Science

Best mobile hotspots of 2022

Smartphones allow us to keep the internet in our pockets wherever we go, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Lots of phones can serve as a mobile hotspot in a pinch, delivering Wi-Fi to other nearby devices; however, your phone’s antenna and battery are finite. A dedicated mobile hotspot can serve mobile internet to a whole collection of connected devices via Wi-Fi, keeping you truly connected wherever you get service.

With more people working from home, untethered to a desk, a mobile hotspot really extends what “remote” can mean. Smartphone service providers are expanding their 5G networks all the time, meaning you’ll barely even be compromising the home wireless internet speeds you’re used to. We’re here to help you find the best mobile hotspot, no matter your network or needs.

How we picked the best mobile hotspots

More than most hardware categories, mobile hotspots neatly sort themselves into categories because they are tied to particular service providers and their networks. For most of us, that contractual link to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and others narrows down our choices.

Among those options, we simply selected the current top-tier hotspots available, with all the cutting-edge features to make sure you’re getting the best possible experience. We made sure our selections were well-reviewed by customers and professionals alike from manufacturers with proven track records.

Things to consider before buying the best mobile hotspots

Mobile hotspots are pretty straightforward devices. They’re small bricks of plastic with an antenna that connects to a mobile broadband network, and a router that passes that signal along to other devices in its network. If you’ve purchased a Wi-Fi router and a smartphone, you should be familiar with the details. Consider your intended usage: When do you see yourself using a hotspot? How many devices do you intend to connect? How long do you hope to use it without being able to plug it into an outlet and charge it? Where do you intend to go?

Another thing to keep in mind: It is not enough to purchase a mobile hotspot—you also need to activate and connect it to a compatible mobile network. Assuming you already have a cell service contract at a major carrier, we recommend sticking with whatever network you are already on. You can buy an affiliated device and add it to your account through your provider. This will almost certainly be less expensive than opening up a new account with a different service.

5G or LTE—that is the question

5G is the latest and fastest cellular network standard but still isn’t as widespread as older 4G LTE networks. Since the newest devices all support previous standards, we recommend getting a 5G-capable hotspot, regardless of its current availability near you. Ultimately, these are just the newest and best-performing hotspots, even on the older 4G LTE networks.

If you won’t be anywhere near cities, however, and speed doesn’t matter to you as much as saving money, going back for an LTE-only capable hotspot can be a good way to save upfront on the hotspot and still get the most range possible. To get a precise understanding of local coverage options, check out the FCC’s LTE coverage map. You can also see the current state of each provider’s 5G network directly from the AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon websites.

One notable difference we found among 5G hotspots was whether or not they support millimeter-wave signals, a portion of the 5G frequency spectrum that supports higher data throughput, which should translate to faster loading. There’s a catch, though—mmWave only works over short distances and is very easily blocked by physical objects, like walls. That means it will make the most noticeable difference outdoors and within close range (on the order of hundreds of feet) of a tower. Only Verizon and Inseego’s 5G router currently supports it right now, which makes sense since Verizon has also invested the most in building out its mmWave network by quite a wide margin.

C-Band, another potential component of 5G, adds substantial data bandwidth to the signal. The US has lagged behind the rest of the world in integrating C-Band into its 5G networks, but carriers have promised to expand C-Band support in cities in the near future. Only one hotspot currently available from Netgear supports C-Band as of spring, 2022.

Hi-fi Wi-Fi

Mobile hotspots have two key components: the cellular antenna, which receives the wireless signal from a carrier network, and the wireless antenna that broadcasts that signal to nearby devices. Fortunately, Wi-Fi has now caught up with mobile and simplified their formerly too-technical standard names (e.g., 802.11ac) into much more consumer-friendly generation numbers. Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard, offers a jump in overall upload and download bandwidth. It specifically improves a router’s ability to serve multiple devices at once, which is very helpful when you tether a computer, phone, and tablet to one network all at once. New Wi-Fi 6-enabled hotspots have more than double the connection limits of previous iterations.

The best mobile hotspots: Reviews & Recommendations

If you’re looking to put the internet in your pocket with the best mobile hotspot, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve simplified your choice, picking the best hotspots for each of the major carriers, plus a few extra options that may serve you better internationally.

Best T-Mobile hotspot: Inseego MiFi M2000

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Inseego’s MiFi M2000 hotspot offers the best value of any 5G hotspot from T-Mobile right now.

Specs

  • Mobile: 5G, 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6 – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Connections: 30 devices
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Battery: 5050mAh, up to 24 hours claimed

Pros

  • 5G, Wi-Fi 6
  • Most extensive 5G network
  • Least expensive 5G hotspot

Cons

As of May 2022, T-Mobile has the most extensive 5G rollout of any major US carrier. As it is the first and only officially supported 5G hotspot, the Inseego MiFi M2000 is automatically the most widely effective 5G mobile hotspot right now. It has support for the newest networking standards—namely 5G and Wi-Fi 6—and solid performance across the board. Functionally, it’s very similar to Inseego’s Verizon hotspot, though it lacks support for millimeter-wave signals. That said, T-Mobile has a more limited mmWave rollout than other networks anyway, so it isn’t a huge loss, and dropping the feature keeps its cost down.

Best AT&T hotspot: Netgear Nighthawk M5 (MR5200)

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Netgear Nighthawk M5 is the most flexible 5G hotspot on the market.

Specs

  • Mobile: 5G, 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6 – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Connections: 32 devices
  • Ports: USB-C, ethernet
  • Battery: 5040mAh, up to 13 hours claimed

Pros

  • 5G, Wi-Fi 6
  • Works unlocked
  • First C-band hotspot

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No mmWave antenna

The Netgear Nighthawk M5 is the most expensive option on our list but also packs the most features and flexibility. It supports the current standard, 5G and Wi-Fi 6, of course, but also has other bells and whistles. It is, for example, the only 5G option on our list with an Ethernet port for more flexible tethering and network extension options. Although it lacks mmWave support, it is the first mobile hotspot to support C-Band. 

As an added bonus, the Nighthawk works unlocked with any of the three major US networks, though pairs best with T-Mobile and AT&T, which could be great if you’re planning to change networks in the near future.

Best Verizon hotspot: Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: If you don’t need 5G where you’re going, then the Jetpack is the last generation’s standout.

Specs

  • Mobile: 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 5 – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Connections: 15 devices
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Battery: 4400mAh, up to 24 hours claimed

Pros

  • Most extensive LTE network
  • Compact
  • Long battery life

Cons

5G may get all the marketing hype, but it still provides limited coverage. Even when you can find it, not all 5G works equally well. The standout hotspot of the previous generation is the Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L, paired with Verizon, which is still consistently rated to have the most extensive and consistent network coverage in the US, particularly outside of metro areas. As an added bonus, the Jetpack is more compact and gets battery life than many newer models because it doesn’t have the additional antennas needed for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 support.

Best Verizon 5G hotspot: Inseego MiFi M2100

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Just like our T-Mobile Pick, the Inseego MiFi M2100 is a solid 5G, Wi-Fi 6 hotspot.

Specs

  • Mobile: 5G, 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6 – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Connections: 30 devices
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Battery: 3500mAh, up to 24 hours claimed

Pros

  • 5G, Wi-Fi 6
  • mmWave support

Cons

  • Underwhelming battery life

Inseego’s Verizon-exclusive M2100 is very similar to its T-Mobile counterpart, the M2000. Most of what we said about our top pick for T-Mobile users applies here as well. It’s a solid performer that supports the latest standards. There’s one key difference, though: Verizon’s version supports mmWave signals, whereas T-Mobile’s doesn’t. In exchange, though, it features a smaller battery (though it can be easily swapped out). Otherwise, it’s the current best option for accessing Verizon’s 5G network.

Best budget unlocked hotspot: KuWFi 4G LTE Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Unlocked

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: KuWFi offers excellent unlocked 4G speeds for a rock bottom price.

Specs

  • Mobile: 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 5 – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Connections: 10 devices
  • Ports: Ethernet, USB 3.0
  • Battery: 2400mAh, up to 8 hours claimed

Pros

Cons

  • Inconsistent performance outside North America

At just $50, you’d be hard pressed to find a cheaper mobile hotspot than this KuWFi model that delivers fast 4G LTE performance. At a slim 6 ounces, it will easily fit in your pocket, and delivers solid Wi-Fi 5 performance on most networks. Some customer reviews complain about it not working with some sim cards outside the US, Canada, and Mexico, where it is specified to mostly work, but customer service seems reasonably responsive. Even with limited international utility and older network standards, it’s a rock-bottom price for a mobile hotspot.

Best hotspot for international travel: Skyroam Solis Lite

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Skyroam Solis Lite is a simple, powerful, and flexible mobile router built specifically for international travel.

Specs

  • Mobile: 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 4 – 2.4GHz
  • Connections: 10 devices
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Battery: 4700mAh, up to 16 hours

Pros

  • Long battery life
  • Compact
  • Flexible plans

Cons

  • App required for operation
  • Only Wi-Fi 4

Most of our picks are tied directly to US cellular carriers, but Skyroam’s Solis Lite is designed to provide internet to the whole world–or at least over 130 countries. It uses a virtual sim card, rather than a physical one, so it can slip chameleon-like between available networks wherever you go. It only supports Wi-Fi 4 with 2.4GHz, which means slower speeds, but also very long battery life. In fact, the Solis Lite doubles as an effective portable charger, which is perfect for travel. Skyroam offers a flexible range of data plans from daily up to monthly subscriptions so you only need to pay for the time that you’re actually using it.

FAQs

Q: Is a hotspot better than Wi-Fi?

Technically hotspots are Wi-Fi since they broadcast a wireless internet connection. To answer the implied question—whether a hotspot is better than a conventional router connected to a home broadband network—it depends, but not for most people in the US. Under ideal conditions, a wired router should offer greater bandwidth and higher speeds than a wireless hotspot. In practice, it varies widely depending on your local internet service provider and smartphone carrier networks. In places where cell coverage is better than cable internet, wireless hotspots can be a great replacement for a conventional router.

Q: How much does a mobile hotspot cost?

Budget hotspots can cost as little as $50, though most new devices purchased through the carriers cost several hundred dollars.

Once you buy the device, you will have to pay for data every month. Prices vary between networks, but the least expensive we could find was T-Mobile offering $10 per month for 2 GB of data before throttling.

Q: Do I have to use one of the big three carriers for mobile hotspot service?

While using one of the big three carriers can often be the path of least resistance, unlocked hotspots will typically work with a wide range of sim cards, including those from MVNO (mobile virtual network operators) carriers like Visible. Alternatively, companies like Skyroam in our list will offer their own direct plans, doing the work of connecting to carriers for you.

Final thoughts on the best mobile hotspots

Mobile internet providers all over the world are in the process of spreading 5G services all over the world, which makes this the best time ever to consider the benefits of a mobile hotspot. In the US, your options are likely limited by the carrier, which isn’t ideal, but it may make choosing your device a bit easier. Free yourself from wired internet and embrace the nomadic life with a wireless mobile hotspot.



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