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For now, we’re maintaining existing LTE and 5G hotspot recommendations while we work on testing Verizon’s newest hotspot, which supports its high-speed C-band 5G service.
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If you rely on your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot so often that you suffer from constant data and battery anxiety, it might be time to upgrade to a dedicated hotspot. The Verizon Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L is one of the older models available, and it’s not as fast as some newer devices, but it remains the most reliable choice when your phone’s mobile hotspot features aren’t an option. Although it doesn’t support 5G, the MiFi 8800L takes advantage of the largest LTE network in the US, which remains fast in its own right, and has data plans that are now much more generous.
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The 8800L runs on the fastest and most reliable LTE network and has enough battery life to get you through all but the longest work days.
Most people who only need occasional internet access for their laptop should be tethered to their phones, but the Verizon Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L gets the job done more reliably and for much longer periods of time. Its battery lasts all but the longest work days — it averaged nearly 11.5 hours in our tests in late 2020 and early 2021 — and it has a USB-C port you can use to charge your phone or tablet if needed. And since the hotspot itself charges through the same port, you can use an AC adapter from a USB-C laptop or Android phone to charge it, saving space in your bag. Verizon has only released a 5G hotspot to take advantage of the increased network coverage with next-gen speeds, but until we test this model, the 8800L remains a good and reliable value.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s LTE coverage continues to top surveys for service nationwide — especially in places where free public Wi-Fi is extremely rare. (For more on why Verizon’s network is superior, read our guide to the best cell phone plans.) Since our last update to this guide, Verizon has helped their cause by launching a new set of hotspot plans just for data, both postpaid and prepaid, that offer far more data than you’ll get through a mobile hotspot with even the most expensive smartphone plans.
The M2000 connects to T-Mobile’s mid-range 5G network for fast services that are increasingly available in the US. It also offers decent battery life and comes with decent pricing options.
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Although 5G broadband has a reputation for over-promising and under-delivering, T-Mobile’s next-generation mobile broadband deployment benefits from a network that offers a combination of speed and coverage that AT&T and Verizon only began to match earlier this year 2022 with “C-band” 5G deployments. The T-Mobile Inseego 5G MiFi M2000 may not take advantage of the network’s 5G frequencies every time you use it, but your chances of seeing the fastest 5G network speeds remain better with T-Mobile than with both competing carriers. This hotspot also offers a simple touchscreen interface, decent battery life, and the lowest price of any 5G hotspot. However, T-Mobile hasn’t updated the prices of its hotspot plans to match the increasingly generous rates of its competitors, even as its approach remains simpler.
I’ve covered the wireless industry since about 1998, including writing dozens of device and service reviews for The Washington Post, USA Today, Fast Company, Yahoo Finance, Discovery News, PCMag, Boing Boing, VentureBeat, CNN Money and such trade publications. like Light Reading and Fierce Telecom. And in July 2021, we did more than a thousand miles of testing from Baltimore to Atlanta for PCMag’s Fast Cellular Networks project. I also maintain Wirecutter’s guide to cell phone plans.
I’ve relied on wireless broadband during business trips since at least 2008—when it required plugging a PCMCIA card into my work laptop—and alternately praised and cursed Wi-Fi hotspots from everyone wireless operators throughout the country. since.
Almost any smartphone available now can act as a hotspot, sharing its Wi-Fi data signal with your tablet, laptop or other devices. And in recent years, more generous tethering options have largely made buying and managing a separate device unnecessary: On AT&T and Verizon’s cheapest unlimited phone plans that allow hotspot use, hotspot limits are now up to at 15 GB and 25 GB respectively. So, if you only need a hotspot for short periods, like when you’re sending some files from your laptop or browsing some websites, your phone will work.
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But if you expect to travel a lot and have business income on the line, using a dedicated hotspot can be more reliable than tethering from your phone, and the hotspot’s internal battery lets you keep your phone (and its battery) free for other things.
If you have an older but cheaper phone plan and don’t want to switch, the math may lean more towards getting a hotspot. But if you’ve had a data plan for years and haven’t evaluated yourself recently, consider doing so; Data has gotten cheaper for all three major carriers in recent years. If you’re not sure how generous your carrier is with hotspot usage under your current plan, check your statement or contact customer service.
If you only need a hotspot for short periods, like when you’re sending some files from your laptop or browsing some websites, your phone will work.
You can buy a smartphone plan with 50GB of hotspot usage (via Verizon’s Get More Unlimited, AT&T’s Unlimited Elite, and T-Mobile’s Magenta Max each offering 40GB). But right now, the power consumption issue justifies a dedicated hotspot—burning 40GB to 50GB of data on your phone will kill its battery.
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The advent of 5G wireless broadband across all three carriers has added further complications. T-Mobile and AT&T’s mid-range 5G and Verizon’s new C-band 5G each offer much faster speeds than LTE could manage without the crippling range limitations of ultra-fast millimeter 5G that Verizon latched on to early. But while T-Mobile has the best 5G-matching hotspot since late 2020, Verizon hasn’t shipped a C-band model to match the service it launched in 46, mostly urban, markets in January to March; AT&T, which launched its C-band 5G in just eight markets nationwide (PDF), only introduced its own C-band hotspot in April.
Before the first 5G networks were rolled out, a section of the telecommunications industry advertised the next generation of mobile broadband with almost magical predictions of what 5G could enable: self-driving cars! Robot surgery! Analysis of the robot behind self-driving cars!
The right image for 5G is not an autonomous vehicle driving around traffic or a robot wielding a chisel. Instead, draw a layer cake.
5G cellular networks are actually made up of three different types of signals, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. In the real world, speeds and differences vary, and a good 4G LTE connection can be as fast as some of the more common 5G networks.
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The icing on the cake is 5G in millimeter waves, which occupies transmission frequencies that were free until now, with huge capacity and speed (up to 2 Gbps in practice), but with a small and vanishing range. Verizon says the range is up to 1,500 feet without interference, and forget about indoors—buildings and even trees block those signals. The middle tier represents the mid-band frequencies — that is, the 2.5 GHz spectrum that T-Mobile got when it bought Sprint, and now the C-band frequencies from 3.7 GHz to 3.98 GHz that AT&T and Verizon bought them in early 2021 – which can get them speeds of hundreds of megabits per second in a mile and change.
The broadest layer, at the bottom of our metaphorical pie, is today’s low-bandwidth 5G, which isn’t much faster than existing 4G networks, but should offer lower latency while still matching current coverage . And 5G is more data-efficient overall than 4G, so you can still get a speed boost — especially over time as more data moves to other frequencies. Meanwhile, in rural areas, T-Mobile is optimizing 5G for coverage, not speed.
In short, “5G” can mean different things, and you shouldn’t buy a 5G device just because of that alphanumeric identifier. You need to know what 5G service you’re likely to get and how it will enhance the potential of 4G before you commit to new hardware.
Fortunately, the 5G story doesn’t stop there. The federal government has been working to find and free up midband spectrum to complement existing airwaves, with more midband auctions to take place over the next few years. A year from now, 5G may work much better than it does now, but you may need to buy new hardware to enjoy it on these new frequencies.
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Network: Reliability is the reason to buy a hotspot, starting with the network behind it. If a network does not provide a good and fast connection, it is useless. However, between coverage and speed, we’ll take coverage. A 20 Mbps connection in a rural area, for example, is more important than
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