What is a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

Robin Layton

Nov 7, 2022 — 5 min read

A portable Wi-Fi hotspot is a secure way to connect to the internet on the go or in an emergency.

Adult working on laptop.

A portable Wi-Fi hotspot works like a router by routing a cellular network to your phone or computer. Once activated, you can use the internet on the devices connected. Most cellular phones have a hot spot that you can activate for a fee or you can purchase one separately.

Why would someone use a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

One of the biggest benefits is the portability of the device. Most portable Wi-Fi devices are super small so that you can tuck them into your pocket or purse with ease. Then, when you visit a coffee shop or restaurant, you can gain access to the internet whenever you need it.

Another important advantage is its dedicated connection. Unlike using public Wi-Fi, where many people are using the same connection at the same time, with a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re the only one using it. 

This has several advantages. To start, since you’re the only one on the line, you could have a better connection, which will optimize your experience. It is also a more secure way to access the internet. Being on public Wi-Fi means your internet traffic is visible to anyone with that connection, so by using a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, your information can remain more secure. 

How do you get a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

There are several ways to obtain one. The easiest and most convenient is to see if your cell phone has one. Most smartphones have mobile hotspots built-in. If it does, check with your cellphone provider to see which plans they have available, as you’ll likely have to purchase one to use the service with any regularity.

And if your phone doesn’t have mobile Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities, you can buy one online or by visiting an electronics retailer. When buying one, remember you’ll need to purchase the device and a plan. Many retailers have packaged deals to make the process easier. 

What companies offer portable Wi-Fi hotspots?

There are a wide variety of companies that offer portable Wi-Fi hotspots. Here’s a closer look at what each offers and how much it costs. (Prices are subject to change.)

Verizon: Verizon has several portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices you can purchase on its website. Once you choose your device, you have a wide variety of plan options ranging from 15 GB for $20/mo. to the unlimited data plan, which will cost you $80/mo.

Solis: If you choose a Solis device, they have multiple plans such as pay-as-you-go, where you’ll pay from $8 per each 1 GB you want to use or from $6 per 1GB with their monthly subscription plan.

AT&T: You can choose between several different options with AT&T, including a portable device and one that connects to the USB drive of your computer. The plans range from $25/mo. for 20 GB up to $90/mo. for 100 GB.

T-Mobile: Similar to other providers, T-Mobile sells portable Wi-Fi devices. In addition, its plans offer a good range of choices from 2 GB for $10/mo. to 22 GB for $85/mo. Once you reach your monthly allotment, T-Mobile will slow your connection speeds to 2G.

Amazon: Of all retailers, Amazon offers the most variety. You can choose from brands like Netgear, GlocalMe, Huawei and many more. Your plan price depends on the manufacturer you choose. For example, GlocalMe’s plans include an unlimited plan and hotspot rental at $7.99/day or flexible data plans as low as $1.59 per GB.

How do you set up a portable Wi-Fi hotspot?

There are several ways you can set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you bought a portable device through a retailer or cellular provider, here’s how you set it up. 

Standalone portable hotspot

Step 1: After charging the device, go to the manufacturer’s website and activate it. 

Step 2: Upon activation, select a data plan from the provider. 

Step 3: After completing the activation and plan purchase, your device is ready to go. From here, go to the internet settings on your computer. Most have a shortcut on the bottom right-hand corner with the Wi-Fi icon. Click on that.

Step 4: Doing this will bring up all available Wi-Fi networks in the area. Look at the bottom of your device or the side of the box it comes in, as there will be the device’s name and the passcode. Find the device name on the available Wi-Fi networks then enter the passcode.

Step 5: If you’ve entered the information correctly and activated the device, your computer should connect. If it does, try several websites to ensure they’re loading properly.

Phone hotspot

Step 1: Go to Settings on your cell phone, select Internet Settings and then Hotspot and turn it on.

Step 2: To connect another device like a laptop, open that device’s list of Wi-Fi options.

Step 3: Pick your phone’s hotspot name and enter the password to connect.

How fast are portable hotspots?

Nothing will really beat your home internet connection, but a hotspot can certainly help in a pinch. Just be wary of data use fees and remember that a cellphone hotspot is really designed for single use, so connecting an entire household will slow you down immensely as well as eat up any plan’s data allowance. 

According to Ookla, the average fixed internet download speed is 172 Mbps, compared to a mobile average of 68 Mbps. 

Hotspots right now mostly run off of 4G tech, so speeds run between 30 to 70 Mbps for most cellphone hotspots. If your phone and hotspot have 5G capability, you may be able to reach speeds at 1,000+ Mbps, but that’s rare right now. 

For instance, T-Mobile offers a portable hotspot but cautions that during high-traffic areas, you could see sub-50 Mbps speeds. 

If you’d rather purchase a standalone hotspot, you can connect more devices at faster speeds, but they are pricey. For example, the NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 4G LTE WiFi Mobile Hotspot can handle up to 20 devices and reach speeds up to 1 Gbps. 

Wi-Fi hotspot FAQs

Is having a portable Wi-Fi hotspot faster than traditional Wi-Fi?

Generally, a Wi-Fi connection coming into your home through an internet service provider is faster because there isn’t as much traffic congestion.

If you have to enter credentials such as a network name and password, it is more secure than using a public connection where there are no log-in credentials required.

The coverage map of where the provider offers the fastest speeds is very important since you want access to the fastest speeds with reliability. The price will also be another factor, especially if you’re in an area where you can choose between multiple companies. 

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Illustration of a father and daughter in a living room. The father is sitting in an armchair and reading a newspaper, and the daughter is playing with a toy on the floor.
Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site MYMOVE.com. … Read more