3 ways to add broadband to your mobile devices

If you have a tablet or laptop that only has Wi-Fi, there are several ways you can add 3G/4G service.

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Nearly all mobile hotspot products include their own internal battery. Typical battery runtimes are in the 4-5 hour range; some, like the Novatel 4620L, also offer a high-capacity battery, intended to provide a full workday's worth of juice. One exception is the upcoming Option XYFI, which doesn't have a battery, instead relying on a powered USB port, a battery pack or an AC adapter.

The Option XYFI has another interesting feature: It is unlocked, and supports a number of international frequency bands and protocols (including HSPA, 3G UMT, GPRS and EDGE), making it worth considering for international travelers. I found only one other unlocked mobile broadband hotspot: the Zoom Telephonic We3G, a 3G tri-band device available for about $120 - $200 that will work with AT&T and most other GSM cellular data services worldwide. Unfortunately, according to the company, it will be emphasizing other products instead -- meaning you can't count on the We3G being available much longer.


  • Mobile hotspots can be a distinct advantage if you use devices that don't have USB ports (or only have one or two) or if you don't want to cable your phone directly to your device.
  • A single hotspot can connect several devices simultaneously.
  • Using a hotspot device instead of tethering your smartphone means you're not putting any additional strain on your phone's battery.


  • You have to remember to bring it.
  • It requires subscribing to a data plan separate from your smartphone's data plan.
  • If you're using your hotspot to connect more than one device at a time, your total data usage can accumulate very quickly.

Decisions, decisions

So which is right for you: smartphone tethering, a USB adapter or a mobile hotspot? What you choose depends on your "use case" -- how many devices and users you want to connect, whether the connecting device can stray away from the other devices or users, where you want to use it and so on.

If you're just going to need an occasional connection for a tablet or laptop when Wi-Fi is unavailable, then tethering your device to your smartphone may be the best way to go. If you find you need cell connectivity on a more regular basis, a USB adapter could work better for you.

"Look at what you want to do and how many devices do you want to connect," advises TabletPCTalk.com website manager Chris De Herrera. "If it's more than two, a [mobile hotspot] is probably less expensive. And then look at which carrier has the coverage you'll need, geographically."

"If it's just for you or a few people, using your smartphone may be fine, and only adds about $10-$20 per month more than you're already paying," agrees Craig J. Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, a technology advisory group in Ashland, Mass. "But for a workgroup, it's better not to monopolize the phone, especially since you can't do simultaneous voice and data on some carriers. As carriers roll out LTE service, this problem can go away -- but individual carriers might still not permit simultaneous voice and hotspotting. We'll have to wait and see what they offer and allow."

Whatever you do, watch the broadband money meter. Streaming a two-hour HD movie on the latest iPad, for example, will munch through most of 2GB. It's a good idea to use Wi-Fi whenever it's available. But when it's not, enjoy the productivity and convenience of mobile broadband.

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, MA. His website is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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