A mobile hotspot is a portable device that connects to a cellular 3G or 4G network and then creates a personal Wi-Fi network, allowing you to access the Internet on the go. With a hotspot-ready device, you can surf the Internet, stream videos, and download music and games conveniently on a laptop, netbook, or tablet. And you can share Internet connectivity with multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices.
Mobile hotspot devices are typically compact and easily pocketable, resembling a small MP3 player. Differing from USB stick-style modems, these standalone devices do not require a connection to a laptop or netbook's USB port in order to provide Internet access. They come with an AC adapter, but they also include a rechargeable battery, allowing you complete freedom to roam while sharing your Internet connectivity.
Some mobile hotspot devices come with an LCD screen for an easy glance at signal strength and battery life.
Yes. Select smartphones have built-in hotspot capabilities--also known as tethering--which enables you to turn on your personal Wi-Fi coverage wherever your smartphone has 3G or 4G coverage. And you'll be able to use apps, check e-mail, send text messages, and browse the web on your smartphone while sharing its 3G or 4G connectivity with other devices.
A hotspot-ready smartphone eliminates the need to carry two gadgets with you. However, sharing Internet connectivity to multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices can drain your battery more quickly. Additionally, if you move out of range of others who are sharing your smartphone's mobile hotspot (such as for a personal call), you may take away access to the Internet or shared Wi-Fi-enabled peripherals.
With a dedicated mobile hotspot device, you'll save your smartphone's battery from draining as well as keep a persistent tether to multiple connected laptops and peripherals. Also, some mobile hotspot devices provide extra features, ranging from GPS for location services to additional, centralized file storage.
Let's say you take your Kindle Fire--which can only access the Internet through a Wi-Fi network--on a daily long bus commute. And you want to access the web, check e-mail, stream a TV show from Amazon Instant Video, and download music from the Amazon Cloud Player.
At home or at the office, you could easily do this by connecting to the local Wi-Fi network. But with a hotspot-ready smartphone or dedicated mobile hotspot device, your Kindle Fire will always have access to the Internet as long as you're within your carrier's 3G or 4G coverage area--even on a moving bus, train, or car.
If you have a netbook with Wi-Fi-only networking, and you need to send a presentation to work colleagues while on the go, you don't have to wait to find a coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi connectivity. You can just turn on your hotspot-ready smartphone or device, connect your netbook to its Wi-Fi network, and fire off your presentation over e-mail.
First, purchase either a hotspot-ready smartphone or a dedicated mobile hotspot device.
If you are purchasing a new phone, make sure to also sign up for a data plan that includes mobile hotspot capabilities (also referred to as tethering). If you already have a smartphone, contact your carrier to add this service to your existing plan. Data plans with mobile hotspot capabilities are more expensive than a standard smartphone data plan because carriers consider this a complementary service, since additional devices will be downloading/uploading data from the Internet. After signing up for a plan, you'll activate the service on your smartphone either in its settings or via a dedicated app downloaded from your carrier. Upon completing activation, you'll be able to share your 3G or 4G connectivity over Wi-Fi (just make sure your Wi-Fi signal is turned on).
For Mobile Hotspot Devices
If you're buying a contract-based mobile hotspot device from a carrier that requires a monthly payment over the course of one or two years, you'll need to sign up for a data plan at the point of purchase. If you're buying a non-contract mobile hotspot device, you'll have to purchase a usage plan based on the amount of data that can be used (ranging from 100 MB to 5 GB). Once you've reached the data limit, you'll need to purchase another set of data.
Activating your mobile hotspot device varies from model to model. Some require the device be connected to a PC for setup, while others allow you to connect laptops, tablets, and peripherals by selecting the mobile hotspot's Wi-Fi network and entering a secure password.
You do not need to sign up for a mobile hotspot (or tethering) contract when you first purchase your phone if you don't think you'll need to use it. It can be added later. But if you think this might be a service you'll want to use in the future, be sure to identify that the phone is hotspot-ready.
Whether sending an e-mail, posting an update to Facebook, or downloading map images while using GPS, you are using data from your mobile hotspot plan--and it all adds up. Below is an example of a medium-to-heavy data user and how much all the bits and bytes add up to at the end of the month.
The number of devices that can simultaneously connect to a mobile hotspot varies from carrier to carrier. You'll typically find that up to five devices can connect to 3G-enabled mobile hotspot, and between eight and ten devices can access the Internet via a 4G-enabled mobile hotspot.
Most frequently, dedicated mobile hotspot devices will include a microSD memory card slot, enabling you to share document, music, and movie files simultaneously to several Wi-Fi-connected devices--great for small work groups as well as families traveling together who want to watch different videos.
Some mobile hotspots also offer integrated GPS for navigation and location services as well as access to text messaging. And some carriers may include unlimited access to their nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots (found in airports and coffee shops), allowing you to save on your personal mobile hotspot's data usage.