Mobile wifi hotspot plans and devices are growing in popularity, particularly with those who travel frequently or live a nomadic lifestyle. Broadband internet access has pretty much become as indispensable as the food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe – it doesn’t matter where we are, we want it. And, in recent years, mobile data plans (while still pricier than they should be) have dropped in price significantly.
Luckily, there are a lot of options out there and prices are on the decline. As I previously did with research into the cheapest prepaid plans and cheapest data plans, I similarly wanted to research and share what the cheapest mobile wifi hotspot plans on the market were. First, let’s start with some mobile hotspot basics.
What is a Mobile Hotspot?
A mobile hotspot is device that allows you to connect one or multiple wifi-enabled devices in order to connect to the internet. Some people refer to a mobile hotspot as “MiFi”, however, MiFi is a registered brand name for mobile hotspot devices created by the Novatel company – not a name for the technology. Since MiFi was one of the first mobile hotspot devices, the MiFi name became a bit of the go-to name for mobile hotspot technology (similar to Kleenex for facial tissues).
Mobile hotspots can be generated in 1 of 2 ways:
- Through a dedicated mobile modem device (similar to the one seen in the image above)
- Through a mobile device such as a mobile phones or tablet, through hotspot tethering functionality
As I’ll discuss next, there is a difference in experience. Today’s dedicated hotspots are typically cheap, tiny, and can often connect somewhere between 3-15 wifi-enabled devices simultaneously. Many of them enable a 4G LTE connection, though a few are starting to offer 5G speeds.
Mobile Hotspot vs. Tethering with your Phone
Many of the mobile wifi hotspot device providers below additionally have free hotspot tethering on their data plans, where you can connect wifi-enabled devices to your phone and use it as a data passthrough. Unfortunately, today, no carriers offer unlimited data tethering on unlimited data plans without significantly pumping the brakes on speeds when you reach a certain data allotment.
So, why would you want to buy a hotspot device (that is only a hotspot device) when you could just buy a mobile phone and tether it to your wifi devices for free?
It’s a great question. For those who are frequent hotspot users, a dedicated hotspot is more reliable than tethering from your phone. And, there are a few other reasons why a dedicated mobile hotspot device can make sense for certain users than tethering:
- Battery life: mobile hotspots have a much longer lasting battery life than mobile phones used as data passthroughs, particularly tethered ones.
- Free up your phone: a mobile hotspot lets you keep your phone free for taking calls, using apps, and doing other work without bogging it down.
- Reliably tethering to multiple devices: while some mobile phones can tether multiple devices, the more devices that are tethered, the worse the experience, with drops, etc. Devices that are dedicated as a wifi modem can provide a better experience.
Mobile hotspots are cheap enough that, for power users, the benefits outweigh the cost of the device and the hassle of carrying a dedicated mobile hotspot device around.
Mobile Network Coverage Maps
When it comes down to it, as I highlighted in my cheapest prepaid plans post, there are really only 3 mobile national network operators left in the U.S. (though Dish Network is building a 4th):
If you’re not one of these 3 mobile providers, you’re classified as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. MVNOs do not own their own wireless spectrum and networks, they lease network access at wholesale prices from the big 3 and re-sell it to consumers.
As you’re reviewing what the best cheapest mobile hotspot providers are, it’s important to note what network they run on. A mobile hotspot is worthless if the provider does not have strong coverage (preferably 5G or 4G LTE) where you live and frequently travel to.
Here are the coverage maps of the big 3:
It’s worth noting that in recent speed tests, however, T-Mobile came in ahead of all other carriers, despite its perceived lesser reputation. Your mileage may vary significantly based on your location.
The Cheapest Mobile WiFi Hotspot Plans
Here is a list of the cheapest prepaid mobile hotspot plans I was able to find, including monthly/data costs, device costs, network used, and more. Note that a few of the service providers do not sell hotspot devices, however, you should be able to use a mobile device as a hotspot (or potentially find and connect a dedicated hotspot device, if you prefer).
|Mobile WiFi Hotspot Provider||Hotspot Plan Cost||Hotspot Device & Cost||Mobile Network Used & Peak Speed on Hotspot Device||Notes|
|AT&T hotspot||$25/mo (12 months prepay): 20GB|
|Netgear Nighthawk: $6.95/mo||AT&T, 5G speeds||Pre-paid option called "AT&T PrePaid Mobile Hotspot". Data add-ons available. Most AT&T prepaid voice plans allow data as a mobile hotspot (excluding the $65 unlimited plan). You may purchase a mobile hotspot add-on if you wish. $75 Unlimited Plus plan includes 10GB of mobile hotspot data.|
|Boost Mobile hotspot||$50/mo: 35GB||Alcatel Linkzone 2: $19.99 1-time||T-Mobile, 4G LTE speeds||Connect up to 15 devices.|
|Cricket Wireless hotspot||Data-only plans (for hotspot use):|
Tethering on "Unlimited" plans:
|Cricket Turbo Hotspot 2: $79.99 1-time||AT&T, 4G LTE speeds||Cricket is an AT&T Wireless brand that uses AT&T's network. Data-only plans include US/Canada/Mexico use.|
|Karma Mobility hotspot||$10/mo: 1GB|
|Franklin Wireless R717: $59.99 1-time||Varies, 4G LTE speeds||4G LTE speeds on your choice of network (AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon).|
|Net10 hotspot||$10/mo: 1GB|
|Moxee Mobile Hotspot (K779HSDL): $49.99 1-time||Varies, 4G LTE speeds||Net10 is a Tracfone owned company & runs of varying networks. You can also use a compatible 5G hotspot phone w/ these plans.|
|Straight Talk hotspot||$15/mo: 2GB|
|Franklin Mobile ($69.99) or Moxee Mobile ($49.99)||Varies, 4G LTE speeds||This Tracfone brand (runs on T-Mobile, AT&T, & Verizon).|
|T-Mobile hotspot||$5/mo: 500MB|
|Franklin Mobile ($90 1-time) or |
5G MiFi M2000 ($336 1-time)
|T-Mobile, 4G LTE (Franklin device) or 5G (Inseego device)||If you're in a T-Mobile coverage area, the auto-renew plans are a great deal. And its network is vastly improved.|
|Tello Mobile hotspot||"No minutes" plans:|
$39/mo: Unlimited - (25GB of high speed)
|n/a - use your own Tello (T-Mobile) compatible device, no specific hotspot available for purchase||T-Mobile, 5G speeds (w/ compatible device)||Tello is an MVNO that uses T-Mobile's network.|
|Total Wireless hotspot||$35/mo: 5 GB|
$50/mo: 10 GB
|Moxee Mobile Hotspot (K779HSDL): $49.99 1-time||Varies, 4G LTE speeds||No hotspot data only plans, but they sell a hotspot & plans that are hotspot-compatible.|
|Xfinity Mobile hotspot||“By the Gig” (hotspot at top speeds):|
"Unlimited" (20GB high speed, but mobile hotspot speeds do not exceed 600 kbps)
$45/mo: 1 line
$80/mo: 2 lines
|n/a - use your own Xfinity Mobile compatible device, no specific hotspot available for purchase||Verizon, 5G (w/ compatible device)||See my Xfinity Mobile review for more info. With slower "unlimited" speeds for hotspot, "By the Gig" is a better option.|
|Verizon hotspot||"Unlimited" Plans:|
Added cost high-speed add-on to "Unlimited" plans:
|Verizon Orbic Speed ($79.99 1-time), Inseego MiFi M2100 5G UW ($399.99 1-time), Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L ($199.99 1-time)||Verizon, 5G (Inseego) or 4G LTE (Orbic/Jetpack)||Pricey, but a lot of data being offered by Verizon.|
|Visible Mobile hotspot||$40/mo: unlimited (hotspot speeds limited to 5 Mbps)||n/a - use your own Visible (Verizon) compatible device, no specific hotspot available for purchase||Verizon, up to 5Mbps (w/ compatible device)||Visible is a Verizon sub-brand. No hotspot device, but tethering offered at speeds up to 5Mbps.|
Here’s a random tip: since many of these plans come with free text messaging, but pricey data, you may want to learn how to send text messages to email, so you don’t have to constantly pay data fees when accessing your web browser for email composition.
Which mobile wifi hotspot plan do you use and why?