When you're without Internet access, whether you've suffered from a power outage, lost access to your provider for a little bit, or are away from home, then you may have found yourself needing to work on tasks or take part in activities that are just incredibly difficult to accomplish with a smartphone.
This is what a mobile hotspot is for: during times where you're away from typical Internet access, a mobile hotspot is there to serve you. However, which mobile service provider presents the best mobile hotspot plan?
Fortunately, that's what I'm here to analyze and illustrate for you.
The Best Mobile Hotspot Plans - In This Guide
What is a Mobile Hotspot?
Before I delve into the actual provider plans, I should first illustrate the definition of a mobile hotspot.
Well, according to Wikipedia, a mobile hotspot is a physical location that people can connect to in order to access the Internet. These devices, such as a router or tablet, typically rely on Wi-Fi technology. In this case, I'm going to focus on both the tiny battery-operated mobile stations that you can purchase from a wireless provider and smartphones.
How does a mobile hotspot work?
In the case of a mobile hotspot device, a mobile hotspot will connect to either 3G or 4G networks, similar to a smartphone. The gadget then will share the connection with other WiFi compatible devices. How many devices? The number can range depending on the device and the carrier. The same method works with smartphones, except your smartphone turns off your Wi-Fi access in order to utilize the hotspot. Do note that smartphone mobile hotspots typically consume a lot of battery power.
How do you use your phone as a hotspot?
A good question, but the procedure is dependent on the phone, provider, and operating system. Fortunately, Verizon and CIO both feature guides on how to transform your phone into a hotspot.
Here is Verizon's version:
- Make sure that the Verizon Wireless Mobile Hotspot feature is activated in your "Settings" or "Manage Connections"
- Open the App Tray and select "Mobile Hotspot" (devices may differ, but Verizon has a Device Simulator so you can learn how to set up mobile hotspot using just your phone)
- Tap the "Mobile Hotspot" check box.
- Your notifications panel will then show an icon that reveals your new hotspot.
- Your Wi-Fi devices can now connect to the new hotspot.
The typical Android version is as follows:
- Tap on "Settings"
- Then "Mobile Hotspot and Tethering"
- Tap on "Mobile Hotspot"
- Slide from "Off" to "On"
You can also choose whether or not to "Allow all devices" or "Allowed devices only." You can even change your hotspot's password.
Again, the instructions may differ on the device and the operating system. For instance, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 sports the "Mobile Hotspot" function directly from its Quick Settings Box. You can easily tap on it to activate the hotspot, but you need to set it up as well by accessing the Mobile Hotspot settings via the phone's "Settings."
ProTip: Verizon's prepaid plans are perfect for mobile hotspots.
The Best Mobile Hotspot Plans
Mobile hotspots are great for bringing an Internet connection with you no matter where you go, but it's important to know that mobile hotspots are different compared to an unlimited data plan. Most cell phone carriers have data caps. Once you exceed that amount of data you have purchased, you may experience tethered speeds or face overage charges.
ProTip: Unlimited data plans often let you use mobile hotspot, but you will only be allowed a certain amount, i.e. 10GB.
T-Mobile Hotspot Plans
There are two ways to access mobile hotspot: with any of these T-Mobile prepaid plans and T-Mobile ONE.
First, let's delve into the T-Mobile ONE mobile hotspot.
While you receive "almost" unlimited everything with the T-Mobile ONE plan for a relatively inexpensive fee, what is included in this plan is the ability to keep your devices connected to the Internet with up to 10GB of high-speed mobile hotspot access. However, after you surpass the 10GB amount, you'll be tethering at 3G speeds at the maximum.
There are a variety of prepaid mobile hotspot plans that that suit your needs. I will break them down into two categories: "Always-connected monthly options" which auto renew after 30 days, and "day, week or month passes."
There are six plans that fall underneath the monthly options, granting you between 2GB and 22GB of 4G LTE data, at the time of this writing.
There are three plans in total, on the other hand, for the temporary passes. At the time of this writing, you can purchase the 500MB 4G LTE data 1-day pass, the 1GB 4G LTE data 7-day pass, and the 3GB 4G LTE day 30-day pass.
Even better is that all prepaid plans include mobile hotspot access, so if you're looking to sign up for a Simply Prepaid plan, which provides you with between 3GB and 10GB of data, then you can certainly turn your phone into a mobile hotspot.
All of these prepaid data plans come with unlimited music streaming on the network with the affiliated music service, such as Pandora or iTunes Radio.
Related: T-Mobile Cell Phone Plans
Verizon Hotspot Plans
The Verizon mobile hotspot is included in all of its plans. You can easily transform your phone into a mobile router. However, are you limited in terms of hotspot usage with Verizon's Unlimited plan? Yes, actually. In fact, mobile hotspot and tethering are reduced to 3G speeds after you exceed 10GB per month, though you will face domestic data roaming at 2G speeds.
However, you can always opt for Verizon's "Data Only Plan," which is specifically for tablets, hotspots, and other network-capable devices. Yes, Verizon serves its own hotspots for a fee. In fact, Verizon offers seven available hotspot devices, such as the advanced Jetpack Mifi 7730L, which become cheaper in price so long as you sign up for a two-year contract.
Data Only Plans range between 2GB of 4G LTE data and 100GB of 4G LTE data, but the 100GB amount comes with an incredibly hefty monthly fee.
You can also purchase prepaid Internet devices, which are fewer in number. These come with their own prepaid data device plans, which range between 500 MB and 10 GB in amount.
Related: Verizon Cell Phone Plans
Sprint Hotspot Plans
Looking for a Sprint Hotspot? Then you should be aware that select Sprint devices can serve as 3G or 4G Internet connections for your WiFi enabled device. When it comes to a Sprint cell phone plan, you can either include your portable hotspot device with a Shared Data plan or attach it to a Mobile Internet plan.
Mobile Internet Plans Range between 3GB and 30GB. However, Shared Data plans, which includes unlimited 2G data once you exceed your high-speed data limit, range between 1GB and 40GB.
However, you can always opt into the Sprint Unlimited Plan, which includes 10GB high-speed data Mobile Hotspot access. However, after the 10GB is exceeded, the data is limited to 2G speeds. Furthermore, you can always sign up for an Unlimited Tablet Plan, which grants you 5GB of high-speed Mobile Hotspot access.
According to Sprint,
"Mobile Hotspot Usage pulls from your shared data and off-network allowances."
What about Sprint prepaid services? You can always purchase a mobile broadband pass. Wi-Fi hotspots range between 150MB and 1.5GB in allowances (day, week, or month) on a network, though you will only access between 50MB and 150MB while off the network.
Related: Sprint Cell Phone Plans
AT&T Hotspot Plans
The AT&T Hotspot does not exactly stand out, but it's nothing to scoff at either. The wireless provider offers three mobile hotspot devices: the AT&T Velocity, AT&T Unite Explore, and ZTE Mobley, which can all be purchased for a great deal with a two-year plan.
AT&T offers what is called Mobile Share - Data, which are plans that include a shared data amount for up to 10 data-only devices such as tablets, laptops, mobile hotspots, and more. In other words, smartphones and basic/quick messaging phones are not eligible for these data-only plans.
With Mobile Share - Data plans, you pay a monthly plan fee as well as a monthly device access charge for each data-only device. The AT&T Mobile Share - Data plans are unfortunately not available online, so to order these plans, you can chat with the customer representatives by clicking the "Chat with us" button on the right-hand corner, calling 611 from an AT&T wireless phone, calling 800.331.0500, or visiting an AT&T store.
It's important to note that in Mexico, you can use your Mobile Share data plan in Mexico with no roaming fees as long as you choose the 15GB or higher plans. Furthermore, you can rely on tethering and Mobile Hotspot for up to five simultaneous devices with the Mobile Share Advantage Plans. Mobile Share Advantage Plans range between 1GB and 100GB of data.
AT&T also features tethering in its Unlimited Data Plan, which includes 10GB of hotspot access. However, once the 10GB limit is exceeded, you'll face a maximum speed of 128Kpbs. However, this is only included in its AT&T Unlimited Plus plan, not AT&T Unlimited Choice.
In terms of a prepaid mobile hotspot, AT&T GoPhone will provide you with all of the data you need, without the annual contract. You can choose between 2GB of data for 30 days or 8GB of data for 30 days, though if you'd like to add more, you can just tack on an extra 1GB for a fee.
Related: AT&T Cell Phone Plans
Mobile Hotspot Alternatives
Of course, if you somehow cannot access your mobile hotspot with your phone or mobile hotspot device, then you can always rely on hotspot alternatives unless your provider states otherwise.
Tether Your Smartphone
Of course, if there isn't a dedicated hotspot plan, or if you are allowed to use your smartphone as a tethering device, then by all means, use your smartphone.
However, what exactly is tethering? Well, tethering is when you transform your smartphone into a mobile WiFi hotspot, meaning that you can share your phone's data with one other device. Any device with a wireless connection should be able to connect to the Internet via your smartphone's connection.
Instructions on tethering your smartphone vary with the device, so be sure to look up a guide that fits your device.
Use Wi-Fi Hotspots
You can also turn your phone into a hotspot so your devices can connect to the Internet. Wait, so what's the difference between hotspot and tethering? Good question.
When it comes to tethering, connecting a mobile phone to a laptop using a USB cable is called tethering since you're "tethering" two devices together. Technically, tethering can be done with not just USB, but also Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This allows the sharing of an Internet connection of one device to another.
However, when the Internet tethering is done via WiFi, that's when you're dubbing the tethering as a mobile hotspot, which is more or less turning your phone into a wireless modem or router.
The best mobile hotspot plans provide you with fantastic value for your dollar, and while you cannot go wrong with any of the plans mentioned above, your best bet, especially if you're not looking for a lot of data, is T-Mobile, as you can stream music without the music eating away at your data. However, if you're seeking a lot of data, and I mean 80GB or more, then you may want to consider Verizon or AT&T for your needs, though AT&T is a little cheaper in price while being second to Verizon in terms of reliability.
If you're interested in more than just the hotspot plans, then perhaps you should consider all the plans the big four providers carry. In that case, you need to take a look at our review of the best cell phone plans.
Tablets can also act as a mobile hotspot, and activating them is similar to their cell phone counterpart. To get started, take a look at some of these tablet data plans.