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Don’t Bother Using a Hotspot for Home Internet (Except in Certain Cases)

A hotspot is great for traveling—but it’s not so great for using at home.

If you’re on the go, you can use a mobile hotspot for secure, reliable internet access in places where Wi-Fi is limited or nonexistent. It’s a key tool for travelers, remote workers, and even some students. But a hotspot is a limited device, designed to be used on a temporary basis. Sluggish speeds and tight hotspot data restrictions make tethering around the clock an expensive folly.

Still, wireless hotspot internet has a ton of potential. And in some cases it does work for home use: Personal hotspots can be an effective alternative to satellite and DSL internet for rural users, and they work in a pinch if you’re living for a short time in a vacation rental or hotel. Take a look at our guide below for all the details on the pros and cons of hotspotting from home.

Fire up a new hotspot 

We follow Wi-Fi hotspots closely at HighSpeedInternet.com—and we use them a ton too. Take a look at our guide to the best hotspots and the best hotspot data plans for the full breakdown on products, prices, and speeds.

Why you shouldn’t use a hotspot for home internet

While personal hotspots work great on a temporary basis, they come with some restrictions that make it hard to depend on them for continuous, daily use. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the roadblocks that impede hotspotting at home:

  • Limited market for hotspots. Unlike the flourishing market of broadband equipment like routers and modems, there are fewer mobile hotspot devices to choose from—and many are locked to specific cellular carriers. (Naturally, we have the scoop on the best hotspots in case you’re shopping.)
  • High prices for data plans. Due to the limited capacity of their networks, cellular companies impose stricter limits on the amount of hotspot data they can offer customers. You can’t get totally unlimited hotspot data, and hotspot data comes at a higher price per gigabyte (although you can still find some good data deals).
  • Slow(ish) speeds on cellular networks. Cell phone data speeds don’t come close to the speeds of a fiber or cable internet connection. That’s changing, of course, with the advent of services like 5G home internet. But even with the best 5G speeds, you may have to deal with fluctuating speeds and even outages.

Honestly, we wish hotspots were better suited for home use. Cellular data is faster and more convenient than the crumbling copper of DSL, and a hotspot doesn’t break the bank like satellite internet does. If you have a smartphone, getting Wi-Fi is as easy as clicking on your phone’s hotspot button.

Many internet users in developing countries like Egypt and Pakistan have embraced mobile data plans from phone companies over fixed broadband options—and the phone companies have smartly adapted to meet their needs. It’s a brain-scratcher why American telecom outfits haven’t done the same.

Pro tip: Go T-Mobile if you need hotspot data

T-Mobile has the best data plans for hotspotting. For a bargain price, you get a little bit of data up front, plus the option to buy more data whenever you want.

Devil’s advocate—Three good reasons to use a hotspot for home internet

Despite our misgivings, a hotspot sometimes does the trick for long-term use.

You live in a rural area

Internet options are often sorely limited in remote parts of the United States, but radio towers really come in handy in these locales. If you’re living in an area with reliable cell service, a mobile hotspot and reliable plan may just do the trick. You get better speeds than satellite internet and you don’t have to pay as much either.

That said, your better bet may still be a fixed wireless setup like 4G LTE home internet.

You’re staying short-term in a vacation home, hotel, or Airbnb

A hotspot can be a great alternative to home internet when you’ll be somewhere temporarily. Setting up internet can be costly and time consuming, and some internet providers require you to commit to a year of service to get a plan. Skip all that by switching on a mobile hotspot and loading up on data.

Pro tip: Explore other portable internet options

We’re living in an age when internet is getting more portable than ever. Take a look at our guide to portable internet to see other options besides hotspots. Who knows, maybe what you really need is a BGAN terminal for Saharan desert browsing!

You use the internet, like, once a week

We aren’t judging if you live off the grid! Some of us just don’t like having a whole lot of technology around, and that’s okay. Having a hotspot (even your phone’s hotspot) means you have enough internet access to cover the basic necessities without requiring you to commit to a pricier home setup.

Want a hotspot? Here are the best ones

Although a hotspot is not really meant for home use, it’s still a useful device to have in your Wi-Fi toolkit. Here’s a breakdown of the best devices. (Hint: Stick to T-Mobile or Verizon for the best prices, features, and plans.)

Best forProductPriceConnectivityMax devicesOrder online
Best overallInseego 5G MiFi M2000$121.995G, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)30View on Amazon
Best Verizon hotspotInseego MiFi M2100 5G UW$399.995G, 4G LTE, 802.11ac30View on Verizon
Best AT&T hotspotNETGEAR Nighthawk M1 4G LTE Mobile Router$319.004G LTE, 802.11ac20View on Amazon
Best 5G hotspot for AT&TNETGEAR Nighthawk M6 5G WiFi 6 Mobile Router$699.995G (mm-wave, C-band), Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)32View on Amazon
Best budget hotspotAlcatel LINKZONE$99.994G LTE, 802.11n16View on Amazon
Best for international travelHuawei E5577-320 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot$84.954G LTE, 802.11n10View on Amazon

Get 5G home internet for the best wireless experience

Rather than a hotspot, 5G home internet really is the best way to get affordable internet over a cellular connection.

Like a hotspot, this fast-emerging service uses cellular networks to get you internet. But 5G home internet works over a “fixed wireless” connection, meaning it’s designed to work in one place—i.e., at home over a gateway device. And unlike a hotspot, you get solid speeds and unlimited data, giving you dependable service for streaming, gaming, and remote work.

T-Mobile and Verizon both offer 5G home internet services, and they’re much cheaper than the cell carriers’ hotspot plans. They also come with free installation and equipment, so you don’t have to invest in a standalone device like a mobile hotspot to make the Wi-Fi work. AT&T has also recently launched its own version of 5G home internet, Internet Air, meant for former DSL customers.

PlanSpeedPriceView on provider's site
Verizon 5G Home InternetUp to 300Mbps$50/mo.* ($25/mo. w/ Verizon Unlimited Plus)
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet72–245Mbps$60/mo. ($40/mo. w/ Go5G Plus or Magenta MAX)View Plan
Starry 300Up to 300Mbps$50/mo.View Plan
AT&T Internet Air75–225Mbps$55.00/mo.View Plan

FAQ

Can you get unlimited hotspot data?

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Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.