Understanding LTE Modem Specifications And Selecting Cellular Devices (MiFi, Jetpacks, Routers, Phones)

Using a cellular device is the most common ways to get online for RVers and Cruisers.

There are many types of devices that can be utilized - mobile hotspots (aka Jetpacks or MiFis), smartphones or cellular embedded routers.

For more on the basics of mobile hotspots, routers, and smartphones:

Understanding the features of a specific device is almost as important as selecting the right form factor for your needs. These features can range from modem specifications, local networking capability, or options for enhancing the signal to your device.

All of these factors can combine together to determine how well a device will work for you and the actual performance you are able to get out of it.

As each of the cellular carriers continues to advance their networks, your cellular data performance will be directly impacted by how modern your device is. For those who consider mobile internet critical to their lifestyle, we generally recommend evaluating the cellular modems at least every year or two to keep current.


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Cellular Features & Standards

The Netgear Nighthawk is AT&T's latest flagship LTE mobile hotspot.

An integrated cellular modem is the core of every cellular device  - it's what gets you connected to your carrier's network. Modem technology is constantly advancing.

You'll want to check the following technical details:

Carriers

Most mobile hotspots are designed specifically for a primary carrier. They tend to be offered directly by the carrier for purchase and branded as such (example: The Novatel 7730L is branded and designed for Verizon, the Netgear Nighthawk for AT&T).

T-Mobile and AT&T devices tend to have a lot of cross over support for each other's networks, but you'll have to shop for carrier unlocked devices to successfully SIM swap - or convince your carrier to unlock the device. Other carrier specific devices don't tend to have enough cross over support to be worth the while.

Additionally, there are many non-carrier devices on the market that can successfully work on multiple carriers - these tend to be classified as cellular embedded routers which are different animals from mobile hotspots.

Smartphones tend to have more cross-carrier compatibility, but you still need to check their specific specs - as some are released specifically for a carrier.

Cellular Frequency Bands

What bands for LTE, 4G, 3G and 2G are supported? Check to make sure that any cellular modem you purchase supports all the current LTE bands in use by your carrier, and that it can also fall back to 3G networks when needed.

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Mobile Hotspot Guide

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 and cruisers.  For cellular embedded routers, be sure to check our Mobile Routers Guide.

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 product overview page. Use the content provided above you can much better determine just what the specifications like LTE Modem Category and LTE-A Carrier Aggregation mean in practical terms.

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

Pantech UML290

Verizon’s older and now obsolete USB cellular modem.

Novatel 4620L

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

Novatel 5510L

An older XLTE-capable hotspot that is now discontinued.

Netgear Beam 340U

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

$169

Pantech MHS291L

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

$159

Netgear Zing AirCard 771S

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

$192

Netgear AirCard 341U

Sprint’s USB modem option with MIMO antenna ports.

$199

Netgear Unite Pro 781S

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

$199

Pantech UML295

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

$199

Franklin Wireless Ellipsis MHS700L

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

ZTE LivePro Projector

Sprint’s combo mobile hotspot and projector.

$449

Novatel MiFi 6620L

A former flagship XLTE capable hotspot worthy of consideration.

$199

ZTE Velocity

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

$149

ZTE Pocket Wi-Fi

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

$180

ZTE Falcon Z-915

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

$110

Ellipsis MHS800L / MHS815L

Verizon’s most basic currently offered mobile hotspot.

$149

ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector

A combinations LED projector and hotspot.

$449

Netgear Fuse AC779S

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

$168

Novatel U620L

Verizon’s 2015 USB cellular modem option.

$199

Karma Go

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

$149

ZTE Mobley

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

$99

Netgear AC791L

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

$199

Zubie

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

$99

Franklin Wireless R850

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

$144

ZTE Falcon Z-917

T-Mobile’s basic but capable LTE Band 12 compatible mobile hotspot.

$79.95

Alcatel ONETOUCH Ride-Fi

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

$168

ZTE SyncUp Drive

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

Get the Book

$150

Millenicom

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

Wireless Home Phone & Internet

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

Franklin u772 USB Modem

USB Modem stick designed for use with Sprint cellular data.

$180

ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector for Verizon

A combinations LED projector and hotspot.

$499

HumX

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

$150

ZTE Velocity USB Modem

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

$119

Ellipsis MHS900L

A very basic mobile hotspot for Verizon.

$149

ZTE Warp Connect WiFi Hotspot

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

$49 - 144

Verizon Connected Home Plans and SmartHub

Verizon’s cellular data plans & “smart” router intended for homes.

$199

We.Stream

A flexible global mobile hotspot with a virtual-SIM or personal SIM options.

$179

GL-MiFi

The GL-MiFi is a hotspot offered in versions designed for use on AT&T or Verizon.

$139

Skyroam

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

$99 - $149

Franklin Wireless R910

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

$180

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.

$199

AT&T Velocity 2

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

$119

Ready for more?

This article is part of our 'Mobile Internet University' classroom, an included benefit for our premium Mobile Internet Aficionados members.

The course is designed to be self paced, walking you through our content on selecting cellular data plans, equipment, signal enhancing, Wi-Fi, satellite, routers and more.

Check out the course at:


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