Prepaid Wireless and Portable or Personal Hotspot


One of the most frequently discussed topics on smartphonematters.com is Mobile Hotspot. Mobile Hotspot lets you connect your laptop, tablet, or other Wi-Fi device to the internet using your phone’s cellular data conntection. In this article I’ll discuss mobile hotspot, your needs, and tell you which prepaid wireless carriers include mobile hotspot with their plans.

To use mobile hotspot your need both a smartphone that supports mobile hotspot and a service plan that includes it as a feature. If your carrier does not include hotspot as part of your plan you may find that the feature on your phone does not work. In some cases if your carrier doesn’t include hotspot with your plan, you may find that it initially works and but later stops working.

Please note that if your hotspot isn’t working or if your plan does not support hotspot I do not have any information about how to get it to work.

To use mobile hotspot on your phone you’ll need to turn it on it your phone’s settings. Apple calls mobile hotspot Personal Hotspot , check Settings > Personal Hotspot to turn on hotspot. Google calls mobile hotspot, Portable Hotspot, check Settings >Network & Internet > Hotspot & Tethering > Wi-Fi Hotspot to turn it on. Note, that the settings may be different on your Google, Samsung, or other Android phone.

Note that there are two different types of mobile hotspot that people typically talk about. First is the type discussed above where it’s a feature of your phone and wireless plan. The other type of hotspot, is were you have a separate dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot device and maybe even a separate plan that you pay for in addtion to your cellular bill.

Your Needs

When shopping for a plan with Mobile Hotspot, consider what your needs are. How much data do you want to use with hotspot? How many devices do you want to connect? Are you looking to use hotspot for your laptop or tablet occasionally while traveling while you don’t have access to W-Fi? Do you want to use mobile hotspot at home instead of a cable, fiber, or DSL home internet connection?

Some people I hear from just want to be able to occasionally connect their laptop to the internet when they don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Others want to use hotspot to connect the kid’s iPad to the internet when driving in the car. These cases are common and are many wireless plans with hotspot can support this.

Other people I hear from want to use their phone’s mobile hotspot feature as their only internet connection at home. They want to connect multiple computers, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and other devices to the internet with hotspot. I’ve heard from people that use it to watch Netflix, HBO, or other streaming services on their TV. Others want to use it for PC or console gaming. This includes playing online games for hours as well as downloading 100s of GB of data initially needed to play these games. Most wireless plans with hotspot do not allow this.

How Wireless Plans Work

Most wireless plans that include mobile hotspot only include a fixed amount of data for hotspot. Typically if you plan includes a overall fixed amount of data to use with your phone, you’ll be able to use up to that amount of data with mobile hotspot. But even if your wireless plan included “unlimited” data for your phone, that plans typically only include a fix amount of data for hotspot. For example, your $55 Straight Talk Unlimited plan may let you use unlimited data with your phone, but only 10GB of data with hotspot.

It’s far less common to find a wireless carrier that includes “unlimited” data for hotspot. Even if a plan does, they typically with add restrictions such as limiting the number of devices you can connect to hotspot and offering reduced data speeds for hotspot.

Also note that some wireless companies only include hotspot with some but not all its plans. Some may include it with all the plans with fixed data, but not unlimited data. Others may not offer it with their lowest price plans. Others may charge more for a plan that includes hotspot.

I understand that many people think unlimited hotspot should be included with unlimited plans. They paid for unlimited data, right? Unfortunately that isn’t the way things work. Wireless companies set the terms for their plans. You as a consumer, decide whether to pay those plans. Exercise your power as a consumer. My opinion is that the reason that none of these companies include unlimited hotspot is because it isn’t viable for them to do so. The current 4G LTE network technologies the wireless companies use wasn’t designed for this. Using 4G LTE this way, puts a huge strain on their networks. Moving forward, the 5G network technologies that the carriers are going to roll out may provide hope for this kind of service.

Currently I am only aware of one company that offers unlimited mobile hotspot and that is Verizon prepaid, see the description below. The rest offer fixed amounts of data on unlimited plans or you’ll pay for the additional data you use on fixed data plans.

Verizon Wireless Prepaid

You can use Personal or Portable Hotspot with Verizon Wireless Prepaid. With Verizon’s fixed data plans you can use all of your data up to your plan’s limit with hotspot. If you need more data, you can buy add-on data. With Verizon Prepaid’s Unlimited plan, you can use an unlimited amount of data with personal or portable hotspot. However, with hotspot, the data will be slower than the speeds you normally see on your phone. Verizon sets a limit, or maximum download speed of 600Kbps for hotspot.
Click here to check out Verizon Wireless Prepaid

AT&T Prepaid

You can also use Personal or Portable Hotspot with AT&T Prepaid. With AT&T’s fixed data plans you can use all of your plans data, up to your plan’s limit for hotspot. If you need more data, purchase add-on data. AT&T prepaid has two unlimited plans. The less expensive plan, does not include hotspot. The other unlimited plan, which is $20 more per month includes up to 10GB data for hotspot.
Click here to check out AT&T Prepaid

SIMPLE Mobile

Simple Mobile includes Personal and Portable Hotspot with all of its fixed data plans and one of its unlimited plans. If you are on a fixed data plan, you can use up to your entire amount of data with Hotspot. If you use up all your data, you can use their add-on data feature to buy more. Simple Mobile has two unlimited plans. The plan that supports hotspot will let you use hotspot costs $10 more per month and you can use up to 10GB per month with hotspot.
Click here to check out SIMPLE Mobile

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless offers Personal or Portable Hotspot as $10 add-on feature. For Cricket’s Fixed Data plans you can use all of your high speed data with Hotspot, after you use up your data hotspot will still work at the lower 128kbps speeds. Cricket has Unlimited and Unlimited Max Plans both of which let you use up to 10 GB of data with hotspot. After 10 GB, your data speeds are slowed to 128Kbps. Note that with Cricket all plans have a maximum download speed of 8 Mbps except for the Unlimited Plan which has a max download speed of 3 Mbps. The Unlimited Max plan has a maximum download speed of 8 Mbps. Also note that with Cricket even though Hotspot is a $10 per month add-on, that means you only need to pay for it during the months you want to use it.
Check out Cricket Wireless here https://www.cricketwireless.com/

Metro PCS

Metro PCS includes hotspot as part of all their fixed data smartphone plans and one of their unlimited data plans. For the plans, with fixed data, you can use up to the full amount of high speed data with hotspot. After that, you’ll have reduced speed data with both your phone and hotspot. Metro PCS two unlimited plans but the one with hotspot cost $10 more per month. You can use up to 8 GB of high speed data with hotspot, after that hotspot will still work at reduced speeds.
Check out Metro-PCS here https://www.metropcs.com/

Google Project Fi

Google Project Fi includes hotspot. The service uses a combination of the T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular networks. With Fi, you’ll be able to use hotspot, but with Fi you pay for all the data you use. Currently, it costs $10 per 1GB up to 6GB. At 6GB or more you’ll pay $60 per month(for data). The plan details and FAQ are not clear about what happens with hotspot. Does this mean you can effectively have unlimited hotspot on Fi for $80 per month ($60 for data plus $20 for talk and text).
Check out Google Project Fi here https://fi.google.com

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile also includes hotspot with their plans. They use the Sprint network. All of their plans support hotspot. Their fixed data plan will let you use all of your high speed data for hotspot. After all of your high speed data is used, you’ll have reduced speed data. Boost Mobile has three different unlimited plans for $50, $60, and $80 per month. The plans include 8 GB, 20 GB, and $40 GB of hotspot per month.
Check out Boost Mobile here https://www.boostmobile.com/

Mint Mobile

Mint SIM also includes mobile hotspot. The company uses the T-Mobile network. Mint SIM only offers fixed data plans and with all of these plans you can use up to your entire amount of high speed data with hotspot. After you used your high speed data, you can still use reduced speed data with hotspot.
Check out Mint SIM here https://www.mintmobile.com/

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6 Comments

  1. Jay Gasaway | | Reply

    Hey, does TracFone allow use of personal hotspot???? Thanks

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      According to their Terms and Conditions of service, no. https://www.tracfone.com/termsandconditions
      It might work with some combinations of phones and different Tracfone towers, but its not a supported feature. Given that tracfone includes a limited fixed amount of data with their plans, or you need to pay for add on data, they may not spend much effort enforcing their policy.

  2. Turtles | | Reply

    Hi – Any idea what the speeds are for a standalone StraightTalk hotspot. Not the hotspot on a phone but the one that is its own hotspot. I am trying to compare those speeds to Verizon prepaid.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      I haven’t tried it myself. If the hotspot device is 4g lte is suspect the same as on a phone. The hotspot plans have fixed amounts of data so there is no need to limit the speed. I don’t know how often they come out with new hotspots that support the latest cellular lte bands.

  3. Mil Hustles | | Reply

    I use netbuddy. They apparently are a AT&T MVNO. I get completely unlimited data with no contract and it’s great. I’m like at 100 gbs so far.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Cool. Are using it with a phone as a hotspot or in a dedicated hotspot device?

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