Most mobile devices now come with an option to connect to the internet and transfer data through numerous web portals or apps. Increasing usage of iOS, Android and Windows platform has enabled network providers to offer various Hotspots in the form of Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks.
There are multiple forms of data plans available for the end user. It ultimately depends on your requirements and budget. The main concern associated with data subscriptions is that there are far too many options and it is often difficult to subscribe for the perfect combination of services that suits all of your hotspot criteria. Our aim is to find the best mobile hotspot that will suit users with different and varying needs.
Mobile Hotspot For Incidental Or Occasional Usage
Occasional usage describes data usage that falls below 1 or 2 GB of data transfer in a month. While almost all mobile hotspots offer great browsing speeds that are at par with wired connections, several usage restrictions come into play.
ISPs that are oriented for such users usually charge hefty fees for surplus usage of data that goes beyond the stipulated monthly or periodic limits. Therefore, mobile hotspot subscriptions for occasional usage is only best suited for mobile internet and that too for limited levels. Here are a few options for users that don’t depend on the mobile hotspot for excessive downloads or bandwidth:
Free Hotspot Internet Access
It is often a wonder that most people are unaware of the free hotspots available in their city. Do you have a favorite café where you would like to spend some time with your coffee? Do you hang out at a restaurant for your lunch or dinner? Do you visit a club regularly? If you do, you are missing out on an opportunity for free internet access.
Most business establishments now offer hotspots in the form of Wi-Fi networks for their customers. This is often provided free of cost and is perhaps the best way of accessing internet if you are just an occasional mobile internet user. This also ensures that you don’t have to spend any money on data charges every time you use your device to connect to the internet.
This type of hotspot access is only suitable for people with limited internet usage that doesn’t require transfer of sensitive information over the hotspot connection. Checking emails, shopping, online banking, and all types of data transfer that involves sensitive information should be avoided at these free public hotspots, unless you use a good standing hotspot VPN before connecting.
Personal Hotspot With Smartphone Data Plans
Most data plans offered by major ISPs and mobile carriers usually include free hotspot access, but this is only offered for shared connections. In essence, you can use this type of hotspot for multiple purposes. Along with mobile data usage, these connections can also be used for your home computer or laptop, or you can even become a central hotspot to provide internet access for other mobile devices.
There are two ways to go about for this. The first way is to follow the correct way of finding a mobile carrier that offers exclusive shared data plans. Shared data plans work best when used with other devices, and doesn’t make sense if you are only using one or two systems. This is why this option is most suitable for users within a community or circle.
All you have to do is find a few people who are interested in sharing a data plan and enjoy the benefits of decreased cost or sometimes, even free hotspot access. This can include your family, friends, social circle or even your co-workers.
The only problem with data sharing plans is that there are usually bandwidth restrictions associated with shared plans, therefore, each user who is a part of the shared network needs to understand and be accommodating to the needs of the other users. This will be a major problem if there are bandwidth caps of around 20 GB for major mobile carriers and there are more than 5 high volume users in the network. It can also get tricky when it comes to payments, since, every payment from individual users must be collected and paid in a single lump sum to the carrier.
You can always check with AT&T or Verizon’s shared data plan calculators to understand which plan makes sense for your network. However, you can enjoy unlimited bandwidth on your hotspot by signing up for Sprint, T-Mobile or Ting. Virgin Mobile, on the other hand, which uses Sprint network, charges $15 per month extra for hotspot access. Therefore, Virgin Mobile isn’t really a good choice for free hotspot access.
The second way to gain free hotspot access is to create a Wi-Fi for multiple devices through a regular data plan. This is usually available for most Android and iOS devices, but might incur a $25 fee per month, which is expensive. Therefore, you need to fool your ISP by installing the PdaNet app for Android or iOS. The PdaNet app costs around $30 as a one-time fee, and you don’t have to pay any monthly subscription.
PdaNet cannot be installed on iOS without jailbreaking the iOS device. Jailbreaking is the process of installing a standalone third party iOS app that isn’t authorized or recommended by Apple. Android users, however, can install PdaNet app without any issues.
PdaNet will allow tethering of the devices to enjoy free hotspot access with unlimited bandwidth. However, this is not strictly legal, and if found out, your carrier will force you to stop using the app and ask you to uninstall it completely from your device. To avoid detection, PdaNet will often open and serve mobile versions of websites. Such a connection is not highly recommended if you have desktop requirements. This method is not recommended at all, unless you have a limited hotspot usage. You should also be prepared for any action that your ISP might initiate against you.
FreedomPop is one of the best options available for free mobile internet access. You can enjoy free internet access for bandwidth up to 512 MB, which is more than sufficient if you are an occasional internet user. But don’t be fooled into thinking that FreedomPpop hotspot is entirely free. The device will cost you $100, but that is refundable if you can manage to send the device back within the year in factory condition. Factory condition means that you have to retain the original packaging and the device shouldn’t have any signs of wear and tear. Shipping costs should be borne by the customer.
There are options for earning additional bandwidth by signing up for offers or completing surveys. There is even a referral bonus of up to 500MB. In case you have to keep the device during or after the first year for any reason, the cost for 512MB (exclusive of any free bandwidth) of internet usage per month can run up to $8.33. It then makes sense to spend a little more money to get the 1GB plan that is available for just $10 per month. The extreme plan with 10GB bandwidth will set you back by $60, which is slightly expensive.
FreedomPop uses Sprint’s network, which is basically a WiMax network. Lack of a 3G network makes FreedomPop less accessible in most areas where WiMax is non-existent. But free data usage along with respectable speeds of up to 7 Mbps gives us little reason to complain. The range of devices varies from a small universal hotspot device to USB modem for desktops and data sleeves for iOS devices (even the iPod touch).
Karma hotspot devices find a place in this list due to a unique feature. You pay for the bandwidth, not the tenure. While you have to shell out $10 for 1GB of data for the FreedomPop, you will have to spend an additional $4 for the same 1GB of data for the Karma. But the difference is that you can use the 1GB of data over an extended period of time without any due date. The data limit virtually never expires and is best suited for those who use data sparingly over a period of time. $14 for every 1GB of data you use is a good deal.
Karma and FreedomPop are very much alike in all respects, but overall, the Karma is a better package. True, the $79 cost for the Karma hotspot device is not refundable, but it is highly unlikely that we will get the refund from FreedomPop either. It is not easy to maintain a device in its factory condition for a period of one year. After the year, you have to keep the device. In that respect, Karma is cheaper and more accessible for the casual mobile internet user.
The Karma uses the Sprint’s WiMax network, but the bonuses are far and few. There is however a free 100MB bandwidth for referrals or shared connection.
Hotspot For The Heavy Internet User
It is pretty easy to go overboard with data usage, especially if we are browsing the internet with latest Smartphones and tablets. iPads and other high-end tablets are very similar to desktop computers, and even smartphones are reaching a critical point where it is often difficult to differentiate the difference between browsing on a desktop or laptop and browsing on a mobile device.
Heavy internet users often choose their Smartphone or tablet for downloads, uploads, work, video streaming and more that was quite impossible a few years ago. Therefore, smaller carriers such as FreedomPpop, Karma or even cellular data are not going to be enough. This is why you should use the services of large ISPs and broadband carriers for a reliable and fast hotspot.
Larger carriers are harder to choose, especially due to the difference in services and features on offer. Therefore, instead of reviewing each and every carrier out there, we will take a look at ISPs that are best in three different disciplines. For comparative purposes, we are trying to find out the best service provider in each category that are aimed at heavy internet users with at least 10 GB of data usage every month.
Choice According To Price Of Hotspot Access
Price is a major factor for mobile hotspots, and it does play a decisive role when it comes to subscription.
The most affordable hotspot mobile carrier is of course, Clear, which offers unlimited bandwidth for just $50 a month. The unlimited bandwidth is the only reason required to sign up for this provider, but the shortcoming is that Clear only provides WiMax and no LTE coverage (although LTE is in the pipeline). Therefore, expect sporadic connectivity due to less coverage areas.
FreedomPpop costs $60 for 10GB per month and Karma costs $14 per 1GB, so these are next best affordable hotspot carriers for mobile internet, after Clear. Similar to Clear, FreedomPop and Karma also use the WiMax network.
Sprint cost $80 per month, for which Sprint provides 12 GB of bandwidth. The 10 GB plan at Verizon costs $100 per month and the Sprint equivalent of 12GB plan at Verizon costs $110. The plan at AT&T for 10GB costs the same as Verizon at $100 per month. The advantage with Verizon & AT&T is that these carriers offer unmatched coverage and speeds for 4G LTE.
T-Mobile also costs $80 per month for 10 GB of bandwidth, but even though they advertise 4G networks, it is more of an evolution of 3G than 4G LTE networks.
Hotspot devices from these carriers range from $30-$80, but there are options for picking used ones, especially through official dealers. Some carriers also offer pre-used devices at low costs, and these will offer better peace of mind, rather than opting for cheaper alternatives that are bound to fail in the near future.
It is actually easier to choose really cheap devices, especially like the ones from Verizon that is available for as low as $20. But be careful about these offers, since, if you look closely, you will find that these offers are only available for a 2 year contract. Contracts are what can get you if you are opting for huge initial savings.
Choice According To Speed Of Hotspot Access
Speed is the second consideration in the decision making process for hotspot subscription. 4G LTE networks offer the best speeds of up to 50 Mbps, followed by WiMax networks that offer up to 10 Mbps. 3G has by far the lowest speeds with up to 4 Mbps on offer.
Among the different networks, speed varies from carrier to carrier, but generally, it is safe to mention that Verizon and AT&T consistently came out on top in several speed tests. Both of these large carriers use supreme technologies and offer great coverage to ensure that their customers receive the best internet browsing speed overall.
Clear is the best WiMax option, even better than 3G, if you don’t want to spend more on 4G LTE for the coverage or speed.
Choice According To Coverage For Hotspot Access
Verizon and AT&T offer the best coverage in the 4G LTE network. Reports vary as to which carrier has the best coverage, but Verizon is supposed to be at the top, closely followed by AT&T.
Other 3G and WiMax carriers such as Sprint, Clear and T-Mobile does offer fair coverage in their respective niches, but don’t expect the coverage levels of Verizon or AT&T.
However, all things considered, Clear does make a case for itself if you have decent WiMax coverage, as they offer unlimited hotspot access for only $50 a month, which is perhaps the best hotspot option currently available. On the other hand, if you are only looking at 4G LTE for speed and coverage, and if you are not worried about costs or bandwidth, Verizon should be your best choice.
Hotspot VPN For Mobile
Every wireless internet connection is associated with the risk of intrusion from third parties, unlike wired connections. Most carriers and ISPs only offer basic encryption that can be easily decrypted by hackers, Federal agencies and information phising agents, which will steal your sensitive information. To be completely safe from such intrusions, it will be a good idea to invest in a good hotspot VPN along with your hotspot subscription to ensure that all of your personal and sensitive information is safe from prying eyes.