What is a Mobile Hotspot?
A mobile hotspot is simply a portable 3G or 4G cellular data modem that is combined with a Wi-Fi router, all of which are enclosed in a pocket sized, battery rechargeable " all-in-one device" weighing just a few ounces.
Think of your home network’s Wi-Fi router and how easy it is to get online with all your devices. Now imagine being able take that router with you wherever you go – in the car, the train, the beach, the office…anywhere where you have cell reception for that matter. A mobile hotspot enables a single data access plan to be shared among five separate users or devices. One device, one monthly bill, works with every Wi-Fi enabled device, old or new…what’s not to love?
Ten, even five years ago, Wi-Fi was somewhat of a "fringe" technology that relatively few of us likely took advantage of. Today, most of us probably couldn't imagine living our digital lives without it. Aside from your smartphone and broadband modems, how do you get online? I would bet to say it's Wi-Fi. You simply can't beat Wi-Fi for the ability to easily, quickly and securely hop on the internet while not having to be tethered down with a jumble of wires and complicated configurations. Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous is in our home, workplace, coffee shops, and even public spaces like parks and subway stations.
You’ve probably also grown to depend on the new 3G and 4G Networks on your smartphone, and perhaps build into your iPad, Kindle or Nook. It's easy to take for granted the benefit from these wireless networks, but they have created whole new economies, and upended as many industries as it has benefits. The point I'm making is what if you could combine the millions of square miles that 3G/4G networks cover, with the convenience and simplicity of shared internet with Wi-Fi? The answer is you can with a mobile hotspot.
Mobile Hotspots: The Best of Both Worlds
Mobile hotspots bridge the universal compatibility and ease-of-use of Wi-Fi with the massive coverage and high speed of 3G and 4G wireless broadband data networks. No configuration, no hassles, no wires, and (very likely) fewer dollars spent on separate wireless bills for data service.
The Family’s on as weekend road trip? No problem. Turn on the Mobile Hotspot....connect up to 10 Devices to the web at once – Cell phones, Laptops, iPods, Nintendo DS, Kindle reader, iPad & iPod…any device made within the last 10 years that supports Wi-Fi connections can get online at blazing fast 4G speeds. Breathe new life into that old laptop by connecting to the web as 4G LTE speeds, all while sitting sitting in the park.
Did I mention 4G Mobile Hotspots are Fast?
Talk about instant gratification…
5 second song downloads
On demand streaming video in HD,
FaceTime video chat over 3G or 4G (iPhone4S will think you’re on Wi-Fi, not 3G)
Netflix, Pandora and Spotify up and playing within seconds.
…all great stuff, and now more than ever, everyone wants everything when they want it, and more importantly where they want it. Mobile Hotspots especially deliver on the “where” promise. Create your own personal secure cloud for your family and business associates. No wires to carry, nothing to plug in, and no technical skills needed.
What are some ways to use a Mobile Hotspot?
- Save money and time when traveling – No need to pay expensive, in-room hotel Wi-Fi access fees or waste time looking for free public Wi-Fi hotspots. Create your own personal, secure hotspot for up to 10 devices within a radius of up to 150 feet.
- (My Favorite) The WHOLE family can connect to the internet while traveling in the car. When my family travels for any trip more than 10 minutes, I can be sure to hear the kids say “Hey Dad, can you please turn on the Hotspot” - All four of my kids can do their own thing on their iPads and iPods - YouTube, Oovoo, Skype, Netflix, Online Games, even texting from their iPod (which don't have 3G)
- Study groups for students – enable ten laptops to connect to your mobile hotspot at blazing 4G speeds up to 15 Mbps. Great for setting up groups where campus Wi-Fi may not be available. Some mobile hotspots, like the Verizon Jetpack 4620L support up to 32 GB of shared internal storage – which acts as a portable, wireless "file server" of sorts - super handy for sharing or collaborating on a group project.
- Business meetings and presentations at remote locations – stop worrying about internet availability on the road or in client locations. Quit having to lug around a tangled nest of RJ-45 plug-in LAN cables. Owning you own personal hotspot also conveys a level of prestige and professionalism that your clients, customers and associates will notice.
- iPhone, Android, and other smartphone users: Are you tired of paying $100 bucks or more a month simply because you have no choice but to subscribe to your mobile providers voice/data bundle? Get rid of your overpriced “bundled” smartphone service and use a mobile hotspot with a VOIP app like Skype instead. This way you'll get your voice and data for half price. Literally save hundreds or dollars per year – PLUS no need to wait for the iPhone 5, use your 3G iPhone4S at 4G LTE speeds, even an "old" iPhone2 will blow away any new iPhone 4S when connected to a 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot. iPhone 4 users will also appreciate the ability to use FaceTime video chat over a mobile hotspot, something that cannot be done on 3G networks.
- Entrepreneurs and Marketers: New 4G Mobile Hotspots are must-haves for trade shows, conventions, information booths, and outdoor business events where you and your business associates need fast, reliable internet connections – Conduct online sales demonstrations or merchant credit card authorizations away from he office. Time spent looking for a reliable, secure and nearby Wi-Fi access point, could be time spend making money instead.
...If you’ve come this far, chances are you think you might benefit from a mobile hotspot. Perhaps you might not be sure which device or data service is right for you? We’ve broken out the most important factors to consider, and highlight the core facts, benefits and shortfalls to watch out for.
3G vs. 4G Mobile Hotspots
As of 2012, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all have turned on their 4G networks in a large number of cities and regions. All four providers offer 4G mobile hotspots. 4G is on average 5 to 15 times faster than 3G for download speeds and other critical performance aspects. All that extra bandwidth really helps when you have 10 users or couple of different devices connected to your mobile hotspot.
MobileHotspot.com strongly recommends 4G mobile hotspots for most users and budgets.
For thrilling mobile download speeds, there is no substitute for 4G. The new 4G mobile hotspots are “future-ready”, and offer the best investment at a reasonable upfront and monthly cost. While 4G networks offer many obvious benefits, 3G mobile hotspots are far from obsolete.
You might want to take some of the following factors into consideration to determine if a 3G Mobile Hotspot might be a better value and
- As of 2012, the only viable niche that 3G mobile hotspots occupy are the lower cost “No-Contract” 3G mobile hotspots. In other words, DO NOT sign up for a contract hotspot that is 3G only. If you’re not anticipating on lots of streaming video and music downloads or otherwise heavy internet use, and you can “live with” download speeds of about 700Kbps to 1500Kbps, a 3G Mobile Hotspot may be a great value and your best bet.
- Which carriers (if any) offer 4G in your area? Are you a heavy traveler that will be typically using the hotspot in a lot of area outside of your home metro area? Will 4G service be available in at least half those places? If 4G is not in your home city, is there an ETA from the provider?
- Upfront Device Purchase: When you sign up for 4G mobile hotspot 2 year contract, you can pretty much count on getting the device for less than 50 bucks, and quite often for free. To buy the same device outright, you're looking at around 200 to 300 bucks. Recently, the good news in the some 4G mobile hotspots have come out from the big providers, such as Verizon
Data - How Much Each Month?
How much data to you use in a typical month? What kind of web content do you typically access?
The user who watches lots of video's and listens to more than 10 hours of streaming audio per month usually has much different data usage than casual, everyday web browsing folks who spend the majority of their time with Facebook updates, Email and online shopping.
Does Unlimited Data Still Exist ?
As of 2012 none of the major wireless providers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) offer unlimited data. Verizon and AT&T, for all practical purposes killed the last remnants of unlimited data. You might think Sprint offers unlimited data? They still do - but for smartphones ONLY - NOT mobile hotspots.
Which data provider will offer the best service and value for your Mobile Hotspot?
- Assuming you are already a customer of either AT&T, Verizon, Sprint of T-Mobile, and you are happy with your service and support, it may make sense to have one single provider for ease of billing and support.
- Many carriers will allow a mobile hotspot’s data plan to run concurrent to existing phone plans, meaning you can effectively have less than 2 years contract commitments.
- If you are an existing phone customer who has poor or marginal coverage in areas where they work or live, a competing provider may be the best bet.
- If you think you can live with 3G speeds for your mobile hotspot, take a look at some of the great, no-contract deals offered by Virgin Mobile, NetZero, DataJack or TruConnect
What's most important for you?
Fastest Download Speed?
If raw performance is the number one factor, the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 4620L 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot is our strong recommendation. With download speeds in the neighborhood of an incredible 8 to 12 Mbps (and sometimes as high as 32 Mbps) this mobile hotspot can handle the rigorous demands for today’s multimedia, immersive web. Verizon’s 4G LTE is the most advanced 4G technology currently deployed. Verizon also has by far, the most LTE coverage in North Americas. With Verizon's competitive 4G LTE monthly rates, it's very tough to make an argument of why someone would not want to give them a look first.
Lowest Monthly 4G Data Service Costs?
The upfront cost of the Mobile Hotspot is practically inconsequential when compared to the total long-term cost of service over 2 years. For users who want 4G access and do not have tremendous download volumes, the T-Mobile ZTE MF61 offers a $30 per month plan that allows 200MB per month, or $40 per month for 2 GB. If you looking for the lowest monthly data rate for a 3G service, Virgin Mobile’s MiFi Broadband2Go is a tremendous value at only $20 per month for 500MB - don't forget to check mobile broadband newcomer DataJack.com with it's ridiculously low starting price of just $10 per month.
Signal Quality, Strength and Overall Nationwide Coverage for Data Service?
The bottom line: A mobile hotspot is only as good as the data provider’s service. The best technology means nothing if you can’t get a signal. As an overall base measure of 4G coverage across North America, Verizon and AT&T seem to have virtually spent just as much advertising their superiority over each other as they have on building out their broadband networks (or at least it seems that way).
In researching this argument, and drawing conclusions from reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports and dozens of technology related blogs, we have concluded that Verizon clearly wins when it comes to North American coverage for "real 4G" service - meaning LTE.
Verizon had at least a year head start on deploying 4G LTE, and the results show. As of June 2012, Verizon has 4G LTE deployed in 300+ cities. Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T and all bringing up the rear on their 4G roll out.
Even though AT&T and T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G services can't hold a candle to the speed of 4G LTE - they are by no means obsolete or relegated to backward technology. "Fast" is really a relative term that can only be gauged by the user and their wireless internet requirements. After all, a fifty thousand dollar Corvette and a million dollar Bugatti supercar might be ranked as "Fast" and "Faster"- but after a while, the the benefits of "fastness" diminish. The takeaway is that while having all that potential speed on taps is cool, are you going to regularly benefit from it?
No Long Term Contract Commitment?
For those who cannot stand the idea of being practically married to their mobile hotspot’s provider for the next two years, MobileHotspot.com recommends the Broadband2Go MiFi Pre-Paid Mobile Hotspot from Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile has become one of the greatest success stories in mobile communications by adding value to the concept of No-Contract mobile broadband service. Virgin’s mobile hotspot is actually the Novatel MiFi 2200, the most time-tested and (arguably) most popular mobile hotspot in the world. Virgin Mobile also has the most flexible and overall lowest monthly data service plans we have seen. Ranging from just $10 per 10 day interval to $50 per month which offers 2.5 GB of 3G usage per month and UNLIMITED 2G usage per month. The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go MiFi mobile hotspot uses the Sprint nationwide 3G network.
Summary of MobileHotspot.com Editor Picks for Primary Needs:
Fastest, All-Out Raw Speed and Performance: Verizon Jetpack 4620L 4G LTE
Best Moderate Speed/Great Coverage: AT&T Elevate Dual 4G Mobile Hotspot
Lowest Monthly Costs Options for 4G: ZTE MF61 from T-Mobile
Best for Nationwide and International Travel: AT&T Elevate Prepaid