One of the less common but handy devices in recent memory, the mobile hot spot allows people to turn a data plan into a WiFi network (this simplifies it, but essentially true). You can get a subscription to an appropriate data plan and then use the hot spot as effectively as a router for other devices. There are various options for this service, and we strongly recommend you look into these options before committing to a specific hot spot device. However, once you do that, you will also want to choose a device.
Sometimes a hot spot is more like a subscription, and the equipment can come with it. On other occasions, you might find a hot spot that is more of the main attraction, and you will find service after the fact. Either situation can work, so long as you do your research and pick the right device, and plan for yourself. These plans and devices are generally expensive and sometimes a commitment.
So to help you make the right choice, here is what you need to know and some of the best mobile hot spots available on the market today:
What About Using Your Phone as a Hot Spot?
So before going into it further, we need to clarify a potential mix-up. Have you heard the term hot spot in the context of turning your smartphone into a hotspot? And this is possible with many, if not most modern models of smartphones. In fact, it’s far more common than using any of these devices. So, does such a function make the hot spot obsolete if it exists?
No. Unfortunately, such plans on a smartphone are more limited, and you’ll eat through your data rather quickly if your primary hot spot strategy is to use your phone. Additionally, your smartphone isn’t designed entirely to be a hot spot and won’t be able to support you as much. You might be good with it in a bind, but you may want a more dedicated device and plan if you need it regularly.
Before deciding whether to get a hot spot, check how things look regarding your smartphone plan, etc. If you need hot spot service a couple of times a year, these devices might not be for you. You might save some money and will also know more about hot spots so you can make a better overall decision.
What To Look for in a Mobile Hotspot
We’ll mention a few metrics and terms in the overviews of our top devices, but what do they mean? Furthermore, what even makes a good hotspot anyway? Here is what you should be comparing:
Speed: What speed is best for a mobile hot spot? The simple answer is as fast as possible, but that’s not particularly realistic or helpful. In truth, you should look for a speed that supports your data plan, ensuring that your mobile hot spot isn’t the weakest link in the connection chain. This means that you want a hot spot that supports 5G service and can provide an excellent WiFi speed. WiFi 6 is the new standard, and any average to high end hot spot should have it. Exact download speeds will vary based on other circumstances, but you can get an advantage by ensuring you can use the latest technology.
Reliability: In many situations, an unstable connection is no connection at all. Think about the critical Zoom meeting cut-off at a crucial point or that online gaming session you’re booted from. While you probably won’t be doing much gaming on a hotspot, you want to ensure that your connection doesn’t cut out at a critical time, perhaps during a call. A good device will minimize this risk.
Number of Connections: If your hotspot is used for a party of people, then your hotspot better be ready to party. Some hotspots are only made for a few people to use at once, while others are a bit more robust in that department, perhaps able to handle the entire room, assuming the data plan is good enough. You are unlikely to find a hot spot that can support more than 30 devices, but hopefully, this is more than enough.
Price: Being more or less expensive does not necessarily make a hotspot better or worse, but you should consider the potential bill when buying a hotspot. The good ones aren’t cheap, so consider what you plan on using them for, how many people they might affect, and how often you will need them. Need one practically every day? Invest well, and it will serve you well. Do you just want one for emergencies? Then don’t worry too much and get the reliable budget option. There’s both and every price point in between to pick from.
Also, when considering and comparing prices, there’s the price of the associated data plan you will be using with the hot spot. The price might be more important over time if the cost between two hot spot devices is close.
Carrier and Service: As you’ll soon see, many top hotspots are tied to a specific provider. You’ll want to consider the service you are getting from this provider (perhaps there is an area of poor service from one provider where you live), what you use currently, and whether their top device is for you. You also might be able to get something of a deal should you be willing to sign a contract with them. Whether you want to look at the carrier first or last is up to you.
The Five Best Mobile Hotspots
There are a lot of hotspots on the market, but which ones are the best? Each major mobile service provider has its own best hotspot, and there are a few more on top of that. Here are our top five picks as of 2023:
1. Best Overall Hotspot: Netgear Nighthawk M5
Are you not particularly tied to a carrier and want a fantastic all-around option for a mobile hotspot? Are you looking for something with every feature you could want and a few you need to look up? Do you just want an excellent hot spot that can work with the major carrier of your choice? If that is the case, you want to look at the Netgear Nighthawk M5, which is ready for the future and the most challenging and connection-intensive days of your life.
However, before anything else, please note that the Netgear Nighthawk M5 is an expensive piece of equipment. It equals the price of many smartphones and laptops on its own, and you’ll need quite the data plan to truly utilize its potential to the fullest (if you even need that). As of this writing, the device is about $800, and you will need a data plan on top of that. The good news here is that you can somewhat pay as you go if you don’t plan on using it too often, saving money on a costly data plan.
However, the Netgear Nighthawk M5 will work on any major US carriers (a rare distinction). It can support up to 32 devices simultaneously, which will be more than enough for the average or not-so-average user. In fact, we hope that’s enough because you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better. There is also C-Band support, which in short, will boost speeds. It might not be relevant yet, but give it another year or two.
The controls and the touchscreen are excellent, making it a bit hefty for a hot spot (this isn’t going in your pocket). You can monitor and manage the network from the touchscreen, and there is an ethernet and USB-C port for direct charging or a direct connection.
You should note that the Netgear Nighthawk M5 doesn’t have the most extended battery life, so a method of charging is recommended when you bring it with you. It also doesn’t have the longest range, but with the speeds available, it may not need them. It has the distinction of working with WiFi 6, making it on the cutting edge of WiFi technology (you will not need to worry about this getting outdated for years). Essentially, get this hot spot for performance and not battery longevity or being able to cover the entire office.
- People looking for the best mobile hot spots have to offer are not afraid of spending a lot of money.
- People who do not want to be tied down by their hot spot to a single mobile service provider.
- People who will certainly be using their mobile hotspot often and likely supporting multiple devices in the process.
2. Best T-Mobile Hotspot: Inseego 5G MiFi M2000
Are you looking for a great hotspot that works with a great plan? In that case, look for the Inseego 5G MiFi M2000, which is available with a T-Mobile plan. This breaks a line of not-so-great devices from T-Mobile, but it appears that they found the right partners and strategy to be competitive this time.
It has a relatively simple design with only a single USB 3.0 port and a single button (the power button). It is simple to use and doesn’t need much else to work. After all, it has a small touch screen you can use to manage the settings and check basic information. It isn’t the most advanced touch screen in the world, but it works well enough for the needs of a good mobile hot spot.
Depending on your area and the service available, you might see speeds going up to 400Mbps, which is more than most people ever need for everyday usage. As long as you don’t go over the data plan, you can get everything you want online and communicate with whoever you want to.
Though you will need a data plan to match this, T-Mobile has some competitive options. While the specifics often change enough to the point where we won’t go over them all here, you can get a lot of data for a reasonable rate, which is perfect if you’re regularly on the road.
While, in many cases, the device seems simple, the hardware is anything but. It might not match the Netgear Nighthawk in terms of specifications, but it also doesn’t match it in terms of price. You can get WiFi 6 support on the device and all of the modern connection options one would come to expect.
The device can work with both 4G and 5G networks. It can support up to 30 devices simultaneously and will last roughly 11 hours on a full charge, making it suitable for a full day of work and then some (with a lot of use). The hotspot will have the range of a large room, perhaps two rooms, if there is a good line and little interference. It might not be a replacement for a router, but it will be helpful regardless.
- People with a T-Mobile plan who still want a solid hotspot connection to support them.
- People looking for a great service plan to go along with a great T-Mobile device being both affordable and fast.
- It would help if you had a mobile hotspot that works well for regular usage and handles many devices simultaneously.
3. Best Verizon Hotspot: Verizon MiFi M2100 5G UW
What if a hotspot is best for Verizon users? For them, we recommend the Verizon MiFi M2100 5G UW. There are some other excellent hot spots available, but some are generally meant for 4G, which means they will get outdated far too quickly for us to recommend that you use them at this point in time. Therefore, stick with this option for now.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a lower-tier default option you should begrudgingly accept if you have a Verizon plan. It is capable of WiFi 6 support, works great with both 4G and 5G networks, and can support up to 30 devices. On paper, it competes with the best the industry offers and has a helpful touchscreen that will give you all the information and options you need to manage your network. According to other reviewers, battery life is weaker at around nine to ten hours of constant usage. You might want to bring a charging option, but it will still be fine for most people. Using that power is some of the fastest internet speeds you might want from a hot spot. Your data plan will be the limiting factor, not the hot spot. That and Verizon’s network, which is still expanding to provide more universal 5G coverage, which means you should check about service in your area before investing in this relatively expensive device. Millimeter-wave technology is fascinating, but its availability and consistency will still be an issue for some years.
Please note that as of this writing, this hot spot is a couple of years old. We might expect a newer hot spot to take the world by storm for Verizon customers. Yet as of this writing, this is still the best all-around hot spot on a Verizon plan. Look to see if something is coming, but don’t wait forever.
- People who use Verizon and would like to stick with a Verizon plan.
- People who live near a 5G-covered area or know that 5G coverage is coming to their area soon.
- People who are more concerned about performance and the ability to work with many devices than battery life.
4. Best AT&T Hotspot: Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router
And after covering Verizon and T-Mobile, we can hardly forget AT&T.; the carrier has a competitive option in the Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router. It’s a larger hot spot that can act as a battery pack and provide service to about 20 devices simultaneously. It’s relatively easy to use, and the multifunctionality makes it a good choice for travelers who don’t want to bring too many devices in their luggage.
Note that the ethernet port is interesting because it doesn’t work as you might think. You can create a WiFi network from an input, effectively making it a router, but you will be unable to connect your device directly to it to get a faster connection.
When it comes to other options, however, the Nighthawk LTE shines. You can blacklist or whitelist devices or sites. You can do many of the same things you would expect from an advanced router. You can even turn the device into a media server using a microSD card slot or a USB port. There are both 2.4GHz and 5GHz network options available, and the speed is excellent by any measure. It might not be as futureproof or fast as what you might get on the Nighthawk M5, but there is a
Of course, you’ll be using this hot spot with an AT&T network, so check if they are a good option in your area before getting this device. However, as plans go, they are middling, though they offer plenty of options depending on your needs.
The price for the device itself is attractive here as the device can get as cheap as $90 depending on if you decide to get a data plan with it over a two-year contract. It can otherwise cost $200 or more depending on availability (many devices are sold out across the tech industry due to chip shortages and shipping issues).
- People who have an AT&T plan and want something that can be relied upon for regular use.
- People looking for a mid-range hot spot they can use regularly and will last them for several years to come.
- People who want to use a hot spot that will last them more than all day. Frequent travelers might get the most out of this hot spot and worry less.
5. Best Budget Hotspot: Franklin Wireless R717
A hot spot is one of those things people might not always need, and the other options on this list are something of an investment with both the original cost and the data plan. That puts them far outside the price range of many people. And while a smartphone might be a good backup, sometimes that might not be available, or another backup might be required. In those circumstances, we recommend the Franklin Wireless R717. It is not fancy and will not compare to the other options on this list, but it will work.
Data plans will be small but cheap, and the device costs about $60 as of this writing. You will also want to check to see if service in your area will be tolerable. You don’t want to waste your money even at this price.
The hot spot can work with up to 15 devices and has about eight hours of battery life if used constantly. The plan is through Karma, which does not offer other services or devices. It specializes in affordable mobile hot spots. While Karma used to have some overall excellent hot spots for the price, it appears this one has superseded them.
Note that while we chose the Franklin Wireless R717 as a budget option, it isn’t the only budget option, and you might be best served by a prepaid option or an expanded version of your mobile hotspot data if you think that will be enough. In truth, there might not be a perfect option at the lowest expense levels, and a lot more research might be required on your end.
- People who want an all-around device that is not tied to a carrier but is not nearly as expensive as our all-around pick.
- People who might not use their mobile hot spot every day but still want a reliable option that will work when needed.
- People who just want to experiment with a hot spot to see if it is for them.
Tips for Using a Mobile Hotspot
You can have the best hot spot in the world and get subpar performance if you don’t use it or set it up properly. Here are a few tips to prevent that from happening:
- While you might be urged to share with everyone, you will want to limit who uses it depending on your plan and your intentions for the day. First off, you don’t want there to be any security breaches when it comes to your network. Additionally, even the best hotspot can only do so much. If you spread the bandwidth too thin, so to speak, then not much is going to get done. Just because a hot spot can support 30 devices does not mean each of those devices can download a 4K movie at the same time.
- Consider the amount of data you have with the plan you have. You don’t want to run out of data and must pay a premium in the middle of your vacation or workweek. Try to know how much data you’ll need and find a plan and device that can support that. Whatever the answer, there will be an option that suits you.
- Please keep it in a good spot. Like most devices that rely on wireless technology, some places are better than others when it comes to the placement of the device. Generally follow the same rules you would use for a router, but also try to center the hotspot among the devices you plan on using with the hotspot. Keep it away from interference.
- Remember that while a hotspot can be a fantastic tool, the best cannot compete with a direct and dedicated connection. If there is something that’s incredibly important that you need to focus on, it would be wise if you tried to find an ethernet connection and dedicated service. Some things are best done at home or in the office still.
While not everyone needs a mobile hotspot, having one ready to go and having a quality device can make a difference in your day, allowing you to work or communicate unimpeded where otherwise you’d be severely hindered. Everyone’s precise needs are different, but we hope you have a better idea of what to look for in a mobile hotspot and have a few models on your shortlist to look into later. We wish you the best of luck and hope you have excellent service in the future.