Image of a smartphone mobile hotspot screen

What is a Mobile Hotspot and How Does it Work?

image of mobile tethering pinterest graphicHave you grown tired of having to use insecure and unreliable public Wi-Fi that’s, more often than not, extremely slow? 

Thankfully, this problem is now a thing of the past as there are devices that can deliver robust, secure, and fast online connections whenever and wherever you want. Much like a mobile phone but lacking the ability to make a call, mobile hotspots are all about delivering data.

So…what is a mobile hotspot and how does it work?

A Mobile hotspot is like a wireless access point; it provides a physical location that allows devices the ability to access the internet, typically through the use of Wi-Fi. It creates a portable access point by utilizing a wireless router or modem to connect to an internet service provider through the use of your cellular data.

How Does a Mobile Hotspot Work?

A Mobile hotspot accesses your cellular signal and converts 3G, 4G, or 5G signals to Wi-Fi. This device then creates a Wi-Fi network that is capable of servicing multiple users within the antennas radius. 

Most cellular providers now offer mobile hotspot devices with wireless data plans. You can also choose to use your smartphone through an option already installed to create a hotspot, and this is commonly referred to as tethering.

Many people purchase smartphones for the specific reason of using them as Mobile Hotspots. This allows the same functionality as a standard Wi-Fi modem. The difference is that their mobile device now provides them with an access point to which they can’t connect a desktop, laptop, or tablet. You can also tether multiple devices to one phone by using this option. 

Before you do this, check with your provider to ensure your plan has sufficient data and supports a Mobile Hotspot. In the long run, you might want to consider the option of an unlimited data plan.

What is the Difference Between Wi-Fi and Hotspot?

This can be a little bit confusing but to put it simply…

A hotspot refers to the area serviced by an internet access point. An access point is a physical piece of hardware that uses Wi-Fi technology to provide internet access to a small area. 

Wi-Fi is the technology that uses radio waves to provide network connections. In other words, a hotspot is the where and Wi-Fi is the how. Here are some more key differences

Technology Used

Using radio waves to allow users access to their mobile device, Wi-Fi is simply a wireless networking protocol facilitating access to a local area network.

It will enable devices to interconnect without the use of cables. A hotspot’s simply a wireless access point providing internet access from a piece of hardware typically using Wi-Fi technology. 

Network Access

For the most part, Wi-Fi access is closed and the owners of the network retain complete control. They can choose whether or not to allow you to access their Wi-Fi. 

Owners of the system can restrict access by either changing the passwords or setting a limit to the number of people connected to the system.

Different Range

The vast majority of Wi-Fi routers typically operate in the traditional 2.4 gigahertz radio frequency, meaning that they usually have a limited range. The range of these devices is limited to the power of your transmission antenna or their physical location. 

Typically Wi-Fi is set up indoors and has a reach of up to 32 meters (or roughly 105 feet) while a point to point system setup outdoors can even be extended up to a few kilometers using relay stations. A Wi-Fi signal can also be boosted with the aid of a range extender. Hotpots are typically limited in their range to a maximum of 35 feet.

Security Levels of Mobile Hotspots

You’ve probably heard that connecting to public Wi-Fi is a big security risk. This holds true for mobile hotspots. Whenever you connect to any connection in public, you run the risk of unwanted watchers gaining access to that same connection. By doing so, you run the risk of being a victim of hacking.

With mobile hotspots, not only are you putting yourself at risk, you also run the risk of exceeding your data limit and being stuck with a pretty hefty bill. 

This isn’t to scare you away from using hotspots but to inform you of the risks associated if you don’t take the proper actions to prevent situations like this from happening. 

Most experts advise using a VPN and enabling strong encryption such as WPA2 which would provide safety whenever using a hotspot.

How Much Data Does a Hotspot Use?

Using a mobile hotspot to allow devices to access the internet means using your cellular data. Unfortunately, people sometimes overuse their data while using hotspots. Below is a list showing an estimate of how much data could be used in some of the most common online activities after using the hotspot for 30-60 minutes.

      • Browsing the web will use approximates 30MB to 60MB of cellular data.
      • Emailing will use less than IMB of data.
      • Music streaming can range from 75MB to 150MB
      • Streaming Netflix uses 125MB to 250MB
      • Streaming on YouTube uses 125MB to 250MB
      • Using FaceBook from 40MB to 80MB
      • Instagram from 360MB to 720MB
      • Netflix?From 125MB?From 250MB
      • Zoom an HD group call from 400MB to 800 MB

The problem of Data Limits

Some providers count data usage as part of your cell phone plan working within whatever data limit that is attached to a given plan.. typically, the majority operate with small data. However, some people will have unlimited data plans, but the cellular provider limits the speed at which hotspots work.

It is possible to purchase a plan that includes a high-speed hotspot data usage but isn’t counted against your overall data plan; typically, this is part of an unlimited plan offered by most of the major carriers. Typically these hotspot data limits range anywhere from 20GB to 100GB monthly. Your hotspot data speeds are cut once you exceed your data limit.

Mobile hotspots aren’t designed to support home networks, especially, if you require support for video conferencing or significant web browsing. Mobile hotspots are specifically designed to provide a source of internet access, while on the move, for someone who is typically a lighter internet user. 

How Much Does a Hotspot Cost?

For this review, I have chosen to provide reviews of the four major Cellular providers, and the Mobile Hotspot plans that they offer.

Verizon

From all accounts, Verizon, despite its market position, does not provide a wide range of Hotspot data plans. But they do offer a fast service. You can now take advantage of the largest LTE 4G network. Their most attractive HotSpot plan is there “Get More Unlimited” plan which costs Approximately $90/mo and comes with a 4G hotspot and an allocation of 30GB of data per month.

AT&T

A study of the hotspot plans offered by AT&T reveals that they offer some industry-standard plans for Hotspots and data limits. Despite this, they rank pretty close to Verizon in speed. It appears that the best deal they offer is their “Unlimited Elite” plan that costs approx. $85 a month and features an LTE hotspot with a 30GB data allowance.

Sprint

Offer by far the widest choice when it comes to 4G mobile hotspot plans. The mid-tier offering is the mid-tier “Unlimited Plus” plan that offers 50GB of data, and if you need more data, you can run with the “Unlimited Premium” plan that offers up to 100GB of data.

The downside is that  Sprint is reported to have the slowest speeds of all the cellular providers. They have been seen to slow down Hotspot speed when their network gets congested. Their plans cost, on average, $80 a month.

*T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to a merger so this information may change in the coming months.*

T-Mobile

Known for providing several great perks that are central to their popularity, they seem to have let the ball drop on Mobile Hotspots – offering a mere 20GB on their premier “Magenta Plus” plan. If speed and convenience matter more than download limits, they do score high on both these fronts. Packages cost, on average, $85 a month.

On average, a Mobile hotspot plan will cost anywhere from $80 to $90 dollars a month, offering 20GB to 100GB of data.

Conclusion

Overall, Mobile Hotspots offer an excellent solution for people who need a backup internet connection that they can rely upon. If you work with more sensitive information or are worried about the security offered by public Wi-Fi, a Mobile Hotspot may offer you better protection. 

If, for whatever reason, your standard internet drops, this tech can generally be relied upon to get you out of trouble. Whether you need to check your email on a train to work or your standard internet provider is experiencing issues, a mobile hotspot may be a great solution.