Can a mobile device replace your home internet?

Robin Layton

Oct 13, 2023 — 6 min read

If you aren't a heavy gamer or streamer, getting internet through your phone may work for you.

Key findings


  • Some 15% of U.S. adults are “smartphone-only” internet users – that is, they have a smartphone but do not have a home broadband connection.
  • 71% of non-broadband users say they are not interested in having such a connection at home.
  • The average speed of cellular networks in the U.S. was 27.06 Mbps in 2023.

Our phones have become so much more than just communication devices. Consider this — from mobile banking and connecting with friends and family over social media to working remotely via Google Drive and accessing email from the Starbucks line — it’s a wonder any of us still have a desktop computer at all. 

In fact, “over 55% of website traffic comes from mobile devices. 92.3% of internet users access the internet using a mobile phone.” This use has been growing steadily since around 2020. 

According to Pew Research Center, 15% of U.S. adults are “smartphone-only” internet users, meaning they have a smartphone but not a home broadband connection. 71% or non-broadband users say they are not interested in having a broadband connection at home, content with their smartphone-only internet.

While convenient, accessing the internet frequently from your home can chew up your data plan unless you have unlimited data. However, if you aren’t a heavy internet user, have a fairly new phone and you need to save money short-term, using your phone as a hotspot can make sense for you.

Using mobile data for home internet

You can use your smartphone to access an internet connection for your laptop. You simply have to set up Wi-Fi tethering, or your “personal hotspot,” on any Android or iOS phone

You may think that your unlimited cellphone data plan will save you, but there is always a cap for how much of that data you can access for your mobile hotspot. As with most caps, after you reach the limit, your speed will slow down even more as the provider will deprioritize your need for data.

Pros and cons of using a mobile device as an internet connection

  • Potential cost savings: No separate ISP plan required.

  • Availability: If you’re in a service area for your phone, you’ll have an internet connection.

  • Slow speeds: If you’re a gamer or streamer, you won’t be able to use this method.

  • Data limits and overage fees: If your phone plan is not unlimited, you may quickly incur some hefty fees for going over the limit while surfing the internet.

How fast is internet through your phone?

Accessing the internet through your phone’s Wi-Fi is likely going to produce far slower connection speeds than the much more powerful signals of a router. Even the cheapest level of internet access from your provider is likely going to deliver speeds far superior to any phone. 

Huge video viewer? That becomes a serious roadblock for you. While you’ll still be able to access streaming services like Netflix, downloads will take a long time, and that goes for system updates and uploading photos or other large data to the cloud. In short, it’ll all just take forever. 

Knowing what speed you need is the first step in deciding if you can use your hotspot as your internet connection. Most dedicated hotspots will have speeds up to 30 Mbps.

For example, a video call will need about 1 Mbps, emails 1 Mbps. But, telecommuting or learning online can require up to 10 Mbps or more. Streaming Netflix and gaming on your PlayStation 5 will be glitchy, especially in HD. You’ll need from 4 to 8 Mbps to game, but ideally you should have up to 25 Mbps. 

Is using a cell phone for internet secure?

Using your cell as a hotspot is actually safer than using a public Wi-Fi spot. When you set up your phone’s hotspot, it’ll prompt you to use a unique password. Using a public Wi-Fi hotspot can leave you vulnerable to hackers, viruses, malware and other security risks. 

Staying safe online is always priority one, so remember to make sure you’re accessing secure websites by looking out for “HTTPS” in the URL. Also, get antivirus software if you don’t have any already and keep it updated. 

Drawbacks of mobile internet

Using your phone for your internet connection can be convenient and cheaper in some cases, but there are several drawbacks to consider.

Slower speeds – As we mentioned above, you’ll likely experience slower and less reliable internet speeds with your smartphone than you would with a broadband connection, like fiber or cable. Your mobile internet speeds will vary based on your location, proximity to a cell tower and network congestion. If you try to do any high bandwidth activities like streaming or online gaming, you will likely experience slow speeds, lagging and latency. 

Data caps – Most mobile plans have data caps, meaning you have a limited amount of data you can use each month. Even if you have an unlimited plan, you will still have a cap, albeit a large one. Streaming videos, downloading large files and engaging with other data-heavy activities can leach your data quicker than you may realize and can result in reduced speeds and additional charges if you exceed your limit. 

Network congestion – Mobile networks, think 5G or 4G LTE, can become congested, especially in densely populated areas or during peak hours. This can decrease your speeds and increase your latency, hindering your ability to browse the web, stream content easily or conduct video calls without buffering. 

Signal strength and coverage – The strength of your mobile signal relies heavily on your proximity to the cellular tower within the mobile network. If you are too far from a cell tower, your signal strength will diminish. If you live in an area with weak or inconsistent coverage, your signal will also suffer. 

Higher costs – Mobile data plans can be more expensive compared to traditional home internet plans, especially if you rely on your mobile connection for bandwidth-heavy internet activities requiring a lot of data. You could be hit with higher monthly bills if you go over your limit or unlimited access. 

Lack of flexibility and stability – Mobile network signal strength fluctuates due to weather conditions, buildings, interference from other devices and other factors. This can create an unstable connection. Your mobile connection is also tied to your specific device, making it harder to share the connection with other devices. If you want to use the internet simultaneously on multiple devices, you will likely face issues. 

Limited device connectivity – If you have multiple devices at home requiring internet access, keep in mind that mobile connections have limitations on the number of devices that can connect simultaneously.  

Mobile internet provider comparison

If you decide mobile-only internet is the right choice for you, there are many different providers and plans to choose from. We’ve listed some top mobile providers below:

Looking for a true home internet service?

Mobile-only internet trends have shifted in recent years, with more people opting for a true home internet connection. In 2018, 20% of Americans exclusively used their smartphones for internet, but according to research, this number is now unlikely to exceed 13% of U.S. households and will continue to decrease as more affordable broadband connections become available.

If money is an issue, there are options for you. Most internet providers offer cheap internet plans, starting at around $20/mo. for up to 100 Mbps. Our address checker will show you which providers are available in your area.

Some providers like Optimum and Spectrum offer mobile plans now and offer bundling options, so you could have an internet and phone plan in one bill.

For example, Spectrum One allows you to pick your internet speed plan, starting up to 300 Mbps, and get Advanced WiFi and one unlimited mobile line free for 12 months. Prices run $49.99/mo. to $89.99/mo., depending on what plan you pick.

Or call us today: (844) 451-2720

The bottom line

Mobile-only internet can be a great choice if you are looking for a cheap internet option and are not engaging in bandwidth-heavy activities. It does have some drawbacks, though. If you use it for data-leaching internet activities like streaming, gaming, video chatting, etc., you will likely encounter data overage charges or reduced speeds. Mobile internet also has limited device connectivity, signal strength limitations and a lack of flexibility that may not be worth it. If you find yourself looking for a true home internet connection, check your address for providers near you. 

Find more broadband news and studies on trends in the industry on Allconnect’s news hub and research hub.

Using a mobile phone as an internet connection FAQs

Can your mobile phone replace a home internet provider?

If you don’t use the internet for work or school, but like to check your email and social media from home, you can replace a home internet plan with your mobile phone data. Just remember, you won’t be able to binge those great shows on your streaming app. 

 

A hotspot uses your phone’s cellular data to connect you to the web and can churn through that data fairly quickly. For example, streaming can use up to 200+ MB an hour on your phone’s data, but on a regular ISP connection, it can be 1 to 3 GB per hour.

Using your cell phone to connect to the internet may be costly and slow, but there are other options like a hotspot. Most phones have one and you can also purchase them separately. If you travel a lot, accessing your cell phone’s hotspot is a hit-or-miss plan, as it depends entirely on if you have a strong signal from your provider. There are RV satellite options through Starlink, Viasat or HughesNet

 

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

Camryn Smith

Edited by:

Camryn Smith

Associate Writer

Read bio

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