The proliferation of 3G and 4G smartphones has turned the internet-using world on its head, enabling portable WiFi hotspots to be used in areas as divers as coffee shops and taxicabs, train cars and bus terminals. Wireless providers have been quick to embrace this advanced feature, but they’ve been known to charge a premium for the luxury of having a wireless hotspot available anywhere in the country. That said, many people are still unsure whether this premium is worth the cost, or whether a wireless hotspot is simply not a practical solution for mobile connectivity.
Mobile Hotspot Affordability: It All Depends on Plans and Data Caps
Several wireless service providers don’t charge extra for their mobile hotspot capability at all. Instead, their prerogative is that a user should be able to use the available gigabytes in their data “bucket” in any way they see fit, whether that involves using data directly on the device or sharing it with laptops and other portable devices. The catch, of course, is that data is rarely unlimited, and this means that a user runs the risk of meeting or exceeding their data cap and incurring additional charges based on how far over this cap they managed to go.
Typically, wireless service providers charge a hefty premium for data overages on 3G or 4G data plans. Most often, this ranges between $8 and $10 per additional gigabyte, and there is no option to buy mere megabytes of data. Wireless providers only deal in gigabytes, which means that going over a data cap by even one kilobyte will result in a potential $10 surcharge.
Other companies actually charge an extra fee to enable tethering, but this extra fee comes with a tethering-specific data cap. These plans typically add between $15 and $25 to the cost of a wireless service plan and typically add between 250MB and 5GB of available data to a customer’s service plan.
With the pricing information out of the way, one question remains: Is it worth it?
For Business Users and Internet “Nerds,” Mobile Hotspots Make Sense
Simply put, the world seems to have a distinct (and extremely inconvenient) lack of wireless hotspots located throughput its transportation terminals, restaurants, coffee shops, and even vehicles as long as getting a ticket for using a phone will not affect car insurance rates. While internet has become all but a necessity for most business users and internet developers, most companies simply don’t offer the option to connect when a user is outside the home. That can present serious problems for those customers who need constant access to documents, customer data, or development software.
A mobile hotspot “fills in the gaps” when it comes to wireless data coverage, and it’s a great way to ensure that constant connectivity to either the office or a wider community of developers is also maintained. It’s certainly more expensive than simply using a smartphone for its intended purpose, as the sole arbiter of connectivity and communication, but there is simply no substitute for access to the internet using a fully-functional laptop computer in many scenarios.
Other Customers Better Served by Other Options
The average customer, who does not need constant access to corporate data or broad swaths of programming code and documentation, would probably not be best-served by a mobile hotspot plan. Those people are more often able to be fully served by their smartphone’s connection to a 3G or 4G data network and they simply won’t require the raw power and fuller-featured websites enabled by a WiFi connection in combination with a laptop computer.
Furthermore, most other mobile device users simply aren’t “on the go” as much as the typical web developer or corporate business professional. Their need for a mobile hotspot would be rare and occasional at best, and they would end up paying a high sum of money for a feature that they use perhaps one or two times per month. In this case, they’d be better off simply waiting until they got home to do their work, or switching their mobile phone’s browser to “desktop mode” or “full mode” to accomplish their tasks. That might take them a bit longer, but it’s more affordable and practical in the long run, especially in a cash-crunched economy.
A Great Option for Power Users
For those who need a mobile hotspot, the service is rather affordably priced. It’s certainly not the cheapest service offered by mobile providers, but it gets the job done for a relatively modest fee and provides a connection when those on-the-go professionals need it most. For the average user, however, any extra fees associated with the service would likely not pay off and would probably not be the best additional feature for their existing service plan.