residential IPs.

How 3G and 4G Mobile Proxies Are Made

There are two main ways to make mobile proxies: borrow IPs from other people or build SIM card farms.

Borrowing IPs from other people works the same way as with residential IPs. A proxy provider inserts a piece of code (called SDK) into popular apps, and people that download those apps become proxy nodes. This method allows building huge and diverse mobile networks; however, the proxies are unpredictable because the IP source can go offline at any time.

SIM card farms use USB dongles and special software to create mobile proxy networks. They are often smaller, more localized, and suited for limited-scale use (you get access to one IP at a time, and not the whole IP pool). On the other hand, they have predictable performance and rotation intervals.

4 photos of Proxidize mobile proxy farms
Proxy infrastructure vendor Proxidize advertising its clients’ SIM card farms.

What about 5G Proxies?

5G does sound nice, especially after Apple shoved it down our throats last year. Lower latency, much faster speeds – what’s not to like? In reality, we’re still years aways from proper 5G adoption, so it might take time until we really get to experience its benefits.

Having said that, some providers are already selling access to 5G-only proxy pools. They may (emphasis on the may) work a little better, but beware of the price.

What You Can Expect from a Mobile Proxy Network

When nothing else works, a mobile proxy service might sound like a silver bullet. But it also carries caveats you should consider. Here’s a quick overview of what this proxy type will get you:

  • Lowest number of blocks and interruptions – we’ve mostly covered this part above. A mobile IP address will give you the fewest issues with websites, whether you’re scraping Google Search results or trying to automate Instagram.
  • IP rotation – mobile IP addresses inevitably rotate. Those that come from real users will rotate more often and less predictably. But even with a dongle farm, it won’t be possible for you to keep the same IP for months like you would a datacenter proxy. Mobile carriers periodically rotate mobile addresses on their end. You can try turning on flight mode to see for yourself.
  • High price – and by that, we mean it. Mobile proxies are really expensive compared to the alternatives, so make sure you really need them. How expensive? Several times over residential proxies and at least ten times more compared to datacenter proxies.
  • Slow speed – datacenter IPs are fast, residential proxies are slow, mobile proxies are even slower. How slow? It depends if you’re using 3G or 4G proxies, but generally the speed is 5-50 Mbps. The latency should also be pretty high.

The Main Use Cases for Mobile IPs

You’ve probably come here with a concrete task in mind, so it might be presumptuous of me to write why you’d need mobile IPs. Still, knowing this information can help you confirm your use case or look for better options.

Mobile proxies are generally used with the most sophisticated websites. In other words, domains that have very strong protection mechanisms.

Social media platforms is one major example, especially managing multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts. Mobile IPs outperform the alternatives, experience fewer blocks and verification prompts. IP rotation is also not an issue, as long as it’s not too frequent and the next IP comes from the same location.

Furthermore, app developers use them to test mobile websites and apps, while ad verification companies check mobile campaigns.

However, mobile proxies are less popular for web scraping. You don’t really need them to access e-commerce stores, search engines, or most other websites. But some people might still want to collect data from a mobile point of view.

There are plenty of other use cases we don’t know, and yours might be one of them.

Choosing a Mobile Proxy Provider

Most major providers still haven’t warmed up to mobile IPs, but there are already enough mobile proxy services to choose from. If you’re unsure where to go, take a look at our page of the best mobile proxy providers. It’s still in the making, though it already lists a number of proven and reliable options.

Adam Dubois
Adam Dubois
Proxy geek and developer.