Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot: 5 things you need to know before buying | Digital Trends (2023)

When you’re on the go with laptops and tablets, you rely on your smartphone for internet access using its Wi-Fi hotspot feature. However, this can quickly drain the battery and use up precious data if youdon’t have an unlimited plan.


  • What is a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?
  • How do portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices work?
  • 5 things to consider before buying a Wi-Fi hotspot device

Fortunately, a dedicated portable Wi-Fi hotspot can be a good alternative if you’re in need of an additional internet connection, allowing you to connect several Wi-Fi-enabled devices at one time and share Wi-Fi with friends and family.

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If you’re interested in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot but aren’t sure where to start, you’re in the right place. This article will explain what a Wi-Fi hotspot is, how it works, and some things to consider before buying one.


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What is a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

A Wi-Fi hotspot is one of two things. It can either be a dedicated device that takes a mobile cellular connection and rebroadcasts it as Wi-Fi to multiple devices wirelessly, or you can use yoursmartphoneto act as a mobile hotspot in the same way. In either case, you get to leverage a single mobile connection for several devices that only have Wi-Fi.

Although you can create a hotspot forhome internet use, most people use them as secondary connections for when they’re away from home. Portable Wi-Fi hotspots provide more flexibility by letting you connect while on the go. You’ll just need access to a network through a cellular carrier, with some offering fully unlimited and simpler prepaid plans.

Internet speeds on portable Wi-Fi hotspots are typically the same as what’s available to a smartphone on the same network, which can reach over 2000 mbpson 5G.

How do portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices work?

A portable Wi-Fi hotspot device uses a 3G, 4G, or5Ginternet connection to create a Wi-Fi network for multiple devices, including tablets, phones, and computers. You can tap into the network to stream your favorite shows, complete school assignments, and do other activities without worrying about loading data onto individual devices.

In essence, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot is a smartphone without a screen or advanced operating system — it only has the ability to take a mobile connection, and create a Wi-Fi network. Portable hotspots have their own battery (of varying sizes), and typically recharge the same way smartphones do over USB.

Do portable Wi-Fi hotspots work anywhere?

To create a mobile hotspot network, you’ll needa cellular data plan from a network provider. That means you’ll only get coverage in places where that specific carrier has a network. Nowadays in the U.S. that’sjustabout anywhere, outside of the most rural places in the country.

Be sure to check your desiredcarrier’s coverage mapsbefore buying a hotspot from it. Make note that carriers have different coverage areas depending on whether you’re looking to get 4G or 5G speeds.

5 things to consider before buying a Wi-Fi hotspot device

Are you planning to buy a Wi-Fi hotspot device? If so, there are a few things you should know before deciding on a particular device. These factors include:

  • Wireless carrier limitations
  • Service or wireless network availability
  • The number of connected devices
  • 4G and 5G capabilities
  • Battery life of the Wi-Fi hotspot device

Check limitations with your wireless carrier

If you want to enjoy a quality internet connection, try to choose a provider with the best coverage in your area and the most ample data plans. Wireless carriers offer portable hotspot plans with varying features and coverage. For instance, some data plans come with monthly caps that limit your usage. At the same time, some carriers may offer unlimited data but will cap or throttle your internet speeds after a certain point.

It’ll be easier to choose a hotspot device as long as you’re aware of these conditions or limitations. Just make sure to read the fine print of your data plan, particularly if you plan to engage in data-intensive online activities (e.g., video streaming). You may detect a drop in video quality if your wireless carrier throttles the connection after reaching a certain data limit.

Consider the service availability of your wireless carrier

Depending on your wireless carrier, a portable hotspot may not be the right option. Remote areas generally suffer from sporadic network coverage, making it difficult to establish a stable internet connection using a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.

It’s a good idea to check your carrier’s network availability map to determine whether you can get adequate coverage in specific remote or rural areas. Thankfully, major network providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have near complete coverage of the U.S.

Urban areas with the best network coverage are usually ideal locations for portable Wi-Fi hotspots.

Check the battery life of your Wi-Fi hotspot device

To ensure you can meet all your internet needs, you’ll want to choose a hotspot device with a long-lasting battery. Some Wi-Fi hotspots are small and sleek, but usually have much shorter battery life as a result — as little as a few hours. The more data you use, and more devices you have connected, the weaker your battery life will be as well.

You may also need to invest in a high-quality power bank to keep your device powered up while on the go. Wi-Fi hotspots charge the same as smartphones, over USB, so you can use a phone charger or battery to keep them going.

3G/4G/5G capabilities

The connectivity capabilities of portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices vary. Some devices can handle 5G connections, while others are only compatible with 4G. These differences in wireless internet technology can also determine the price of the device and plan.

Cheaper Wi-Fi hotspots, like those from prepaid carriers, can often be limited to just 4G or simple 5G networks. They’ll be good enough formosttasks, but will be outpaced by the latest hotspots with5Gconnections.

If you invest in a 5G hotspot device, you can enjoy even faster upload and download speeds for all connected devices on your mobile network. This type of wireless technology is more reliable, but you can expect to pay a significantly higher price for a5GWi-Fi hotspot device. While 4G hotspot devices are available for less than $100, you may spend several hundred dollarsfor a 5G version.

How many devices you plan to connect at once

Most Wi-Fi hotspots can handle connecting at least five Wi-Fi devices at once, but higher-end models can handle 10 or more at a time. Most people will be just fine with having only five, though, as battery and bandwidth considerations start to be important beyond that point. If you are going to add several devices to a single hotspot, keep in mind that that will greatly decrease the available data speed for each one. You’ll want to make sure you’re using a 5G hotspot if so.

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Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot: 5 things you need to know before buying | Digital Trends? ›

Hotspots don't work without cell service. Hotspots need cellular service to create a Wi-Fi signal. So you'll need a data plan from your cell phone company or another provider to make your own hotspot work.

Do mobile hotspots work without cell service? ›

Hotspots don't work without cell service. Hotspots need cellular service to create a Wi-Fi signal. So you'll need a data plan from your cell phone company or another provider to make your own hotspot work.

Do mobile hotspots work anywhere? ›

A mobile hotspot can give you Wi-Fi access anywhere there's a cellular signal.

How do I use a portable Wi-Fi hotspot? ›

Turn on your hotspot
  1. On the other device, open that device's list of Wi-Fi options.
  2. Pick your phone's hotspot name.
  3. Enter your phone's hotspot password.
  4. Click Connect.

What is the difference between mobile hotspot and Wi-Fi hotspot? ›

The hotspot offers a lower speed than wifi in the case of many users. Wifi services are provided by the local area Internet service provider. Whereas the hotspot services are largely provided by cellular or phone corporations. Wifi is more secure in comparison to the hotspot.

Can you mobile hotspot without internet? ›

It is possible to setup your own local wifi (without internet) but Hosted Network Supported is needed.

Can you use a hotspot without unlimited data? ›

A lot of people get confused about unlimited data plans, thinking that this means that mobile hotspot data is also unlimited. But, this isn't the case. Even on cell phone plans with unlimited data, there will be a cap for how much data you can use as a mobile hotspot.

Do hotspots have a monthly fee? ›

Most hotspot plans give you a set amount of data per month. But if you're traveling or need a Wi-Fi hotspot only intermittently, consider getting a prepaid plan so you pay for only the amount of data you need.

How long does a mobile hotspot last? ›

It usually can run for hours on battery power and is as secure as your router at home, often with the choice of Wi-Fi Protect Access-3 (WPA-3) level encryption. Plus, all your data is further encrypted while on the mobile data network, making everything as protected as it can be.

Does hotspot count as internet? ›

Does a hotspot use data? Yes, a hotspot uses data to connect other devices to the internet. That data may come from your existing phone plan or a separate data-only plan that you purchase specifically for your hotspot device.

Is it cheaper to get a hotspot or Wi-Fi? ›

After all, you're going to have a cell phone plan regardless of whether or not you have a home internet connection. Home internet averages around $65/month. By contrast, the average phone bill that includes mobile hotspot can vary from as little as $35/month to as much as $90/month.

Can you just purchase a hotspot? ›

For the most part, you can buy a hotspot directly through your cell carrier. It's easiest to buy the hotspot and add it as an extra line on your current phone plan. But you can also set up a plan on a different carrier just for the hotspot.

How can I get internet without cell service? ›

One option for getting Wi-Fi anywhere is satellite internet. Much like satellite cable on your TV, this involves sending a signal through a modem to a satellite dish, then to an orbiting satellite. The signal is then bounced back to your dish, your modem, and your connected device.

What are the disadvantages of Wi-Fi hotspot? ›

  • Requires adequate mobile network connection (not available in all areas)
  • Data caps may serve as a barrier to meeting the broadband needs of the user.

Is it better to use a hotspot device or your phone? ›

Mobile hotspots are designed to serve a single purpose of connecting to the internet, and as a result, their large antennas offer a much better connection than the hardware found inside a mobile phone. Speeds vary by carrier and price, but you can expect to see up to 50 Mbps with the best models and data plans.

Does it cost money to use my phone as a hotspot? ›

Mobile hotspot FAQs

With most major carriers, using your phone as a hotspot doesn't cost any extra because the data comes out of a prepaid plan's data package at no additional cost.

Can I use hotspot for TV? ›

You can connect a smart TV to a hotspot device or a phone being used as a mobile hotspot. To connect the two, from your TV join the Wi-Fi network attached to your hotspot . Be careful of hotspot data limits. High-resolution streaming can quickly eat up data.

Can I just use hotspot for Wi-Fi? ›

Using your mobile hotspot data can replace your separate home internet account, as long as your cell phone plan includes unlimited data or a generous amount of hotspot data. Here's everything you need to know about using your hotspot for home internet and ditching your internet provider.

What happens if I keep my mobile data and Wi-Fi both on at a time? ›

On LTE phones it will dramatically increase connect speeds.As others have said, when both WiFi and 3G are simultaneously connected, only WiFi will work. It will only used one of them, which one is the used first or selected.

Can I use my mobile hotspot to watch Netflix on my TV? ›

Connect using Netflix 2nd Screen

To use your Android mobile device as a remote: Connect your mobile device to the same Wi-Fi network as your TV. Launch the Netflix app on both your TV and your mobile device. Sign in to the same Netflix account on both your TV and your mobile device.

When you pay your phone bill does your hotspot reset? ›

Our ACE is right, paying your bill early will not reset your hotspot data. Your hotspot will refresh at the start of your billing period. If you have any other questions, come back and share more with us.

Can you have Wi-Fi without a plan? ›

Here's a brief recap below of how you can get connected to the internet without an internet service provider: Connect to public unsecured Wi-Fi using a VPN for security. Use a new or existing mobile hotspot feature from one of your mobile devices. Buy a portable internet device.

Does hotspot raise your bill? ›

Your hotspot is simply an access point for a wifi device to use your phone's cellular data connection if no other wifi is available. It uses your cellular data plan allowance, but you are not being charged double, only once for the data used through the phone. The connected device is effectively using wifi.

When using someone's hotspot can they see what you're doing? ›

Yes. The WiFi owner has access to the admin panel from the WiFi router, meaning they can see the browsing information performed on their WiFi network. In addition, routers see log information, including when and what you did on your computer.

What happens if you leave your hotspot on for too long? ›

It does drain your battery; whether it's worth it for you to turn it off is up to you and how long your battery last. Also something worth noting is that by leaving it on and walking around other people can see your hotspot and might try to connect. Even if they're unsuccessful it will drain your battery even faster.

Should I leave my hotspot on all the time? ›

Keeping it on is just using up that portion of the phone's "brain" and keeping your phone constantly searching for a wifi network, which isn't necessary. Location services might not be a priority of yours during a hotspot setup, in which case you can shut those down.

What uses the most hotspot data? ›

Streaming video takes up the most hotspot data

Try your best to avoid streaming video in HD when you're on a Wi-Fi hotspot—you're going to zap your data cap in a jiffy when you're using 2GB per hour. And don't even think about streaming a movie in 4K; save that for your home internet connection.

What to look for when buying a hotspot? ›

5 things to consider before buying a Wi-Fi hotspot device
  • Wireless carrier limitations.
  • Service or wireless network availability.
  • The number of connected devices.
  • 4G and 5G capabilities.
  • Battery life of the Wi-Fi hotspot device.
Feb 25, 2022

Which hotspot is best? ›

Best portable hotspot devices with price
Portable hotspot devicesApproximate price on Amazon
TP-Link AC750 Mbps Wireless Portable Mini Travel RouterRs 2,000
Tukzer 4G LTE Wireless Dongle with All SIM Network SupportRs 2,900
Anik Router M2S 4G HotspotRs 3,400
Tenda 4G180 3G/4G Mobile HotspotRs 4,000
4 more rows
5 days ago

Which is better Wi-Fi or internet? ›

A WiFi connection is more susceptible to interference from electrical devices or physical objects that can block the signal. An Ethernet connection is consequently more reliable, as it is insulated from interference and crosstalk and unaffected by the presence of physical objects.

How can I get Wi-Fi at home without cable? ›

The best alternatives to cable internet are fiber and 5G. Fiber has faster download speeds than cable and much faster upload speeds. 5G is on par with cable speeds and might soon overtake them. It also has the advantage of being wireless.

Which is more secure Wi-Fi or hotspot? ›

Connecting to a cellular network is absolutely more safe than using WiFi. Most WiFi hotspots aren't secure because the data sent over the internet isn't encrypted. When you use a secured WiFi, you can encrypt your data, but it's still less reliable and automatic than cellular signal.

Why is using your phone as a hotspot bad? ›

How does using a hotspot affect battery life? Unfortunately, turning on the hotspot abilities of your phone is like firing up a micro router, which seriously cuts into your phone's battery life. So if there's an AC outlet nearby, plug in.

Is it safer to use hotspot or public Wi-Fi? ›

Transferring mobile data through a cellular network is much safer than using a public WiFi network. As mentioned, most of the time public hotspots aren't protected. Private WiFi networks, on the other hand, can be just as secure as cellular networks. Though, in some cases, they're still less reliable.

What's the difference between a jetpack and a hotspot? ›

Mobile hotspot devices are also commonly known as Jetpacks and MiFis. However, these just are trademarked branded names. Jetpack - Owned by Verizon to refer to any mobile hotspot they sell for their network. MiFi - Owned by Inseego (formerly Novatel) referring to any mobile hotspot device they make.

What is better jetpack or hotspot? ›

A Verizon Jetpack® is the perfect device for taking Wi-Fi access with you. More robust than your smartphone's mobile hotspot, a Jetpack can connect multiple devices to the network.

Does Verizon charge for hotspot with unlimited data? ›

Many of our monthly phone plans and certain prepaid plans let you use 5G Ultra Wideband, 5G and 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot on capable devices for no additional monthly charge. When a device is connected to your phone's Mobile Hotspot feature or app, data usage is applied to your mobile plan's monthly allowance.

How can I get internet in areas without cell coverage? ›

One option for getting Wi-Fi anywhere is satellite internet. Much like satellite cable on your TV, this involves sending a signal through a modem to a satellite dish, then to an orbiting satellite. The signal is then bounced back to your dish, your modem, and your connected device.

Does hotspot only use cellular data? ›

When you share a Personal Hotspot from your iPhone, it uses cellular data for the internet connection. To monitor your cellular data network usage, go to Settings > Cellular.

Do all mobile hotspots need a SIM card? ›

A portable WiFi hotspot is a pocket sized mobile router, which you can take with you setup an internet connection. Most portable hotspots devices use the 3G and 4G signals from network providers to enable the connection. Mobile WiFi hotspots therefore often need a SIM-card that provides the connectivity.

Do mobile hotspots work in rural areas? ›

In order to access rural WIFI internet service, you will need a hotspot router that can connect to a cell tower. Depending on your location, the strength of your cellular network and the area of coverage, you may require a device that supports external antennas.

How can I get free Wi-Fi at home without paying? ›

The FCC Lifeline program can provide reduced-cost or even no-cost internet access. You can go to the Lifeline Support site to check your eligibility and to apply to the program. You can also check out our in-depth analysis of government programs for free and low-cost internet.

Can you get Wi-Fi without a provider? ›

There are several ways to get a Wi-Fi internet connection without using an internet provider: Using free public Wi-Fi spots. Paying for hourly Wi-Fi at hotspots. Purchasing a hotspot from a mobile provider.

Can you have Wi-Fi without internet? ›

You may be amused to know that a wireless router allows you to use it without the Internet. Whether it is wired or wireless, you can go for it. However, it will be only for specific purposes. Using a wireless router without the internet will enable you to perform the following tasks.

Is there a downside to using a hotspot? ›

On the downside, using your phone as a hotspot can cut the phone's battery life in half. It can also add a lot of extra expense to your mobile plan, if your mobile plan supports it at all.

How long does a hotspot last? ›

If you are using a mobile hotspot, whether it's your phone or a dedicated hotspot, it is important to understand how long that data will last you. 15GB of mobile hotspot data can last a couple days or a month, depending on what you are doing on the internet.

Do you have to pay for mobile hotspots monthly? ›

In most cases, a mobile hotspot doesn't cost anything extra. Typically, your hotspot cost is rolled into your cell phone plan, either in the form of a specific allotment of hotspot data, or by using your plan's general data.

How can I turn my phone into a hotspot without paying? ›

On your phone, go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Hotspot and Tethering. Depending on the Android version and manufacturer, you might see something like Tethering, Mobile Hotspot, or Tethering & portable hotspot instead. Turn on Mobile Hotspot.

Can you put a cell phone SIM card in a hotspot? ›

The short answer is yes. And there are two main reasons why using a data-only SIM in your phone might work for you: You want to turn your spare phone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.

Does weather affect mobile hotspots? ›

Storms Still Mess With Cellular Data

Like satellite transmissions, 4G and 5G internet connections can also have trouble penetrating through atmospheric moisture. However, cellular towers are typically well below the cloud layer, making this less of an issue.

Can you use a Wi-Fi hotspot to work from home? ›

Mobile hotspot for working from home

Another key element to working from home using your wireless data plan? Having a mobile hotspot allowance. An unlimited data plan combined with mobile hotspot gives you flexibility in how you access your data plan.

Can you run house on mobile hotspot? ›

Low data limits mean mobile hotspot isn't the best option for most homes and slower speeds also make mobile hotspot a poor option for homes with more than two people. That said, light internet users may be able to replace home internet with mobile hotspot without a hitch.


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