Selecting a LTE Mobile Hotspot or Modem (MiFi / Jetpack)

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mobile-hotspot-mifi-jetpack-guideMobile hotspots (often referred to as a 'Jetpack' or 'MiFi') are one of the most common ways to share a cellular internet connection with other devices while on the go.

Mobile hotspots are small self-contained units that receive a cellular data signal just like a smartphone, but they then create a private Wi-Fi network for your other devices to get online - sharing in the cellular data.

Think of a mobile hotspot as a cellular modem and basic Wi-Fi router combined.

Most mobile hotspots tend to be able to
serve 5–15 client devices at once - including laptops, tablets, phones, and even smart TVs and game systems.

The 7730L Jetpack for Verizon is actually a battery powered cellular modem and personal Wi-Fi router.

These hotspots typically have a battery built into them, which allows you to take your Wi-Fi with you when on the go - and some even allow you to charge other devices by acting as portable battery packs.

While mobile hotspots can work on their own - many of them can also  be directly tethered via USB into a computer, or into a more advanced cellular aware router - like those from WiFiRanger, Pepwave, or Cradlepoint.

Though they seem like simple devices - selecting a mobile hotspot can be confusing, and there are many options available.

This guide will educate you on the options, and on the key features to be aware of.

We also cover USB modems - which are essentially just the cellular core of a mobile hotspot. These modems are not battery powered, and can not create a Wi-Fi network to be shared by multiple devices. But if you only have a single device to get online - these USB modems are also worth considering.

Table of Contents

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Is a Basic Hotspot Enough?

A dedicated mobile router like this Pepwave MAX BR1 combines an integrated cellular modem, Wi-Fi networking, and wired Ethernet ports. Think of it as a mobile hotspot on steroids.

A dedicated mobile router like this Pepwave MAX BR1 combines an integrated cellular modem, Wi-Fi networking, and wired Ethernet ports. Think of it as a mobile hotspot on steroids.

For many RVers, a single basic mobile hotspot might be all that is needed to keep all your tech connected.

In fact - it is hard to beat the sheer simplicity of this solution.

But if you need more capability or flexibility than a single simple mobile hotspot can provide, more advanced router options are out there.

A mobile router may have its own internal cellular radio, or it may actually support tethering to a mobile hotspot via USB - using the hotspot for a cellular connection.

For more on these more advanced routers, see our in-depth guide:

Selecting a Mobile Router

Some of the advantages of a more advanced mobile router might include:
  • Allowing you to connect to both cellular and public Wi-Fi as upstream network sources.
  • Making it easier to toggle between a primary and a secondary cellular carrier for wireless connectivity.
  • Simpler device configuration - you do not need to change the settings on all your devices when you change the upstream connection. You only need to make the switch in one place (on the router), and you can often even configure a router to "failover" from a primary to a secondary  connection automatically.
  • Providing a stronger Wi-Fi LAN signal if you have a larger area you want to be able to cover than a basic hotspot alone can reach.
  • If you have wired Ethernet devices (such as game systems or network-attached storage drives), a router can often share your upstream connection with a local wired Ethernet network.
  • Additional network inputs on some routers can be used for satellite, cable, or DSL connections should you have access to them.
  • Some routers even let you connect to multiple upstream networks (ie. two cellular networks, or a cellular and campground Wi-Fi) at the same time for increased speed or reliability.
  • Many routers support advanced network management features - such as usage tracking and limits, or the ability to host a server on your private network.

There are a lot of mobile router options on the market ranging from small basic travel routers up to professional grade equipment offering very high end features at a very high end price.

Prices can range from less than $50 all the way up to well over $1,000 - what will be best for you will really depend on your end goals, tolerance for complexity, and your overall budget.

For a lot of people - a dedicated router adds complexity without a lot of benefit. Carefully consider whether you actually need one, or whether a mobile hotspot alone is enough.

Why Not Just Use a Phone?

Most smartphones have a "Personal Hotspot" or "Tethering" or "Mobile Hotspot" feature that can be enabled in the control panel - if your cellular plan enables this feature.

Most smartphones have a "Personal Hotspot" or "Tethering" or "Mobile Hotspot" feature that can be enabled in the control panel - if your cellular plan enables this feature.

A smartphone creating a "Personal Hotspot" is doing the same thing via software that a mobile hotspot does - creating a private Wi-Fi network that can be shared with other nearby devices.

So if nearly every phone has this feature built in, why bother with a dedicated mobile hotspot device?

For solo travelers or as a backup connection - relying on your phone can indeed be a great plan.

But for your primary cellular connection - having a device dedicated to the job makes a lot of sense.

Dedicated mobile hotspots can be set to stay on and waiting for your clients to connect - while phones will shut down sharing if they have been left idle for a few minutes.

Having to constantly restart the Personal Hotspot feature can be maddening if you are trying to get work done.

And phones acting as a hotspot often struggle to share the connection while handling voice calls at the same time - potentially putting a damper on your phone usage.

And the biggest downside of using a phone as your primary cellular connection... What if someone goes out to run errands, and they actually take the internet with them - leaving everyone else disconnected?


Mobile Hotspots Product Guide

The AT&T Unite Pro, Verizon MiFi 6620L, and Verizon Pantech MHS291L are all covered in depth in our review center, among many others.

The AT&T Unite Pro, Verizon MiFi 6620L, and Verizon Pantech MHS291L are all covered in depth in our review center, along with many others.

The grid below features all the mobile hotspots and USB modems that we are tracking on the market that might be of interest to RVers.

Click on the filter buttons to narrow down your search by features, carrier, or manufacturer - and then click on the product you would like to learn more about for our in-depth product page.

Many of the hotspots we have tested extensively, and we offer free quick reviews to everyone, as well as in-depth reviews (and even video tutorials) available to our premium members.

Our members are also invited to share reviews and commentary of their own.

Below this interactive product grid we have a member's only guide to understanding the features of mobile hotspots - as well as a spreadsheet grid comparing the options head-to-head.

TIP: Most hotspots and modems are carrier specific, but "unlocked" models can often be used to some extent on other compatible carriers. Be sure to check the tech specs to get a sense for what is possible.

Sadly - there is as yet no universal hotspot that works well across every carrier.

Pantech UML290

Verizon’s older and now obsolete USB cellular modem.

Overall Review:

Novatel 4620L

A pre-XLTE Verizon mobile hotspot that is now long obsolete.

Overall Review:

Novatel 5510L

An older XLTE-capable hotspot that is now discontinued.

Overall Review:

Netgear Beam 340U

AT&T’s USB Modem option is slipping towards obsolescence.

Get the Book

$169

Overall Review:

Pantech MHS291L

The first Verizon XLTE mobile hotspot to hit the market, but it suffers a critical flaw.

$159

Overall Review:

Netgear Zing AirCard 771S

Sprint’s former flagship hotspot has antenna ports, but lacks LTE Plus.

$192

Overall Review:

Netgear AirCard 341U

Sprint’s USB modem option with MIMO antenna ports.

$199

Overall Review:

Netgear Unite Pro 781S

AT&T’s flagship LTE-A capable mobile hotspot.

$199

Overall Review:

Pantech UML295

The first USB cellular modem with XLTE, there are now better options.

$199

Overall Review:

Franklin Wireless Ellipsis MHS700L

Verizon’s original basic mobile hotspot, now discontinued and obsolete.

Overall Review:

ZTE LivePro Projector

Sprint’s combo mobile hotspot and projector.

$449

Overall Review:

Novatel MiFi 6620L

A former flagship XLTE capable hotspot worthy of consideration.

$199

Overall Review:

ZTE Velocity

AT&T’s entry-level LTE capable mobile hotspot is a decent basic choice.

$149

Overall Review:

ZTE Pocket Wi-Fi

Sprint’s flagship mobile hotspot choice – supporting LTE Plus and 802.11ac.

$180

Overall Review:

ZTE Falcon Z-915

T-Mobile’s now-discontinued LTE Band 12 compatible mobile hotspot.

$110

Overall Review:

Ellipsis MHS800L / MHS815L

Verizon’s most basic currently offered mobile hotspot.

$149

Overall Review:

ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector

A combinations LED projector and hotspot.

$449

Overall Review:

Netgear Fuse AC779S

Sprint’s prepaid mobile hotspot is very basic, but DOES support external antennas.

$168

Overall Review:

Novatel U620L

Verizon’s 2015 USB cellular modem option.

$199

Overall Review:

Karma Go

Karma’s proprietary mobile hotspot provides service powered by Sprint.

$149

Overall Review:

ZTE Mobley

AT&T’s connect car mobile hotspot is tied to one of the best plan deal around.

$99

Overall Review:

Netgear AC791L

Verizon’s 2015 flagship mobile hotspot, packed with features.

$199

Overall Review:

Zubie

Connect car mobile hotspot provides internet while driving on the Verizon network.

$99

Overall Review:

Franklin Wireless R850

Sprint’s hotspot with LTE Plus support but no 3G fallback.

$144

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Overall Review:

Alcatel ONETOUCH Ride-Fi

Sprint’s DC powered mobile hotspot, intended for use in vehicles.

$168

Overall Review:

ZTE SyncUp Drive

T-Mobile’s connected car mobile hotspot provides internet while driving.

$150

Overall Review:

Millenicom

Offers T-Mobile smartphone and data plans at lower costs but with all the T-Mobile postpaid perks.

Overall Review:

Wireless Home Phone & Internet

AT&T’s cellular data plan intended for homes, offers more GBs for the dollar.

Overall Review:

Franklin u772 USB Modem

USB Modem stick designed for use with Sprint cellular data.

$180

Overall Review:

ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector for Verizon

A combinations LED projector and hotspot.

$499

Overall Review:

HumX

Verizon’s connected car mobile hotspot provides internet while underway.

$150

Overall Review:

ZTE Velocity USB Modem

USB Modem designed for use with AT&T cellular data.

$119

Overall Review:

Ellipsis MHS900L

A very basic mobile hotspot for Verizon.

$149

Overall Review:

ZTE Warp Connect WiFi Hotspot

A mobile hotspot device for Sprint and their prepaid brand Boost Mobile.

$49 - 144

Overall Review:

Skyroam

Global mobile hotspot with a virtual-SIM that allows you to purchase day passes for unlimited international use.

$99 - $149

Overall Review:

Franklin Wireless R910

Sprint hotspot with 3G fallback and 5GHz WiFi capabilities.

$180

Overall Review:

Wireless Internet Router & Data Plans by AT&T

AT&T’s cellular data plans & router intended for homes, but usable on the road for some.

Overall Review:


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