Can I hotspot my way out of this?
June 19, 2020 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to work really remote - can my cell phone hotspot help me do that?

I'll be "working from home" probably until next year due to my workplace's response to Covid. I'd like to be able to take my laptop to a specific outdoor place without electricity or internet. This place is remote enough that I'm not concerned about disrupting people with calls etc. but it will have very good and strong cell phone signal.

Is it possible for me to set up a hotspot for my computer using my phone to:
1) do general online work
2) use google voice on my computer to make calls
3) use google hangout or zoom on my computer for 1 hour+ video calls

I have a Verizon phone plan with an iPhone and it looks like they have hotspot plans:
1) Is that what I need for this?
2) If so, what plan (2 GB, 4 GB etc) would allow me to do video calls? (Is that even possible?)
3) If I don't get a hotspot plan, would this just use my cell phone data?

Anything I'm not thinking about or alternatives that could work better than what I'm considering?

*Note that I take Covid very seriously, and I'm not planning to travel - I'll still be within a mile of my house.
posted by Toddles to Technology (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been able to use my phone's hot spot for work. I've been and to connect to the VPN and everything functions properly. I've also been able to use the hot spot for google hangouts calls as well as zoom calls with no issues. I haven't tried Google voice but I don't see a reason why it wouldn't work.

Plan wise I don't know. I've been on an unlimited data plan with Tmobile that includes hotspots. I do get an alert when I hit 2GB of data and I can reach it in less than 2 weeks when I'm frequently using my hotspot so I'd try to get a bigger plan.
posted by simplethings at 4:55 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have an acquaintance who does this and while I can’t tell you which carrier (for reasons) the answer is yes, it is possible to spend months being 20 miles outside of town in (place) where there is no internet and use github and email and be a programmer.

What makes it possible is the unlimited data plan. His carrier did the math on what his usage cost the company in one of those months and...It was a lot. But unlimited roaming data is unlimited roaming data, so a deal is a deal.

The video calls take A Lot if data.

(I could suggest you look into a company that rhymes with C -Global.)
posted by bilabial at 4:56 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was having internet problems at home, I was having a TERRIBLE time getting my iPhone to hotspot OR tether to any of my computers, and got a verizon prepaid hotspot, which was much easier to use, just like a wifi router. If it has a strong signal I can Zoom, but if it falls to 1-2 bars it struggles.

Vanlifers and RVers have this stuff nailed down. This video might help you think through the options, and they're fairly rigorous testers.

You may want to consider a portable battery generator and maybe a solar panel (you can charge the generator off the 12v in your car as well as home wall plug, not entirely necessary). My hotspot does have a battery in it but it goes fast when I'm really flying through data, and my laptop does too when it's got camera, mic, and speakers going.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:02 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Do you have a battery pack for both phone and laptop? Because the batteries will go fast, I suspect.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:15 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

The search term you're looking for is "digital nomad" and yes, it's 100% possible - thousands do it everyday. This site covers how a lot of RVers and Boaters stay connected and the various solutions that exist - phone plans and hotspots are both viable options depending on your usage. You will definitely need more than 2 or 4 GB though - my laptop just working on it all day can easily use 1 GB / day if I don't monitor closely.
posted by cgg at 5:18 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I beg to differ, while reliable it is slow and expensive. Depends on what you do video and downloads generally killed me and my phone’s battery. I found myself constantly looking for a hot spot. General email and word processing is fine, anything more intensive or any screen sharing especially and you’re dead.
posted by geoff. at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

SpaceX's Starlink is starting its beta program soon. If you live in the right area with coverage it might work for you.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:38 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just take the case off. We overheated and blew through two android devices that way.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:54 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Video calls eat battery. I suspect electricity is going to be a worse problem here than data, although I will agree with everyone who says you need to have unlimited data for this to work and you’re still going to have to expect it to be slow. When I was traveling around in an RV in 2017/2018 using a Verizon hotspot with 10 gigs of data a month I would routinely burn through it in a week or two and almost all of that was uploading photos. If it’s just a mile away, though, I would say go try it out! It’s absolutely worth a trial run and that way you will know what kind of power / data you need.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:52 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by j_curiouser at 9:14 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hi! I do this. Assuming you have some kind of generator for electricity, you need an unlimited 4G data plan. Video and even regular workday long internet use is massivly data heavy. Like 10 gigs a week heavy. I use a T-Mobile unlimited data plan ($70 flat fee per month) which actually is unlimited and allows for mobile hotspots etc. Speedy enough for VPN, video calls, etc. Do not pay by gigs used. You will get screwed.

If you dont have a generator yet, that might be a whole separate AskMe
posted by ananci at 9:28 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Using a phone to implement a computer's Internet connection is much more reliable when done via Ethernet-over-USB (aka USB tethering) than via a wifi hotspot.

For starters there's one less radio link to exhibit all the extra failure modes that radio has over wires, but the main thing is that having the phone linked to the computer with the USB cable will keep the phone fully charged for as long as you need the link to stay up.

If you want not to have to worry about running out of power at all for days on end, grab one of these cheap buck/boost converters, set its output voltage to match what your laptop wants, and run it off a car battery. Which you could even keep topped up from a solar panel with a cheap charge controller.
posted by flabdablet at 10:46 PM on June 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Phone will also run much less hot when doing USB tethering than wifi hotspotting, because it doesn't need to run two radios.
posted by flabdablet at 12:37 AM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I worked fully remote last year for a bit. Some of my colleagues would do what you describe. In general we were just hotspotting from our phones -- no need for a dedicated hotspot device. If 4G is good, you should have no problem with video, though we found that video wasn't always necessary and we could just voice call in.

Unlimited data and a good power source are important.

Since it doesn't seem like you're planning to be moving around (you mention a 'specific place', so it doesn't seem like you're planning to hike the Appalachian Trail) maybe you could do some tests from the location. I'd suggest doing some Zoom calls from there with friends/colleagues just to get a sense as to whether it's even possible. You could also do some longer-running bandwidth & latency tests to get a sense of how consistent the 4G access is there. I can help with this if you want.

Even if 4G works for you, I understand that unlimited data plans can be expensive in some parts of the world. If that's the case, it may be cheaper for you in the long run to install a long range wifi repeater. A quick google search shows devices that claim 1 mile or more of coverage. I think they'd need line of sight. I haven't done this before but would be interested to hear how it goes.

Whatever you do, it would be great if you could document it. There's an increasing number of people who want to be creative with remote working situations, and whatever solution you find would be really interesting to all of us. :)
posted by jpziller at 3:37 AM on June 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

You say that you’ll be a mile away from your house. Is that a house that has WiFi? There are ways to extend WiFi that far.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:12 AM on June 20, 2020

I work remote from an isolated island with decent cell coverage for about a month every year. I'm not familiar with Verizons plan, but generally check the fine print: I did once spring for "unlimited" data that didn't allow hotspotting and it was nightmarish.
Now I bulk my regular plan with extra data for the month I'll be gone. Usually have to call my provider and spend an hour on the phone to get all the exceptions, budgeting for 200-500 MB/day. It never ends up being enough, so I usually pack an extra pay as you go Tracphone type thing (or an extra sim if you're going to a country where that's a thing).
Then spend a good long while tweaking all your devices so they suck the minimum amount of bandwidth. Turn off all updates and background use, and straight up turn off data whenever you're not actively using. Remove time wasting apps, nothing worse than realizing you spent all your precious work juice mindlessly scrolling insta. Bring paper books! Download all your files local so you're not working off clouds. Do all photo uploading and data-heavy crap like that from restaurant wifi. You will want to ration every MB because they will cost you.
posted by Freyja at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

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