Need to create a wireless hotspot.
March 9, 2014 12:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I create a wireless hotspot for a 24-hour Amtrak train ride?

My sister and young niece are taking an Amtrak train ride from New York to Florida (and back, later in the week) and want to have reliable internet for the trip. We don't have a need other than that week for a portable wireless network, so we're looking to do it as cheaply as possible. I have an AT&T phone, so I could potentially get something through them.

I haven't the faintest idea how to do this! Help!
posted by anthropoid to Technology (10 answers total)
What kind of phone do you have? Many phones are capable of doing this directly, although you typically have to pay your provider (AT&T) for this service, or use a rooted phone. You can enable this kind of service, then disable it - you'll presumably have to pay for one month of that service, though.

Amtrak provides wireless on the trains I've been on - DC to points north and back. It's not all that good a connection, though. It tends to drop for a few minutes, then pick up again.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:54 PM on March 9, 2014

The word you want to use and/or Google to find out about using your cellphone for this is "tethering." It may already be part of your regular service package, it may not. For TMo I know it is, but there can be a monthly usage cap. (In case it's a useful data point: reception for TMo is generally decent through the NY to VA leg of that trip. I've never traveled further, so can't speak to the rest.)

Another factor to consider: What will you be using the Internet for? If you plan to stream TV or movies, you'll need much more bandwidth than you will for email. And unless Amtrak has changed things recently, streaming with their wifi can be really difficult -- to the degree that I either download in advance or bring DVDs when I travel that way.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:14 PM on March 9, 2014

To consider re: tethering. Is there reliable cell coverage along the whole route? There are plenty of places in the US with no cell service.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:19 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are talking about the Silver Star, the route includes rural areas where I had no signal on either T-Mobile or Sprint for periods of up to half an hour. AT&T has a better network, so you may have better luck, but the conductor specifically warns that there will be areas with no signal. What are you actually expecting to need to do online?

The easiest way to do it is to call AT&T and ask for hotspot capability for a month. Make sure you have a 2 amp charger with you as using it as a hotspot for extended periods of time will chew through a lot of power.

If your contract with AT&T doesn't allow adding hotspot capability for just a month, you can get a prepaid cell based access point (Verizon will have the best coverage) .
posted by Candleman at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2014

Thanks everyone! To clarify, I will not be on the trip and my sister does not have enough data on her phone plan to tether. I am looking for the cheapest way to obtain a device that would then become the hotspot for things like streaming movies. Also, I've never been on Amtrak that had good wifi, and the train ride is 24 hours from New York to FL.
posted by anthropoid at 2:15 PM on March 9, 2014

It looks like AT&T has a pay-as-you-go option for wifi hotspots. Not sure what the most affordable way to buy the hotspot is, a quick search found one for $100 on Amazon - you might be able to find a cheaper model or one that's used/refurbed.
posted by radioamy at 2:30 PM on March 9, 2014

Attempting to stream movies on a train going through rural areas is almost certainly going to be an exercise in frustration (and expensive, to boot). If that's what the need is, just bring some DVDs or download movies onto whatever device they want to watch movies on.
posted by Candleman at 3:29 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can generally bump up the data for a month(and pay for it, of course) by calling your wireless provider or going to the website. We do this with Verizon on months that we are doing a lot of traveling. If you don't already have a mobile hotspot, that is going to be the cheapest option.
posted by rockindata at 5:06 PM on March 9, 2014

Candleman's right. I have experience with creating a mobile hotspot with Cricket, Clear and Verizon through the NE corridor between DC and NYC, which is easily the most population and cell dense part of the Amtrak network and there's no way that you'll have a consistent enough connection for streaming audio, let alone video. Do what everyone else does on the train and download movies or bring DVDs.

In fact, even the AC outlets on Amtrak can be a hit or miss proposition so books are nice too.
posted by Skwirl at 10:52 PM on March 9, 2014

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