These 4 Mobile Hot Spots Will Help You Get Online Wherever You Go
I’m constantly on the go: As a digital nomad, I move to a new place almost every month.
And since I work online, I need a constant internet connection. One thing that often gets in my way? A lack of good Wi-Fi.
Sure, I could tether my laptop to my (somewhat ancient) iPhone, but that drains the battery in like six minutes — and because I have a basic plan, it also blows through my data pretty quickly.
Which is why I’ve always been curious about mobile hot spots. These little devices use cellular networks to provide wireless internet access wherever you are.
But which one works best? Should you get one that’s prepaid or one that comes with a contract? I decided to investigate. Here’s what I found about four of the best mobile hot spots for any traveler.
How Do Mobile Wi-Fi Hot Spots Work?
First, a little explanation: Mobile Wi-Fi hot spots aren’t supposed to replace your home internet connection.
Unlike many home internet plans, they don’t include unlimited service. They’re meant to provide Wi-Fi when you’re traveling (or as a backup to other internet providers).
Although a hot spot is a physical item you carry with you, it connects to your devices wirelessly. You can connect multiple devices — your phone, laptop and tablet, for example — to a single hot spot.
You’ll first need to pay for the hot spot itself, and then data charges on top of that. To get that data and connect you to the internet, hot spots rely on one of the major cellular networks.
Translation? Your wireless signal will only be as good as your cell signal. If the cellular network associated with your hot spot gets no service, your hot spot won’t either. (That’s why we had to record this Purple Friday video instead of broadcasting it live — neither our cell phones nor our hot spot got service!)
Before buying a hot spot, be sure to consider where you’ll travel to, whether your chosen Wi-Fi hot spot will have service, and how fast that service will be. The fastest networks are LTE.
One last consideration? Whether you need prepaid or one with a contract? Unless you plan to use the hot spot a lot, it seems like no-contract plans are a better bet, since you only pay when you use them.
As I researched, it quickly became clear that the “best” mobile hot spot depends on how you’re going to use it.
So rather than simply declaring one hot spot the best — when it might not fit your needs — I decided to break this list down by the best mobile hot spot for each type of traveler.
Best Mobile Wi-Fi Hot Spot for Frequent Travelers
Price: $199 retail or $49.99 with two-year contract; plans start at $40 per month for 2GB of data
Service Provider: Verizon
Battery Life: Up to 24 hours
This is pretty much the king of mobile hot spots. One reason? Verizon’s comprehensive LTE coverage means you’ll have fast service in most of the country.
This guy also has an insane battery life — Verizon claims up to 24 hours per charge. And it can charge your cell phone. How cool is that?
But all that doesn’t come cheap. For 4GB of data, for example, you’d have to shell out $50 a month. (If you’re already a Verizon customer, these costs are a little lower.)
The other downside? You’re locked into a two-year contract. (And nobody likes those.)
If you’re looking for a serious mobile hot spot — one that can connect up to 15 devices at a time — at some of the country’s fastest speeds, this is it.
Want something a little less heavy-duty? Keep reading.
Best Prepaid Mobile Hot Spot for Occasional Travelers
Price: $60 for device, plus $25 for 2GB of data (good for 30 days)
Service Provider: AT&T
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
If, like me, you avoid contracts like the plague (and probably will never need to connect 15 devices at once), this hot spot might be a better fit.
Only available at AT&T stores, this device costs $60 upfront. After that, you can buy data online, over the phone or at the store whenever you’re about to hit the road.
You could, for example, purchase 2GB of data for $25, or 5GB for $50. You’ll have 30 days to use the data before it expires, making it a great choice for a vacation or business trip.
Sure, AT&T’s LTE coverage isn’t as comprehensive as Verizon’s — and this device isn’t quite as fancy — but for occasional travelers, it’s still a solid choice.
Best Mobile Hot Spot for International Travelers
Price: $119, including 1GB of data
Service Provider: Various
Battery Life: 6 hours
Heading abroad? This mobile hot spot works in 70 countries — with no roaming charges. You can also connect up to 10 devices at once.
When you buy the device for $119, it comes with 1GB of data for free, which it claims is enough to browse the internet for 50 hours or watch 20 hours of cat videos on YouTube (yes, it really says that).
If you run through that, you can pay for a refill: $25 for 500MB, $45 for 1GB, $99 for 3GB, $159 for 5GB or $299 for 10GB.
Plus, the device is super-tiny. Like less than 3 ounces. So you won’t have to worry about it taking up too much room in your luggage!
Best Mobile hot spot for Budget Travelers
Name: Karma Go With Refuel
Price: $149 (though often on sale for $99), plus $15 for 1GB
Service Provider: Sprint
Battery Life: 6 hours
Although the Karma Go might seem pricy at first, the data is pretty affordable: 1GB for $15.
But even better, you can earn free data by letting others log on to your network. What could be more Penny Hoarder than that?
Every time you use the Karma Go, your network will appear to nearby users — and allow them to sign on. For every person who does, you’ll get 100MB of free data.
The only problem? Karma Go, which operates on the Sprint network, doesn’t work well outside urban areas (here’s a coverage map). So, while it might be great for working at an airport or downtown coffee shop, it probably won’t help at your grandma’s house in the sticks.
No matter where you’re traveling, a mobile hot spot can come in handy — and hopefully one of the options above will suit your needs.
Your Turn: Have you ever used a mobile hot spot?
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.