The Easy Guide to Mobile Hotspots

20 March 2017

Guide to Mobile Hot Spots

Say bye-bye to public WiFi...and crowded cafes with terrible coffee. Connect your laptop to the internet via your cell phone's mobile hotspot feature and you can work (or play) on-the-go anytime.  

And get this. It's super easy and actually quite magical (at least the first time) to do. Here's all the info you need to share your smartphone's internet with all those poor, unconnected devices. 

What are mobile hotspots?

Mobile hotspot is a feature that lets you share your cell phone carrier's network connection with other devices (laptops and tablets included) so they can access the internet. Devices connect to your mobile hotspot using their Wi-Fi feature. This connection is also referred to as tethering. It good to note that using your carrier's network is much safer than logging on to public WiFi.

In a word, tethering is amaaazing: it's what makes our laptops true, virtual offices and our tablets streaming video babysitters. It might even save your family (and your marriage) on your next family summer vacation. 

How do I set up my mobile hotspot?

This is usually as simple as going into your phone’s WiFi settings and enabling your mobile hotspot option. Once you do, your phone should appear as an available WiFi network. The network will have the name of your device which could be either a name that you’ve given it, your first name followed by the kind of phone (i.e. “Alex’s iPhone”) or a generic name given to the phone by the manufacturer such as “AndroidHotspot5956”. If the name of the network annoys you it should be easy enough to change it.

Make sure the default security settings of your personal mobile hotspot include a strong password so as to avoid any freeloaders soaking up your data. 

Do mobile hotspots use my monthly data?

Yes. Sharing your internet with all those poor, unconnected devices is kind, but your altruism has a price: data.  Whatever amount of data those tethered devices consume is pulled from your data allotment. 

Some carriers' plans make all of their set data on a plan available for tethering (i.e. if you're on a 6GB data plan, all 6GB can be used for tethering if you wish). Other carriers' offers assign a specific amount of hotspot usage. Most of the major carriers' unlimited plans come with a hotspot data allotment of 10GB. Once that is used up, the tethered speeds will decrease to 3G or if you're with Sprint it drops to 2G.

Obviously the biggest danger with tethering is going over your monthly data limit. Try to steer clear of video and music streaming services and definitely try to avoid downloading sizeable files of any kind. If you’d like a better idea of what kind of content and services to avoid check out our data usage guide

What is the speed of my hotspot data?

Those devices tethered to your smartphone should have the same data speed as your smartphone, meaning if your data plan offers high speed 4G LTE data, your tethered devices also have this speed.  If you're with a carrier like Cricket that caps its data speed at 8Mbps on all of its data plans, your tethered device(s) will also have that data speed cap as well. 

However, once you go over your mobile hotspot data allotment, your tethering speeds will decrease to 3G or 2G speeds depending on your carrier. 

Mobile hotspots and data deprioritization

 A word to the wise on this one--with most unlimited plans, the carriers will often deprioritize tethering data over on-device data at times of high network congestion. This means in times of major traffic (you're at a packed airport terminal or football stadium where everyone and their Aunt Jasmine is on their phones) your tethering data speed might drop down to 3G or 2G depending on what carrier you're with. But once the traffic has cleared, your speeds should increase.

How much hotspot data do I need?

Good news. Because of our growing obsession (or mania) with 24/7 connection, most cell phone plans now provide a decent chunk of hotspot data included or available as an extra add-on cost. 

When picking your hotspot amount, it's good to think about the sort of internetting your tethered devices will be doing. Video and music streaming and large file downloading will require more data than web browsing. 

It's also helpful to consider how often you'll use this feature. If it's here and there and when you're personally tethered to your kids on summer vacation (and desperately need a Netflix babysitter), you may want a plan that allows you to purchase hotspot data as an add-on amount or offers unlimited video streaming feature like Binge On available to subscribers on T-Mobile's Unlimited Plan  which allows you to stream without it counting towards your mobile hotspot data allotment. True, it runs video at standard definition (vs high definition), but we checked it out and the picture quality's solid.

However, if you see mobile hotspots as a regular part of your smartphone routine --let's say you travel often and prefer to tether your laptop to your smartphone's carrier network versus using the potentially sketchy hotel public WiFi-- a plan that includes a sizable amount (10GB) of hotspot data is a better bet. 

Carriers that offer 2GB data plans and hotspots

Carriers that offer Unlimited data and hotspots

We hope this guide was helpful and wish you well with your future as a fully-functioning tetherer.

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