The best mobile hotspot plans allow you to connect to the Internet no matter where you are or what kind of connection you have to the nearest router.
I'm sure we've all experienced a time when we needed WiFi but didn't have access. Whether it was a power outage, a bad connection, or a lack of WiFi while traveling, it would be nice to know you have backup WiFi access when you need it; don't you think?
That's where mobile hotspot plans come in. When you're away from typical Internet access, a personal hotspot is there for you. However, how do you know which mobile service provider presents the best personal mobile hotspot plan? Well, I'm here to tell you. Read on for more information.
In This Guide
The Best Mobile Hotspot Plans: Our Top Picks
Personal hotspots are great for bringing mobile broadband Internet access with an LTE signal with you no matter where you go. Keep in mind, however, that some cell phone carriers have data caps.
Once you exceed that amount of data you have purchased, you may experience tethered signal strength and speeds or face overage charges. Here are some of the best mobile hotspot plans available.
Pro Tip: Unlimited plans often offer mobile hotspot usage, but you will only be allowed a certain amount of high-speed Internet access, i.e. 10GB.
T-Mobile Hotspot Plans
There are two ways to access a personal mobile hotspot using T-Mobile: with any of these T-Mobile prepaid plans or the T-Mobile Unlimited ONE plan from their shared data plan list.
First, let's delve into the T-mobile Unlimited ONE plan with mobile hotspot capabilities that T-Mobile offers.
While you receive "almost" unlimited everything, including unlimited talk and text, with the T-Mobile ONE plan for a relatively inexpensive fee, it also includes the ability to keep your devices connected with up to 10GB of high-speed Internet via mobile hotspot access. However, after you surpass the 10GB amount, you'll be tethering at 3G speeds at the maximum. The ONE plan is the shared data plan T-Mobile offers for hotspot usage.
There are a variety of prepaid LTE mobile hotspot plans that suit your needs. I will break them down into two categories: "Always-connected monthly plan options" which auto renew after 30 days, and "day, week or month passes."
There are six plans that fall underneath the monthly plan options, granting you between 2GB and 22GB of 4G LTE network 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 speed data 1-day pass, the 1GB 4G LTE speed data 7-day pass, and the 3GB 4G LTE signal 30-day pass.
Even better is that all prepaid plans include LTE 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 Plans
Verizon Wireless Hotspot Plans
The Verizon Wireless mobile hotspot is included in all of its plans. You can easily transform your phone into a mobile hotspot. However, you are limited in terms of mobile hotspot usage, even when it comes to the Verizon unlimited talk, text, and data plan. 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 network's "Data Only Plan," which is specifically for tablets, hotspots, and other network-capable devices. Yes, the Verizon network offers its own hotspots for a fee. In fact, they provide seven available hotspot devices, such as the advanced Jetpack Mifi 7730L, which become cheaper in price if you sign up for a two-year contract.
Mifi devices come with sim card slots. The sim card slot allows you to insert a sim card you may have already purchased from your current carrier. If you want to insert a sim card from another carrier, however, your MiFi device must be unlocked.
Data Only Plans range between 2GB of 4G LTE network data and 100GB of 4G LTE network data, but the 100GB amount comes with an incredibly hefty monthly fee.
You can also purchase Verizon 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 Sprint Shared Data plan or attach it to a Mobile Internet plan.
Mobile Internet Plans Range between 3GB and 30GB. However, Shared Data plans range between 1GB and 40GB, including unlimited plans that provide only 2G data once you exceed your high-speed data cap.
However, you can always opt into the Sprint Unlimited Plan. The Sprint Unlimited Plan 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 AT&T 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.
Key Considerations for Mobile Hotspot Plans
Well, a mobile hotspot is a physical location that people can connect to in order to access the Internet for HD video streaming, web surfing, and the like. 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 hotspots you can purchase from a wireless provider as well as smartphone mobile hotspots.
How does a mobile LTE hotspot work?
A mobile LTE hotspot will connect to either 3G or 4G networks for HD video streaming, surfing the Internet, or using apps: 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 WiFi access in order to utilize the hotspot. Do note that smartphone mobile hotspots typically consume a lot of battery life. If you want to use a hotspot on the go, make sure to bring a charger to replenish the battery life when you need.
Share Files to Other Devices with your Mobile Hotspot
Some mobile hotspots have a MicroSD card slot. The MicroSD card slot allows you to share files between your connected devices as an added feature.
Netgear offers a range of Netgear products for your mobile hotspot needs on their website. The mobile hotspot Netgear product you purchase will depend on your wireless carrier. For example, the Netgear Zing Mobile Hotspot operates with Sprint and provides 10 hours of battery life and an intuitive touchscreen. Some products come with a contract while others don't.
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"
- Once the phone Mobile Hotspot feature is activated, 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 mobile hotspot.
- Your Wi-Fi devices can now connect to the new phone mobile 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.
Mobile Hotspot Alternatives
Of course, if you somehow cannot access your mobile hotspot with your phone or mobile hotspot device, there are some alternatives.
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.
Choose a Cheaper Carrier
You may want to check out carriers that are typically cheaper than the big four carriers before you decide on a hotspot plan.
You may be able to get a cheap hotspot plan with companies like Boost Mobile, Straight Talk Wireless, and Virgin Mobile. Boost Mobile, Straight Talk Wireless, and Virgin Mobile are all companies that buy data, talk and text services from the big four providers and sell them for cheaper prices. Just make sure they offer a decent coverage area.
Which Plan is the Best for Me?
The editor's choice for best hotspot plan has to be Verizon's unlimited talk, text, and data family plan. Verizon is known to be the most reliable network with speedy Internet access and strong signal strength.
Your monthly bill for four lines (including the hotspot data usage) will cost just $45 per line for unlimited, which is pretty tough to beat along with its reliability. If you're not convinced Verizon is the best, you can compare unlimited data plans across the big four companies.
The best mobile broadband hotspot plans provide you with fantastic LTE coverage for your dollar. While you cannot go wrong with any of the plans mentioned above, you should choose your plan based on your specific needs. For example, the T-Mobile plan allows you to stream music without it eating away at your data. If you stream a lot of music, this may be a determining factor.
However, if you're seeking a lot of data, and I mean 80GB or more, then you may want to consider an unlimited data plan from Verizon or AT&T. AT&T is a little cheaper but still comes in second compared to Verizon in terms of signal strength and LTE coverage.
If you're interested in more than just the hotspot plans, perhaps you should 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.