You don't always have access to Wi-Fi when you need it. There are times you may need to log on for work, send a few emails, or access something online while out and about. A mobile hotspot plan makes doing so a breeze.
With a simple pocket-sized device and an affordable mobile data plan you can hop on the internet on your computer, tablet, or any other connectable device no matter where you are.
In This Guide
Key Considerations for Mobile Hotspot Plans
The right mobile hotspot data plan for you depends on several factors:
Mobile coverage used to be a big deal. Now, all of the major mobile networks boast very similar coverage areas. When you're shopping for a data only plan for your internet capable devices, you'll want to look at the LTE coverage in the locations where you spend the most time. If you travel and need mobile data usage during those times check those zip codes as well.
You're probably wondering just how fast your data only plan will be. The good news is that most carriers deliver a 4G LTE high-speed internet connection to enabled devices. This means that if your hotspot device or smartphone is capable of handling LTE speeds then you will have a high-speed connection. Of course as with your smartphone, your speeds will depend upon signal strength.
The caveat (sorry, sometimes there is one!) - read the fine print. Particularly with unlimited mobile hotspot plans, if you exceed your data allowance you may be throttled to 3G. As with any mobile monthly plan, whether for your cell phone or another device, know exactly what you're getting before you buy.
Your mobile hotspot usage will inform your decision as to what data allowance you need to buy. Packages are available in various sizes to meet all data usage needs, from 500 MB to unlimited. Of course the smaller the data bucket the less you'll pay, and you can always add more data if necessary.
You'll be happy to hear that as the craze for unlimited cellular data has grown, so the price of high-speed data for hotspot devices has dropped.
One way to get a great deal is to go with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), also known as alternative carriers. These companies sell service on the big four networks at better prices.
Other benefits of going with a MVNO include:
- No contracts.
- Custom packages - pay only for what you need.
- Solid customer service support.
- Bring-your-own-device prepaid mobile hotspot options.
Stay tuned for a list of alternative carriers to check out, including those that offer unlimited data only plans.
Mobile Hotspot vs. Tethering Your Phone
It's easy to confuse the two functions, but there is a difference:
- Connects to a cellular network to provide internet access to Wi-Fi compatible devices.
- Can be a separate device with its own SIM card or activated through a smartphone.
- Provides internet to multiple devices - phones, tablets, computers, etc.
- Includes its own separate data allowance.
- Connects one computer or other device to the internet via a USB cable to your smartphone.
- Does not support multiple connections.
- May count against your cell phone data allowance.
Note that whether you're tethering your phone or using it as a hotspot, the battery will drain more quickly than usual so be sure to bring a charger along.
Cheap Mobile Hotspot Plans
The only thing better than free data is cheap data. As I mentioned earlier, often the best way to get the cheapest mobile internet data is to choose from among the prepaid plans from an alternative carrier. Service is typically sold in packages of 30 days, although some run 60 days.
Here are some MVNOs with the best mobile hotspot plans along with their associated networks:
Verizon Wireless Hotspot Plans
- US Mobile
- Net10 Wireless
- Straight Talk
Sprint Hotspot Plans
- TPO Mobile
- Project Fi
- Boost Mobile
Compare: Sprint Mobile Hotspot Plans
AT&T Hotspot Plans
- Straight Talk
Compare: AT&T Hotspot Plans
T-Mobile Hotspot Plans
- Straight Talk
- Simple Mobile
- ZIP Sim
Compare: T-Mobile Hotspot Plans
Check out our plan comparison at the top of this page to find the best fit for your data plan needs.
Unlimited Mobile Hotspot Plans
Most people only need a limited amount of data to use on the road. If you regularly work away from home or need a lot of data to download large files without access to Wi-Fi, an unlimited plan may be more your speed.
One thing that's important to understand is that with an "unlimited" plan from one of the big four carriers, you don't get unlimited high-speed data for your mobile hotspot. For example, if you have the Sprint unlimited plan, you'll still pay $50 a month extra for 6 GB of data for your mobile router.
Fortunately, there is one MVNO that offers an unlimited data only plan. US Mobile allows you to choose from several options, including unlimited. Of course, you can also add unlimited talk and text for your phone as well.
Mobile Hotspot Devices
Finally, let's talk about how you'll access all that cheap data. A personal hotspot device is essentially a small router you can easily take with you wherever you go.
Some carriers require that you purchase your personal mobile hotspot together with a data plan. Your best bet is to buy your hotspot outright so that you're free to choose whichever data only plan is right for you.
Here are a few of the best LTE mobile hotspot devices:
Netgear Unite Explore (AC815S)
This compact, durable little machine from AT&T features:
- 9-hour battery life
- 2.4" touchscreen
- LTE roaming capability
- Can be used internationally
Verizon Jetpack (AC791L)
The Jetpack is a longstanding favorite LTE hotspot with some great perks:
- Fast 4G XLTE Verizon network speeds
- Can be used abroad
- Doubles as an external device charger
- Supports HD video streaming
ZTE Warp Connect
This Sprint/Boost Mobile offering isn't as fast as some of its counterparts, however, you do get an external antenna jack, a lower price point, and flexible plan options.
The important thing is to make sure you get a device that runs on the network you wish to use. Save even more money by watching for unlocked refurbs/used devices.
Which Plan Is the Best for Me?
The editor's choice for best hotspot plan has to be US Mobile, which runs on the Verizon network, giving you access to the fastest data with the widest coverage at a much lower cost than Verizon itself. They also offer a wider choice of data plans so that you can be sure to find a plan that suits your needs.
The takeaway from all of this information is that MVNOs are changing the mobile data landscape. You have more options than ever for cheap plans that meet your needs.
If you prefer to consolidate all of your data needs into one package rather than purchasing separately, consider building your own cell phone plan.
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.