It doesn’t matter if you frequently travel for work or just take the occasional vacation. Staying connected while on the go isn’t always easy.
Additionally, data plans aren’t cheap, especially in North America and many European countries. Plus, if you want to increase your data limits when traveling or working remotely, you usually have to pay a steep price for the luxury. It can also be difficult to find the right plan to suit your Internet needs.
Thankfully, as Wi-Fi infrastructure improves worldwide, it’s becoming easier to maintain Internet access when away from home by using mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. You also have access to a range of plans, depending on your needs. Serious travelers can use long-term hot spot plans to ensure they always have Internet access, and month-to-month or pay-as-you-go plans are a perfect short-term solution.
Before the next time you travel, look into a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot to maintain Internet access when you need it most.
Wi-Fi Hot Spots: Mobile Tethering vs. MiFi
If you research which mobile Wi-Fi hot spot to buy, you might come across two terms: tethering and MiFi.
A Wi-Fi hot spot is a device that connects with one or more Wi-Fi-enabled devices to let you browse the Internet. However, you have choices when it comes to what you use as your hot spot device:
- Tethering. Using your cellphone as a mobile hot spot to allow other devices, such as your laptop, to connect to the Internet is called “tethering.” That requires data usage and is relatively simple to set up within your phone’s settings.
- MiFi. MiFi is a brand name for a dedicated device that lets you connect devices to access the Internet. However, MiFi generally refers to a standalone device you use to connect other devices to the Internet. MiFi devices are also popular for accessing the Internet while on the go.
Generally, MiFi devices like Skyroam are for serious travelers and digital nomads, whereas tethering with your cellphone is a quick solution to access the Web. That’s because MiFi devices offer faster speeds and a more stable connection. Some MiFi devices even have built-in encryption or use a virtual private network to improve your online privacy while abroad.
However, if you need Internet access while on the go and want to save money on a tight budget, you don’t need a MiFi device. There are numerous cheap mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plans that increase your Internet availability without hurting your bank account.
What You Need to Know About Wi-Fi
A potentially confusing part of your search for a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot is understanding all the jargon you encounter.
These are some important terms to know:
- SIM Card. A SIM (subscriber identity module) card is the card inside your mobile device that stores your personal data, like your phone number and contacts. SIM cards also have a unique identification number, and you can’t call or text without a SIM card.
- Kilobyte (KB). The second-smallest unit of data measurement, 1,000KBs equals 1 megabyte. Tasks like sending emails by phone typically use 100KBs or less.
- Megabyte (MB). 1,000MBs equals 1 gigabyte. Browsing the Internet by phone can use hundreds of MBs — or even thousands, depending on how long you use your phone and whether you view image- or video-heavy content.
- Gigabyte (GB). Generally, your monthly data limit is described in gigabytes. 1GB can go a long way for your Internet usage. However, activities like streaming video content and downloading large files can easily use gigabytes of data per hour. For example, according to Android Authority, watching YouTube videos at 1080p uses approximately 2.5GB to 4.1GB per hour.
- Kbps and Mbps. These acronyms refer to kilobytes-per-second and megabytes-per-second. Often, mobile Wi-Fi hot spots describe their maximum upload and download speeds with these measurements. If you download files or visit image-heavy websites, you definitely want fast download speed. If you frequently share photos or send files online, you want fast upload speed to make life easier. Ideally, you want a high Mbps for your upload and download speed. Downloading and uploading content at a Kbps level is very slow.
- High-Definition (HD) and Standard Definition (SD). Some mobile Wi-Fi hot spots limit video streaming to SD, which is lower-quality than HD. Many mobile Wi-Fi hot spots also throttle speed if network usage is high. As a safe bet, don’t assume flawless HD streaming unless a Wi-Fi hot spot plan states it allows consistent HD streaming.
- 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G. These are different generations of mobile network technology. The most recent development is 5G. The main takeaway is that 4G and 5G are significantly faster than older versions. That’s critical because many Wi-Fi hot spots limit 4G and 5G usage and eventually throttle speed to slower versions.
- LTE. LTE helps increase the speed of communication between mobile devices and mobile networks. Since 4G is faster than LTE, you’ll often see Wi-Fi hot spots advertise themselves as 4G LTE. That’s really a marketing trick because your hot spot is essentially 3G speed with an LTE boost — not quite as fast as pure 4G.
These terms might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s essential you understand them. You probably have unlimited data and decent speed with your home Internet, so you never worry about using too much data. Mobile Wi-Fi hot spots are different, and even if you buy a plan with unlimited data, you want to ensure your hot spot speed is fast enough for your Internet usage needs.
Most Affordable Mobile Wi-Fi Hot Spot Plans
- Pros: Free 500MB plan; affordable monthly plans; no contract
- Cons: Limited coverage — use the coverage map to check your area
- Networks: AT&T, Sprint
- Speed: 1Mbps for free plans, 5Mbps for paid plans; speed boosting up to 25Mbps for $4.99 per month
- Price: $0 to $34.99 per month
If you buy a data-only SIM card or a MiFi device, you have several options for plans:
- Basic: $0 per month; 500MB; 4G only; $0.02 per extra MB of data
- Pro: $6.99 per month; 500MB; 4G and 3G; $0.02 per extra MB of data
- Premium 3GB: $28.99 per month; 3GB; 4G and 3G; $0.015 per extra MB of data
- Premium 4GB: $34.99 per month; 4GBs; 4G and 3G; $0.015 per extra MB of data
You can also buy speed boosting for $4.99 per month. It increases your mobile speed up to 25Mbps. If you stream online sports or other video content, this speed boost can help provide a better viewing experience. However, casual Internet usage doesn’t require this add-on.
What makes FreedomPop stand out from the crowd is its free data plan. The 500MB is enough to send emails and use messaging apps while on the go, making this a frugal if minimal phone plan.
FreedomPop also has numerous sign-up bonuses. Their Bring Your Own Device promotion provides a free trial with unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data plus a 1GB bonus. Similarly, FreedomPop’s SIM plans also provide 2GB of free data and unlimited talk and text.
2. Mint Mobile
- Pros: $15 phone plans; affordable data
- Cons: No monthly prepaid plans meaning a hefty upfront payment for six- and 12-month plans
- Network: T-Mobile
- Speed: Mint states unlimited data uses a lower speed than 4G data in your plan but doesn’t specify speed caps
- Price: $15 to $45 per month
If you don’t mind short contracts, Mint Mobile is an affordable mobile hot-spotting option you can turn to. All Mint plans allow you to hot spot through your cellphone, and the data you use comes straight from your monthly limit. However, where Mint truly shines is in their monthly prices.
Mint offers three-, six-, and 12-month plans with varying amounts of 4G LTE data:
- Three-Month Plans: Intro pricing of 3GB for $15 per month, 8GB for $20per month, or 12GB for $25 per month; upon renewal, costs increase to $25, $35, and $45 for each data tier
- Six-Month Plans: 3GB for $20 per month, 8GB for $25 per month, or 12GB for $35 per month
- 12-Month Plans: 3GB for $15 per month, 8GB for $20 per month, or $12GB for $25 per month
These plans all offer unlimited talk and text as well as nationwide 4G LTE coverage. Additionally, Mint also provides unlimited data but reduces your speed once you hit your data cap. You pay upfront for your monthly commitment, making six- and 12-month plans a considerable one-time expense.
If you don’t prioritize data speed, Mint undoubtedly has some of the most affordable monthly phone plans that also let you hot spot with ease. Paying upfront helps keep monthly costs low at the cost of flexibility, and the three-month intro price is hard to beat.
- Pros: Create your own plan; data-only plans still have texting; no contract; free international calls to select countries
- Cons: Speed throttling for unlimited data plan after 25GB
- Network: Sprint
- Speed: 4G has between 3Mbps and 6Mbps on average; 3G has between 600Kbps and 1.4Mbps; 2G speed is 64Kbps
- Price: $10 to $39 per month
If you want to keep things simple for your mobile hot spot, a prepaid phone plan from Tello is your best bet.
Tello lets you build your own plan or select from existing options. If you want an affordable mobile hot spot plan, this flexibility is perfect. Some budget-friendly Tello plans that also have unlimited talk and text include:
- 1GB: $10 per month
- 2GB: $14 per month
- 4GB: $19 per month
- 6GB: $24 per month
- 8 GB: $29 per month
- Unlimited Data: $39 per month; your first 25GB is LTE, and you drop to 2G for extra data for the month
If you remove minutes from your Tello plan, all monthly plans except the unlimited data plan become cheaper by $4. Tello lets you turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot through tethering while remaining affordable. You can also use minutes to call Canada, Mexico, China, and the United States.
If flexibility and affordability are vital for your phone plan, Tello is ultimately one of the best options.
4. Cricket Wireless
- Pros: Strong LTE coverage in the U.S. and some coverage in Canada and Mexico
- Cons: Speed throttling occurs sooner than companies like Tello
- Network: AT&T
- Speed: 3Mbps max for hot spot data, 1.5Mbps for SD video streaming; speed throttling reduces speed to 128Kbps
- Price: $60 to $65 per month
Cricket Wireless isn’t the cheapest mobile Wi-Fi hot spot option. However, for a slightly more expensive plan, you get unlimited data and fairly high speeds for a mobile hot spot.
Currently, Cricket Wireless only allows hot spots for their unlimited data plan. It costs $55 per month plus $10 per month to unlock hot-spotting. Data has a maximum speed of 3Mbps and a streaming max of 1.5Mbps in SD quality. Cricket Wireless also states they may slow speeds if the network is busy.
After 10GB, your hot spot speed slows to 128Kbps. However, you can buy a mobile hot spot plan for $60 per month that provides unlimited data and 15GB of hot spot data at the fastest speed. You can also add up to six devices to your mobile hot spot.
Only certain phone models are eligible for Cricket Wireless hot-spotting, so check your eligibility before deciding if Cricket Wireless is the right option.
5. Boost Mobile
- Pros: 50GB of high-speed mobile hot spot data
- Cons: Additional hardware cost; more expensive than most mobile hot spot plans
- Network: Sprint
- Speed: Sprint’s LTE data network speeds range between 3Mbps to 4Mbps; 3G data ranges between 600Kbps to 1,400Kbps
- Price: $50 to $60 per month
Boost Mobile offers one of the simplest mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plans, and flexibility isn’t an option. However, if you want simplicity and high-speed browsing, Boost Mobile could be the perfect choice.
For $50 per month, you can share up to 50GB of high-speed 4G LTE data with up to 10 devices using the Coolpad Surf. The Coolpad Surf costs $49.99 upfront and is a requirement for this mobile hot spot plan.
If you want additional data, you can buy data packs for $5 per GB of 4G LTE data. Boost Mobile isn’t the cheapest mobile hot spot option, but you don’t have to worry about speed throttling or data limitations.
Boost Mobile also has phone plans, with the Boost Unlimited Plus plan offering 30GB of monthly hot-spotting alongside unlimited data, talk, and text for $60 per month. This plan lets you stream HD video in 1080p, music at 1.5Mbps, and gaming at up to 8Mbps. However, your speed might decrease during network congestion.
If speed is a priority, the extra cost of Boost Mobile might be worth it. Otherwise, stick with more affordable mobile Wi-Fi hot spot options.
6. Net10 Wireless
- Pros: Compatible with multiple carriers; flexible plans
- Cons: Not the best value for high monthly data usage
- Networks: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon
- Speed: Depends on your network provider; speed throttling may reduce your data speed to as low as 64Kbps once you reach your high-speed data limit
- Price: $10 to $65 per month
Like Boost Mobile, Net10 Wireless lets you choose between buying a specific mobile hot spot plan and device or relying on your phone’s data plan. However, Net10 Wireless certainly cuts back on data limits to let you save money.
A dedicated hot spot device costs $9.99 for the hardware and lets you enjoy 4G LTE speed. In terms of plans, you also have several low-cost hot spot data options:
- 1GB: $10 per month
- 2GB: $20 per month
- 2.5GB: $30 per month
- 10GB: $50 per month
These plans are certainly less cost-effective than Boost Mobile. However, if you don’t need 50GB of LTE data per month, the flexibility with Net10 Wireless is a plus.
Net10 Wireless also has multiple wireless data plans. Plans range between $20 to $65 per month and offer unlimited talk, text, and data. However, depending on your plan, speed throttling drops your speed to 2G after a certain amount of data. For example, the $20 monthly plan throttles speed after 1GB, whereas the $60 plan throttles after 12GB.
A 2G plan suffices for casual web browsing or sending emails. However, if you want faster browsing, using a dedicated hot spot device alongside a Net10 Wireless plan is your best bet.
Net10 Wireless also lets you bring your own SIM card and is compatible with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. You can also bring your own phone if it’s compatible with the carrier you switch to. Ultimately, this level of compatibility makes Net10 Wireless one of the most flexible providers of affordable mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plans.
7. Xfinity Mobile
- Pros: Free Wi-Fi hot spots; fast coverage; flexible plans
- Cons: Must be an Xfinity Internet customer
- Network: Verizon
- Speed: 1.5Mbps download and 750Kbps upload after your first 20GB
- Price: $15 to $60 per month
Xfinity Mobile wireless plans are only available for Xfinity members. However, existing members in need of affordable data plans and Wi-Fi hot-spotting should certainly consider what Xfinity has to offer.
For mobile hot-spotting, Xfinity offers millions of Wi-Fi hot spots throughout its coverage area to provide fast, free Wi-Fi. You can only use 40 hours of free Wi-Fi per month, but hot spot usage doesn’t count against your monthly data usage for Xfinity Internet customers.
Xfinity also has several affordable data plans to let you hot spot through your phone. There are two types of plans:
- By the GB: Choose how much monthly data you want; $15 for 1GB, $30 for 3GB, or $60 for 10GB; individuals or families can use this plan and share data
- Per-Line Data: Unlimited data for a single line for $45 per month
Xfinity throttles speed after your first 20GB to a maximum of 1.5Mbps download and 750Kbps upload. However, Xfinity’s network utilizes 5G and 4G alongside millions of free Wi-Fi hot spots, meaning your first 20GB won’t have speed issues.
If you’re already an Xfinity customer, gaining access to millions of free Wi-Fi hot spots might be a large enough pro to make the switch to an Xfinity mobile plan.
- Pros: Flexible plans; excellent coverage; reasonable throttling limits; nationwide 5G coverage
- Cons: Expensive unlimited data plans; not the cheapest per GB
- Networks: T-Mobile is a wireless carrier provider
- Speed: According to T-Mobile, 5Mbps to 31Mbps for 4G download; 3Mbps to 15Mbps for 4G upload
- Price: $10 to $85 per month
For monthly 4G LTE plans, T-Mobile has six main monthly plans per line:
- 2GB for $10
- 6GB for $25
- 10GB for $40
- 14GB for $55
- 18GB for $70
- 22GB for $85
You can also buy a one-month data pass of 3GB of LTE data for $30 per month. If you just need Wi-Fi for the day, you can get 24 hours of 500MB data for just $5.
T-Mobile also has unlimited data plans, but the cost per line gets substantially better the more lines you add. If you don’t need unlimited data, T-Mobile’s mobile Internet plans are a more affordable Wi-Fi hot spot solution.
T-Mobile is less affordable per GB than a company like Boost Mobile. However, T-Mobile has more options and doesn’t throttle speed until you pass 50GB per month and access a congested tower. That’s different from most mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plans, which throttle speed at a certain data cap regardless of network usage.
- Pros: Extensive coverage; data doesn’t expire
- Cons: International data passes from your current carrier might be more affordable for short trips; expensive hot spot hardware
- Networks: Varies based on country
- Speed: Check the coverage list to view the speeds in each country
- Price: $8 per GB for European plan; price-per-gigabyte varies for the world plan, depending on how much data you buy upfront
If you’re a frequent traveler and want an affordable mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plan that works in more than 100 countries, Keepgo is an excellent choice.
Keepgo offers contractless prepaid phone plans that make it easy to enjoy data coverage while traveling. Currently, Keepgo has two data plans depending on your travel needs:
- Lifetime World: A prepaid data plan that works in over 100 countries, this plan starts at $16.50 per GB when you buy 10GB for $165. Buying lower amounts is quite costly. For example, 1GB is $26 and 3GB is $61, so you’re incentivized to buy more data upfront. Luckily, data doesn’t expire.
- GoFi Europe USA: A prepaid data-only plan with auto-refill, this plan only covers Europe and the U.S. Pay $8 per month for 1GB and $8 for each additional gigabyte. Keepgo uses many major cellular networks to provide strong coverage on both continents.
You can also buy the Lifetime travel Wi-Fi hot spot to connect with up to 15 devices on the go. This hot spot device has the same data pricing model as the Lifetime World plan and costs $99 for the hardware. The main perk of buying a hot spot device is that your 4G LTE data is never throttled, and you can use multiple devices simultaneously.
It’s worth comparing Keepgo’s data prices to international travel plans from your own carrier before switching. However, for extended travel, Keepgo is one of the more affordable options on the market.
There’s no denying that as technology and cellular networks improve worldwide, data will only become more accessible. When you consider how many people work remotely, travel for work, or simply need data when on the go, these advancements are undeniably positive.
However, if you want to save more money each month, it still pays to shop around. There’s a wide range of mobile Wi-Fi hot spot plans available, but different plans suit different needs.
Plans with dedicated hardware are ideal for serious travelers trying to save money abroad. In contrast, less serious Internet users can simply tether with their cellphones and make use of affordable data plans.
Hopefully, by switching to an affordable plan that offers mobile Wi-Fi hot-spotting, you can enjoy unfettered Internet access wherever you go without feeling the sting of hefty data prices.
What’s holding you back from trying a Wi-Fi hot spot plan? Or do you plan to make the switch?