Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of the digital revolution that is currently unfolding is the ability to connect to the internet wherever we go. Our phones allow us to use advanced wireless broadband networks, and it seems that almost any business you enter these days has a WiFi network that you can access and use.
However, while the internet certainly seems to be everywhere, those of you who spend a good time on the road probably know that finding a quality connection - one that allows you to do what you need to do without pulling your hair out - can sometimes be a lot more complicated than it should be. This can be frustrating and also lead to unnecessary downtime, which can throw a wrench in your entire life.
Luckily, there are ways to ensure that you are (almost) never without an internet connection, the most effective being through the use of a mobile hot spot. In this guide, we will discuss all the information you need to know about a mobile hotspot and point you towards some of the options we've tested, reviewed, and determined to be the best.
The Best Mobile Hot Spots in 2020: At a Glance
Below we will discuss all the relevant details of mobile hot spots and what to look for while shopping. If you're already familiar with this and just want to know which ones made the list, here's a quick summary of our review:
What is a Mobile Hot Spot?
A mobile hot spot is a device that allows you to connect to the internet wherever you go. It taps into wireless broadband networks, the same ones being used by our smartphones and tablets, and connects with devices using a password. These devices, which may not be equipped to pick up wireless broadband signals, can then connect to the internet like they would with traditional WiFi.
The devices are usually small - they can easily fit into your pocket or a small bag - and require a service plan to work, meaning you will need to pay monthly for it. But they are a reliable way to ensure you will never be out of range of an internet connection when you need it.
Who Needs a Mobile Hot Spot?
Mobile hot spots were designed for people who travel a lot, mainly business people who spend a lot of time on the road but can't really afford to lose productivity hours because of a bad internet connection.
In some cases, a mobile hot spot can also be a way for you to get internet into your home without dealing with a traditional ISP, which may save you some money. However, this is rarely going to be a truly viable solution to your home internet needs.
Limitations of Mobile Hot Spot
While mobile hot spots are a great way to ensure you have a strong and reliable internet connection wherever you go, they have some limitations you should be aware of, such as:
Currently do not support 5G - Although this newer, faster network type is spreading quickly across the nation, it's still pretty sparse, and most mobile hot spots are not designed for it. In most cases, 4G will be plenty fast enough, but if you want 5G, it might not be the right time to buy a mobile hot spot.
Comes with data limits - Almost all mobile hot spot plans come with data limits that are too small to make these devices viable alternatives to traditional broadband internet service. The average home consumes around 200 GB per month of data, mainly because of video streaming. So, if you do this frequently at home, it's likely that you will chew through your data allocation quickly and run into problems.
Plans can be expensive - Being able to access a high-speed internet connection wherever you are comes at a cost, and, in many cases, especially when we look at the cost per byte of data, this cost is quite high. As a result, you must be sure you're going to use this device (or that your company will pay for it) before making a purchase and signing up for a plan.
Should You Just Use Your Phone?
You may be thinking as you read this is, "Can't I just use my phone?"
These days, almost all smartphones come with mobile hot spot capability, which is often called "tethering." This technology is basically the same as a dedicated mobile hot spot, but a few key differences should make it clear why a mobile hot spot is the better choice for some, such as:
Tethering drains your phone's battery - If you've ever used your phone as a hot spot, you likely know that you can only do so if your charger is handy. Otherwise, your battery will be dead in no time, usually not much more than an hour, leaving you with absolutely no way to connect to the internet.
Data limits - Most phone plans these days come with a data cap, and when you turn on your phone's mobile hot spot feature, the data it's using is the same data you usually use. If you typically use up most of your phone plan's data in a month and then try to use it as a mobile hot spot, you will certainly go over your limit and need to pay. Those who have an unlimited data plan might not need to worry about this, but some treat data used through tethering differently, so make sure you clear this up before moving forward.
Multiple devices - Using your phone to create a mobile hot spot can be a quick solution if you only need to connect one device. However, since tethering is not a phone's primary function, things will start to break down when connecting more than one device. Dedicated mobile hot spots are much better at handling this increased traffic, which means they are necessary for those who want mobile internet on more than one device.
There are instances where using your phone makes sense, such as when you want/need a 5G connection, but you can only do this with a handful of phones on today's market, which means that for most people, a dedicated mobile hot spot is going to be the way to go.
Things to Look for In a Mobile Hot Spot
As we reviewed the different options for mobile hotspots available on today's market, we paid particular attention to a few key things that are important to consider when shopping for one of these devices.
Familiarizing yourself with the many different things that go into this particular purchasing decision will make it easier for you to determine what you need and which device is right for you.
Here are the main things to look for in a mobile hot
4G versus 5G
The first thing you will want to consider is how important 5G coverage is for you in a mobile hotspot. If you desperately need a 5G mobile hot spot - mainly because you need the speed to do things such as stream in 4K Ultra HD - then your best bet will be to get a 5G smartphone with tethering capabilities, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10.
Yes, phones are indeed quite limited in terms of what they can do as hot spots, but the reality is that 5G is still so new that coverage remains quite spotty, meaning the extra money you will be spending on a 5G hot spot likely won't get you what you want. At the moment, the major hot spot manufacturers do not have a 5G hot spot on the market, meaning you might need to buy an inferior product just to get access to 5G.
Also, because 5G is so new, it's not a guarantee that a device bought today will continue to work in the coming years as networks roll out, and more frequencies are employed. Sure, these 5G hot spots will also connect you to 4G networks, but it's hard to justify spending the money on something that is 5G-specific while the technology remains so young.
For those who are fine with the connection speeds provided by 4G LTE networks, which are, in most cases, more than enough, you will find a much wider selection of devices, giving you more choice and a better chance of finding something of value.
The next thing you want to consider when shopping for a mobile hot spot is the plan you will buy to make it work. Mobile hot spot plans work much like your home internet bill, though they tend to be more expensive per byte, and data caps are usually quite a bit lower.
Mobile hot spot plans can be bought from all the major wireless carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint/T-Mobile, as well as from other telecommunications companies, such as Comcast (Xfinity), Altel, Boost Mobile, and so on.
In some cases, specific devices are only available from certain providers, or they can be bought at discounted prices only available through specific plans. However, be wary of this as accessing these discounts usually requires you to commit to a two-year contract.
To give you an idea of what to expect, here are the details of some of the mobile hot spot plans currently being offered by the major providers:
As you can see, there are various plans, and not all pricing schemes work the same way. For example, with Xfinity's plan, you only pay for the exact amount of data that you use in a month. With other plans, you're given an allowance. As a result, a smart thing to do is to figure out roughly how much data you think you might need in a month and then go after devices and plans that give you the best possible deal.
One thing to look at is adding a mobile hot spot plan to your current wireless bill. This can often lead to savings on both the device as well as the monthly cost of data.
Number Of Devices
Since mobile hot spots are designed to connect with multiple devices at once, this won't be a huge deal. But some hot spots allow for more connections than others, and some have more than one frequency band, which can be useful for helping keep the connection strong on all the connected devices at a given time.
If you're buying this just for yourself, you may never need to connect more than one or two devices. Yet if you're buying it for the whole family, make sure whatever you get can handle having several devices connected to it at once. (If you do this, though, know that your data usage is going to skyrocket.)
Any time you connect to the internet, you are exposing yourself to a number of risks. And while the vast majority of incidents occur because of human error, some things happen because your WiFi network isn't secure. Make sure whatever you buy encrypts data and requires a password (both of which should be standard). Another thing you may want to look for is the ability to create guest networks. This allows you to share the connection with others while keeping your personal devices and accounts safe and secure.
Also, look out for built-in Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which come standard on some devices.
Since these hot spots are mobile, solid battery life is a must, and so is the ability to charge quickly. If it takes six hours to charge a device that only lasts six hours, you're missing out on the convenience these devices can provide.
Battery life varies pretty significantly amongst devices, but many advertise that they will last up to 24 hours on a single charge. Of course, this all depends on how you use it; if you're streaming videos and doing other data-heavy activities, expect your device to last you much less time than if you're using it for simple activities such as emailing or basic web browsing.
We mentioned that one of the key benefits of a mobile hot spot is connecting to the internet wherever you go. However, your lifestyle may mean that you need to connect to the internet outside of the United States.
Many mobile hot spots will allow you to do this, but not all of them, and those that do will charge you extra for roaming. In many cases, connecting while traveling to Mexico or Canada is much cheaper than connecting in Europe. If this is a need, make sure you're aware of the roaming costs before you sign up.
Lastly, you need to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend. Costs can range from $0 (if you agree to a two-year contract) up to $250 or more. Usually, you will be able to find something in between.
If you want to spend less upfront on the device, that's fine, but the advantage to buying it outright is that you will likely have more flexibility when it comes time to choose a plan; you own the device, so you are free to use it with the network provider that offers you the best deal.
Best Mobile Hotspots of 2020
Now that we've gone over all the different things you need to look out for when shopping for a mobile hot spot, here's our list of the best mobile hot spots in 2020:
Verizon Jetpack 8800L - Best Mobile Hot Spot for Verizon
Verizon's signature mobile hot spot comes fully loaded with all sorts of features that make it an excellent option for those looking to connect no matter where they are.
Of these features, perhaps the one that stands out the most is its speed. The Jetpack 8800L uses a brand new Qualcomm modem that allows it to connect to and aggregate five different networks at once, meaning you should never be too far from a reliable internet connection.
Also, weighing just 5.4 ounces and measuring only four inches wide, this device can easily be carried in your pocket or bag without an issue, helping it truly earn its "mobile" moniker.
Another exciting thing about the Jetpack 8800L is its massive battery, which lasts for up to 24 hours. Additional features include:
- A touch screen display that makes it incredibly easy to set up and troubleshoot the device without accessing a web browser.
- Use of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands to limit network congestion and maintain high speeds.
- The ability to connect up to 15 WiFi devices at one time.
- An automatic VPN for added security.
- Roaming in 200 countries (additional fees apply)
- A multi-functional USB port that makes it easy for you to share files over your mobile WiFi connection.
However, some things to consider are that this device is only available through Verizon, and those who aren't customers will need to open an account to be able to buy this device. It also retails for $199, which isn't cheap, but that price can drop to as low as $99 if you are willing to sign up for a two-year contract.
All in all, the Jetpack 8800L from Verizon is an excellent mobile hot spot that is more than capable of delivering an excellent internet connection wherever you are.
Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hot Spot - Best Mobile Hot Spot for Verizon
For those who already use AT&T as their wireless provider, or who want to use it for their mobile hot spot service, the Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hot Spot, which is made by Netgear and is exclusive to AT&T, is one of the best devices on the market. But it does come at a cost. Retail price is $249.99, though you can pay it off over two years if you sign up for a contract. Doing this means you'll pay about $8 per month.
The Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hot Spot is so good because it operates almost like a router than a mobile hot spot. It gives you the ability to block certain websites, separate bands, perform port forwarding and filtering, and many more things that the other hot spots on this list don't allow you to do. Of course, not everyone needs these features, but this device is a no-brainer for those who do.
The Nighthawk is fast and able to cast out a signal as far as 100 feet. You can connect up to 20 devices and use it as a WiFi extender, which is useful if you're somewhere with a WiFi signal that is too weak to be useful.
The main drawbacks to the Nighthawk are its price tag, as we mentioned, and its display. You can see all the settings on its LCD screen, but you can't change much. To do that, you need to access a web browser.
Overall, this is one of the best mobile hot spots money can buy, but as we mentioned, it's exclusive to AT&T. By now, you should realize that the carrier you choose is going to have a pretty significant impact on which device you wind up buying.
Jetpack MiFi 8000L - Best Alternative to Verizon and AT&T
For those wishing to use Sprint as their carrier, this is the best device to use. It's essentially the same as the Jetpack MiFi 8800L offered by Verizon. The only noticeable difference is that it costs $240 without a contract, but you can split that up and pay just $2.50 per month for 24 months, significantly reducing its overall cost. Of course, to take advantage of this, you will need to become a Sprint customer.
T-Mobile Franklin T9 Mobile Hot Spot - Best Budget Mobile Hot Spot
For those looking for a budget option, the Franklin T9 offered by T-Mobile is a great choice. It offers many of the same features as the more expensive options on this list, including a 24-hour battery, the ability to connect up to 15 devices, a touch screen display, and advanced security features. It also works by aggregating different networks to help provide you with the best possible connection regardless of your location.
The one downside is that it has just 256MB of RAM, which means it will work slightly slower than the top options reviewed on this list, which all have 512 MB of RAM.
However, with a retail price of just $84, this small performance degradation might be more than worth it for many people. Of course, to get the Franklin T9, you will need to become a T-Mobile customer.
Skyroam Solis - Best Mobile Hot Spot for International Travel
Many of the devices we've included on this list are set up for roaming and international travel. Still, the plans they run on while allowing for roaming are not designed for it, so it can get so expensive to use data outside of the United States. But if you really need something that will get you WiFi wherever you are on the planet, then the Skyroam Solis is the device for you.
It uses a "virtual SIM" to connect you to LTE networks in virtually any country worldwide. Data is a tad pricey, but it's not bad, and you pay as you go, which can help keep costs down. One day is $9, five days is $45, $10 days is $90, and a monthly unlimited plan is $99.
It also works as a power bank that you can use to charge your phone on the go, which is a handy extra feature not seen in many mobile hot spots.
The main downside is that you can only connect up to five devices at once, which is considerably lower than with the others on this list. But at just $99, it is a pretty good deal and will more than adequately serve international travelers who need to get connected to 4G WiFi while they're traveling around the globe.
Verizon Inseego 5G MiFi M1000 Hotspot - Best 5G Mobile Hot Spot
Although we spent considerable time discussing why it might not be the best idea to invest in a 5G mobile hot spot right now in 2020, we recognize some people need it, or at least really, really want it. If that's you, then you will do well to go with the Verizon Inseego 5g MiFi M1000 Hotspot.
However, in the spirit of full disclosure, we want to mention that, as of writing, this is really the only 5G hot spot on the marker. Netgear appears ready to release an updated version of the Nighthawk that will work on 5G, but it has yet to hit the market.
But this device is good enough on its own to make this list. It's remarkably fast (both on 5G and 4G) and comes with many of the features we now expect from a mobile hot spot, including built-in VPN, multi-band support, and the ability to connect up to 15 devices at a time. It's also compact, and easy-to-use plus all settings can be managed through its built-in touch screen.
The battery should last at least a day, but one nice thing about the M1000 is that it comes with fast charging ability and the ability to connect to a network via a USB-C cable.
All of these features, though, come at a big-time cost. The M1000 retails for $649. Yes, that's a lot of money, and what you're paying for is the 5G capability. If this is important to you, this device is the way to go, but if you're just looking for a fast mobile hot spot, there are far cheaper options that will deliver excellent service through mobile 4G LTE networks.
Connect Wherever You Go
As you can see, a big part of deciding which mobile hot spot is right for you is choosing the network provider you want to use. However, if you are okay with using a different provider for this than the one you use for your phone, you can find some pretty amazing devices that will make it possible to connect to lightning-fast internet no matter where you are. Take some time to consider your needs and budget, but if you choose one of the devices on this list, you won't be disappointed.