What to look for in a 4G mobile hotspot

While your carrier might not give you much choice when it comes to mobile hotspot hardware, there are certain features and specs to look for that can make connections faster and smoother.

wifi hand businessman

I’ve spent most of the last decade using cellular routers as my sole connection for work. On trains I’ve stayed connected to the office while others crawled along on congested Wi-Fi. I’ve used mobile hotspots on all the major U.S. carriers, for video teleconferencing, building websites, and downloading a magazine’s worth of raw image files. In other words, I’ve put these devices through a lot and I rely on them heavily.

If you’re looking to buy a mobile hotspot, the first thing to ask yourself is, “Do I really need a dedicated mobile hotpot device?” For most people, the answer is no: their phone is all they need. These days most smartphones can be used as hotspots to connect multiple devices, and you can even make calls and texts while doing so.

That said, there are limitations to phone tethering. Depending on your phone, you can typically connect three to 10 devices, versus 10 to 15 with most dedicated mobile hotspots. Using your phone as a hotspot will chew through its battery in record time, which means it’s best used for short periods of time only. Mobile hotspot devices, on the other hand, typically include large batteries that last all day. And unlike phones, some mobile hotspots offer the ability to share files from onboard storage or an attached USB drive with other connected users, making collaboration a snap.

If you’re attending a business event with a team, need a cellular backup for your office or just like knowing you’ve got a reliable, dedicated connection wherever you travel, a mobile hotspot device may be the way to go. And using a hotspot on the company’s dime will keep you from eating up your own data plan.

For me, a hotspot means freedom, and it keeps me connected even when the power’s out. When I’m not using one for work, I frequently use one in the car for long road trips with three kids. I get better battery life from a hotspot than I do with phone tethering, and there are fewer dropped connections.

Here are a few key features and specs to be on the lookout for when shopping for a mobile hotspot.

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