At the end of every year we do a wrap-up of major changes in the mobile internet industry.
But this year, there's been so many significant changes since that major update that we thought it would be worthwhile to present a quick mid-year review to keep all of our readers up to date.
First, here's a quick video re-cap (9 minutes) going over the most significant updates:
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Cellular Data: "Unlimited" Data Plan are Back!
In February all of the carriers introduced brand new unlimited plans.
But of course, these all come with limits hidden within the fine print - especially for mobile travelers seeking home internet replacements - a particular need cellular carriers are not yet ready to provide.
Those limitations come in the form of:
- Network Management: This is when a carrier reserves the right to de-prioritize the traffic of high bandwidth users. They generally have a threshold before this kicks in (22-32GB of usage in a month). After that threshold is reached, if the customer is on a cellular tower that is experiencing congestion, their usage might be slowed down relative to other users. Once the tower is no longer congested, full speeds resume. For RVers visiting heavily populated areas with overused towers, this might feel like like throttling in practice at times. But when on underused towers, you may never experience it.
- Mobile Hotspot Throttling: Almost all of the new "unlimited" plans come with a gotcha that after 10GB of mobile hotspot usage, speeds will be slowed down for tethering/mobile hotspot use.
Of particular note is Verizon's heavily advertised New Unlimited Data Plan, which includes the mobile hotspot restriction. This restriction even applies to their Mobile Hotspot Jetpack / MiFi unlimited lines - essentially limiting them to 10GB usage.
This is a particular pain point that many Verizon representatives are not clearly disclosing even to this day to new customers.
After nearly 4 months of these plans being out, we're still hearing mass confusion and disappointment over hotspot usage with these plans.
Be an informed consumer before walking into your carrier's store!
- Our Guide to Unlimited Data Plans
- ALERT: Verizon Now Enforcing 10GB Hotspot Limit with New “Unlimited” Plan!
- Verizon Terminating Certain “Rural” Customers For Excessive Usage
Cellular Data: Our Current Top Pick Data Plans
We're constantly tracking data plans, here are current top picks for mobile travelers seeking a home internet replacement:
Quick Video Overview with our top picks (updated July 26, 2018):
Top Pick Plans:
These top picks focus on plans that provide the maximum amount of hotspot-enabled data (or on device for a tablet/PC) for the lowest cost.
- Verizon's "Unlimited" - Verizon's Above Unlimited plans include 20GB of high speed mobile hotspot per smartphone. However data only devices (like hotspots and tablets) can be added for $20/mo each, and only include 15GB of high speed hotspot data. Data top ups are available for $35 for 5GB as needed.
- FMCA offers a 25GB 'unlimited' plan on a hotpot device to their members that has a 25GB high speed limit for $49.99/mo. It requires however a 2-year Verizon contract, and active 2-year FMCA membership.
- Visible is Verizon's new prepaid brand. For $40/month you get an iPhone based unlimited plan with all data capped at 5 mbps (very usable!). As part of their pre-launch they are including mobile hotspot use, but only to a single device. BUT this could change upon official launch.
- Verizon Legacy Unlimited Plans - A grandfathered/legacy unlimited data plan has been best deal for most US nomads who need lots of bandwidth and nationwide high speed coverage - the plans are not subject to network management or throttling (except HD video). Monthly rates vary from $45-249 depending on the method, including rental vendor options. However getting these plans is now a bit tricky, and there ongoing aggressive terminations.
- Wireless Home Phone & Internet plans on the Wireless Internet device are available for $60/month for 50GB or $100/month for 100GB.
- Unlimited Prepaid iPad Plan - AT&T offers prepaid tablet plans for $29.99 -35/month, but data is only available on device (no hotspot included). But with HDMI out for TV viewing and a bluetooth keyboard, a tablet can be quite a capable device. (Some do put the SIM then in a hotspot device, and it works - but this is against terms of service and AT&T could enforce it in the future.)
- Rental/Lease Vendors: There are many rental vendors out there offering plans from $60 - 199/month. Check our Guide to Unlimited Data for listings and warnings. The two cheapest right now are:
- Netbuddy.co & OTR Mobile at $60/mo (members, check our Member Discount page before signing up.)
- T-Mobile One+ smartphone & tablet plans includes 20GB of 4G personal hotspot use for $85/month, with unlimited on device data (55+ and Military qualify for great discounts!) - however hotspot use is de-priotized a bit over ondevice use. (The +International option mentioned in the video quietly retired on 8/9/2018 and is no longer available.)
- Rental/Lease Vendors: There are many rental vendors out there offering plans from $70 - 250/month on data only devices. Check our Guide to Unlimited Data for listings and warnings.
- Non-Profit Unlimited Plans - Joining a non-profit (such as Calyx Institute or PCs for People) to obtain an unlimited Sprint plan due to some prior agreement the carrier inherited is the most affordable option out there. Pricing ranges from $10-33/month.
- FMCA Sprint Plan: FMCA members have access to an unlimited Sprint hotspot plan for $49.99/mo, with no contract but does require an active 2-year FMCA membership.
- Sprint Unlimited Premium - Sprint's premium smartphones plans include 50GB of high speed mobile hotspot data a monthly, plus a bunch of other perks.
- Sprint Direct 50GB Plan - Sprint offers a direct mobile hotspot plan with 50GB of data for $50/month for use with dedicated data devices.
- Sprint Direct Tablet & 2-n-1 Unlimited Plans - For $15/month, Sprint offers an unlimited on device plan for tablets and select 2-n-1 PC devices, and includes 10GB of high speed hotspot data.
Last update: 9/20/2018
Mobile Satellite Internet
Satellite internet is now back as a viable option for mobile travelers with the launch of the HughesNet Gen-5 satellite system coming online in April - delivering amazing fast speeds.
The advertised speeds are promised at 25Mbps, but initial customers are reporting seeing as much as 50Mbps down and 3Mbps up.
Of course every satellite option comes with the normal drawbacks like latency, bulky equipment, and set up hassles.
But for those who really want to venture off into the boonies, it's great to have this option back!
But do keep in mind - to enable mobile service on the Gen5 system, you can NOT purchase service directly from HughesNet. Only certain resellers are able to enable mobile service, so do your homework and read our guides.
- Our Guide to Satellite Internet
- Satellite Internet Update: Iridium, OneWeb, SpaceX, and HughesNet
- Mobile Pricing Revealed for HughesNet “Gen5” Satellite Internet Service
Mobile Routers & Equipment
Starting at the end of 2016 and continuing into the year - most of the major mobile router manufacturers have refreshed their product lines to integrate in the latest in Wi-Fi networking and cellular technology.
Here's some of our past coverage of these product announcements:
- WiFiRanger Revamps Entire Product Line – Embracing 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Cradlepoint Announces New Flagship COR IBR900 Mobile Router
- Cradlepoint Embraces LTE-Advanced, Multi-Carrier Radios
- Pepwave Launches Next Generation Surf SOHO, MAX BR1 Mini
- Peplink Embraces LTE-A at Last, but Basic MAX BR1 Update Seemingly Delayed
We've had some hands on time with many of these new products, and our reviews have been updated and field testing results shared with our members.
The Mobile Internet Handbook - New Version Coming
Our last edition of The Mobile Internet Handbook came out in early 2016 - and it is getting a bit dated.
We have just started a re-write and are aiming to have the new version out in fall sometime.
The 2016 edition is still packed full of relevant and useful information however, as we took a lot of time to make it more focused on the theory and less on products & plans (as those change so often).
But we are considering the old version end of life, and have priced it accordingly for now.
If you don't need this information immediately, we do recommend holding off for the 5th Edition to come out later this year (no promises yet on a date - so much will depend on how many breaking stories we need to cover between now and then.)
Once the new version is released, our premium MIA members will of course get their PDF copy update for free - and they already have access to much of the updated information in our various guides throughout the website.
If you'd like the 2016 Edition at the new 'clearance' pricing in the meantime (which includes a $5 off membership coupon should you decide to join the MIA later):