What is a mobile hotspot and how does it work?

Woman using mobile hotspot for devices

As people depend more and more on the internet for their business, social and entertainment needs, the ability to stay connected anywhere in the world has become increasingly important. Whether you're an entrepreneur trying to have an impromptu Zoom meeting or a parent trying to keep your toddler entertained by streaming their favorite Netflix cartoon, you need access to the internet when you're on the go. In that case, you might need to use a mobile hotspot device.

A portable mobile hotspot can help you connect to the internet without having to rely on a public Wi-Fi network. In this article, we'll tell you what a mobile hotspot is and how it can help you access the internet wherever you are.

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What are hotspots?

Hotspots are areas where you can pick up wireless internet using a laptop, tablet or any other connected device. Companies like coffee shops, restaurants, airports and libraries know how important connectivity is to their customers. For example, writers want to be able to sit down at a coffee shop and research their next piece. Businesspeople want to be able to design company reports while waiting for their flight to take off. And students want to be able to use the internet at the library to study for their next exam.

To meet their customers' demands, many companies set up wireless local area networks (WLANs) where the public can gain access to the internet. To work, though, these WLAN connections need a router that connects to an internet service provider, like Frontier, just like a home wireless connection does. But what happens if there's not a router nearby? You may need your own mobile hotspot to go online.

What is a mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot or hotspot device is like a personal, portable router you can use to connect to the internet with a compatible device when there are no public hotspots available. It uses a cellular signal to connect to the internet the same way your phone does, but you can't use it to make or receive calls.

Most modern iPhones, Android phones and other smartphones have a feature that allows them to be used as a hotspot. You may have to call your cellular service provider and pay a monthly fee to activate this feature. Connecting a tablet or anything else to a wireless connection provided by your phone is called tethering.

Using a Wi-Fi hotspot can drastically lower your phone's battery life. That's why there are dedicated mobile hotspot devices, like the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5g Mobile Hotspot and the Inseego 5G MiFi M2000.

You can use these Wi-Fi devices independently of your phone to help conserve your battery power. They're extremely portable and most are small enough to fit in your pocket. You'll need to get a separate cellular service from your phone account to use a mobile hotspot device, though.

There are several benefits you can gain from using your own wireless network as opposed to a public one. In some cases, a personal network can be more secure, reliable and faster than a public wireless network. Keep reading to see some circumstances where a mobile hotspot can be a great tool.

Why use a mobile hotspot?

Mobile hotspots can come in handy in a variety of situations, from road trips with small children to video conferencing sessions with a boss to surfing the web while out in the great outdoors. Even gamers can use mobile hotspots to compete online away from home.

Let's say you're at a crowded airport and a large number of people are using the public Wi-Fi connection. You need to have an important business meeting over Zoom with one of your colleagues from work but all the network traffic at the airport is slowing down the wireless internet speed.

If you try to use the airport's public Wi-Fi, you could experience awkward delays in your business meeting, or you might even lose the connection entirely. You don't want to risk missing important information about your company due to a bad connection.

A mobile hotspot lets you bypass all the network traffic and get a better connection to your co-worker. This way, you can avoid interruptions and make sure your meeting is as productive as it possibly can be.

Mobile hotspots let you work online anywhere you want to. Let's say you're a college student and need a quiet space to work on an online school project. The only problem is that your roommate is blaring their music and you can't concentrate. With a mobile hotspot, you can take your laptop to a serene area outside, like your apartment pool, to complete your project.

Hotspots are ideal for people who travel a lot for business, remote employees who like to work in unconventional settings or anyone who wants to use the internet away from home. A mobile hotspot can give you Wi-Fi access anywhere there's a cellular signal.

Can you use a mobile hotspot for your home internet?

Because a mobile hotspot converts a cellular 4G LTE or 5G network signal into a wireless connection, it's possible to use one at home. However, a mobile hotspot may not be a great alternative to a home broadband connection unless you use the internet very sparingly or you're willing to severely limit your usage.

Most mobile hotspot plans have data caps that restrict the amount of internet you can use. If you go over your data cap, your ISP will slow down the speed of your connection to a point that even the simplest tasks online might be almost impossible to get done. Your ISP may even charge you extra for the data you use beyond your plan.

At most, many of these mobile hotspot plans only give you as much as 20 to 30 gigabytes of internet usage per month. Compare that to the national household average for internet usage of 344 GB. Mobile hotspot plans simply aren't expansive enough for heavy internet users or families.

If you have multiple internet users in your household who go online to game, stream movies or do business, you're better off getting a home internet plan. Frontier has great home internet plans for all types of internet users. Better yet, we only offer unlimited data plans, so you'll never have to worry about frustrating data caps or overage fees. Check availability in your area today.

Are mobile hotspots secure?

There are always risks associated with using the internet and using the internet in a public space amplifies them. Strangers may try to go online using your personal connection, which can drain your data, and any time you use the internet in public, your personal information could be accessible to hackers.

Luckily, there are some ways you can help make your mobile hotspot connection safer and more secure. Modern mobile hotspots will usually have security encryption in place automatically, but you can change your data encryption type to Wi-Fi WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or WPA3, which are the most secure forms of encryption offered by most cellular service providers.

You can also update your service set identifier (SSID) to something that will be difficult to hack. Your SSID is basically the name of your internet connection. Hackers have lists of commonly used SSIDs. By creating a unique one, you make it more difficult for them to find yours. A great SSID should be as random as possible with no popular words or phrases.

Finally, you should make a long, complicated password for your connection. Strong passwords usually include a series of words or letters and inconsequential numbers. Don't use things like your pet's name, your street address, a parent's birthday or any other information that a hacker might be able to access. Change your password periodically just to be safe.

How do mobile hotspots work?

Mobile hotspots connect to the same 4G or 5G cellular networks that cellphones do. The mobile hotspot receives the cellular signal, converts it to a Wi-Fi signal and makes it available to any nearby device as long as the user has the SSID and password.

Multiple users can use the same mobile hotspot to get internet service. However, just like your wireless connection at home, more traffic on the network means a slower connection. You should also keep tabs on the amount of internet everyone on your network is using.

If you're using a mobile connection to do something like gaming with friends on a few devices, it's easy to quickly use up all of the available internet on your data plan. The process for checking the amount of internet you're using on your hotspot will vary depending on whether you're using an operating system like iOS or an independent mobile hotspot device.

Choosing the right mobile hotspot for your needs

When it comes to mobile hotspots, there's a variety of models with different features. Normally, a hotspot will be created for a particular cellular service. Ultimately, the right hotspot for you will depend on your internet needs.

For example, you'll likely want a hotspot that offers a blazing-fast 5G cellular connection if you plan to use it for competitive gaming, where split-second reactions can be the difference between winning and losing.

Speed may not be as important to you if you just want a hotspot to surf the web while you're vacationing abroad. In that case, you might want a mobile hotspot with a long battery life, so you won't have to constantly be looking for a place to charge it. Here are a few features to look for in your mobile hotspot:

  • 5GHz Wi-Fi will provide much faster internet than other networks, like 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
  • A touchscreen is easy to use and will also let you see details like how strong your connection is and how much battery you have left.
  • An antenna port will give you the opportunity to strengthen your cellular signal with an external antenna.
  • 5G compatibility will give your mobile hotspot the strongest cellular connection available. It can provide connections many times faster than 4G technology.
  • A long battery life will let you use the internet for a long time without having to recharge your hotspot device.
  • Some mobile hotspots can double as cellphone chargers, which can be convenient for work travel or vacationing.

Prices for mobile hotspots can vary greatly. Whichever hotspot you choose, be sure to leave room in your budget for the monthly cellular service. Some service providers will also let you purchase prepaid hotspot plans if you won't be using your hotspot every month.

Get fast internet service at your fingertips with Frontier

While mobile hotspots have you covered when on the go, it's important to come home to internet service you can trust. If you need a fast internet connection with high reliability in your home, Frontier has a variety of broadband internet plans, including DSL and fiber-optic, to meet all of your internet needs.

Our basic high-speed internet plan works great for small households of casual web surfers. However, if your family needs more, Frontier Fiber Internet offers a speed capable range as fast as 940 Mbps and symmetrical download and upload speeds on select plans. It's great for households with multiple people who use the internet for things like gaming or streaming their own content.

Customers love our unlimited plans and appreciate our straightforward pricing structure. The best part is that there are no annual commitments. Check availability to see what internet plans Frontier offers in your area.

Max speeds are wired. Wi-Fi, actual and average speeds may vary. See details at frontier.com/internetdisclosures.