Tell me about portable wifi hotspots
December 30, 2017 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I have an apartment that I'm only in a couple days of every week. While I'm there I do usual internet stuff, streaming Netflix & the like, gaming, downloading games, streaming spotify etc. I hate having to pay for internet that I rarely use. I would like to have a portable wifi hotspot. Can anyone tell me the current pros & cons? Recommend any particular services? I'm in the US.
posted by mattholomew to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The big con here is the cap on data. Typically, these plans only come with somewhere between 500 MB and 10 GB of data per month. Even 10 GB only gives you 10 hours of Netflix streaming a month (and even then, that’s only if you stream in SD). A plan like that will run you ~$100/month. So, while I understand your desire to not pay for internet you’re not using, the cost for mobile hotspots is likely to be a lot more.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:10 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have a portable hotspot from the Calyx Institute , a non-profit that provides a free hotspot with unlimited data for $500/year the first year at $400/year for all years after. (Technically they advertise as 30GB/month, but with no penalties or throttling if you go over---so functionally unlimited.) I've been using them for over a year now and I cannot recommend them enough. In my experience, it is fast enough for streaming and the joy of not having to deal with Comcast or Time-Warner is immense.
posted by eigenman at 5:53 AM on December 30, 2017 [17 favorites]

Does this apartment have a neighbor that might be willing to let you onto their wifi for $20/month? That might be your best bet.
posted by Hatashran at 6:10 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you can't use your smartphone as a hotspot (possibly upgrading your phone plan to unlimited data)?
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:15 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

My local library rents hot spots. Maybe yours does?
posted by k8t at 7:18 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is not exactly your use case, but the awesome people at the mobile internet resource center have made it their career to investigate all the options. Their target audience is rv and boat travellers and they go into crazy amounts of detail on the various topics, but i think a lot of the info could be helpful for you too! You probably just want a hotspot and a plan, Verizon or similar. Or frankly, just a phone or tablet you can tether off of would probably work as well.
posted by cgg at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2017

I use my regular iPhone like this, on a Verizon plan. Years ago I had a Verizon MiFi portable internet hot spot, but using the phone works just as well. Occasionally I go over the monthly limit when I travel, but I haven't yet justified upgrading to an unlimited plan. The mobile internet connection works really well, and I've watched streaming videos with it on occasion. The only downside is that phone calls interrupt the connection. If your apartment has good wireless coverage, it'll work well.
posted by migurski at 8:52 AM on December 30, 2017

I am currently travailing around the US in an RV and I’m using a Verizon MiFi portable hotspot. It is. . .not ideal. I am paying $85 a month for “unlimited” data, which means in actual fact I get 15 GB and then they throttle it back to barely enough to read Metafilter. I have used 5 GBs since 12/21 - that’s twitter, Instagram, mefi, google, maps and ONE one hour nature documentary on YouTube (it was about wolverines and it was pretty good.) So as you see it goes super fast. I have a bunch of images ready to upload to my blog - all resized way down - and I’m going to have to go find a coffee shop for that because otherwise all my data will be gone. It’s frustrating. Back in Asheville I pay $50 a month for cable internet, no limits, which admittedly is a sweet grandfathered deal but still, it’s just so much better. If I were you I’d pay for cable.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:49 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

T Mobile has something called Binge On, where streaming most video content (Netflix, Youtube, Amazon and others) doesn't count against your regular data allotment. If you have a television, you can use something like Chromecast to watch movies on a larger screen.

If you have broadband at your other location, you could check if they offer free WIFI hotspots near your apartment, though those speeds tend to be a bit slow.

Beyond that, eigenman's Calyx idea above really seems like a decent deal.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:10 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have Comcast? Xfinity hotspots are all over the place. Just use your login info.
posted by fritillary at 9:50 PM on December 30, 2017

I noticed around a year ago that my iPhone (I'm on AT&T) suddenly was willing to be a hot spot. I never paid anything extra--it just showed up. Since AT&T never makes a mistake in my favor, I assume it's a system-wide change. I use it in hotels when their wireless stinks, but you do have to be careful about the data cap.

You might see if your phone is already willing to be a hot spot.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2018

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