Mobile Wifi hotspots, options and experience?
April 25, 2014 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I am plotting a trip to a part of the US with poor internet and bad cell coverage. One location where I will be staying shows as within AT&T's 4G LTE data service area. A recent trip to SF demonstrated some limitations of my current cell data plan, which is Straight Talk month-to-month (sublease on AT&T network, shows signs of being stepped on by AT&T in terms of speed and responsiveness for data). Straight Talk excludes tethering altogether and has a non-4G data puck available. Given my negative experience with ST data in SF, I am looking askance at the ST puck.

I rarely travel, so I don't need a continuing data access backup or alternate. My ideal case would be to obtain a one-month unit for about $50, service and hardware included.

I think I can get an AT&T 4G LTE hotspot out of contract. There are rafts of similar devices, AT&T locked and off brand unlocked, available on ebay or craigslist. Given the numbers of resale units, I suspect that the use case I am experiencing is relatively common but that in general people find that they are paying more for the device and service than I am projecting as reasonable and hope to resell to recoup.

What are my options, and what is the experience of anyone reading this who has sourced a third-party data puck via CL or eBay for use on AT&T?
posted by mwhybark to Technology (4 answers total)
Your problem in San Francisco was probably AT&T, not Straight Talk specifically. My experience is that AT&T service is extremely poor throughout the city. This doesn't directly answer your question, but just wanted to point out that you may not want to generalize from the SF experience to the rest of the country.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2014

I'd go with Virgin Mobile. It's national, it runs on Sprint's network and it's $72 for the device and $55 for the plan for 6 GB of data (Though I've definitely used 10+GB on one of these things before). When I worked in San Francisco tourists would buy these, use them for a week, and then return the device (30 return policy at Radio Shack, though it might be 14 days now). Virgin/Sprint's network is solid in SF and here on the east coast. I don't know specifically where you're going but you can check coverage on their site.
posted by runcibleshaw at 3:55 PM on April 25, 2014

I'm only in SF on the weekends, which of course aren't peak time, but I've never had issues in Noe Valley, the Mission District, and whatever area it is the UCSF oncology hospital is in using my AT&T 3G (old iPhone) and 4G (new Galaxy S5) data plans. I know AT&T had a bad rap years ago for their coverage in SF, but I'm not sure that still is an issue. I've only used data on my phone, though; I don't have a tethering plan.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 4:22 PM on April 25, 2014

Sorry if I was unclear - I'm only interested in AT&T devices and network usage. I do like the buy-and-return idea. I definitely DO NOT want a continuing contract.
posted by mwhybark at 4:48 PM on April 25, 2014

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