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.
Included in this Guide:
- Video Overview: Future of LTE - Understanding The Tech to Select the Right Gear (Members Only)
- Cellular Features & Standards
- Battery Life & Special Features (Member Only)
- Local Networking & Standards (Member Only)
- What about 5G? (member only)
- Mobile Hotspots Product Guide
- Ways to Use Cellular Data To Get Online: Jetpack, Smartphone or Router?
- Selecting a Mobile Router - Bringing Mobile Internet Options Together and Creating a Local RV Network
- Smartphone Selection Tips
- Changing SIM Card Sizes: Cutting Down & Adapting Up
- Understanding Cellular Signals and Optimizing for Data Performance
- Cellular Evolution: 2G Thru 5G, And Beyond!
In huge gratitude to funding from our members, we are honored to be able to offer the basic parts of this guide for free to you without 3rd party advertising, sponsorships or relying on selling you gear or plans.
In thanks for their support, our MIAs also get access to the more in-depth content in this guide.
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Cellular Features & Standards
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:
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.
Additional Member Only Content
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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.
Verizon’s older and now obsolete USB cellular modem.
Netgear Beam 340U
AT&T’s USB Modem option is slipping towards obsolescence.
The first Verizon XLTE mobile hotspot to hit the market, but it suffers a critical flaw.
Netgear Zing AirCard 771S
Sprint’s former flagship hotspot has antenna ports, but lacks LTE Plus.
Netgear AirCard 341U
Sprint’s USB modem option with MIMO antenna ports.
Netgear Unite Pro 781S
AT&T’s flagship LTE-A capable mobile hotspot.
The first USB cellular modem with XLTE, there are now better options.
Franklin Wireless Ellipsis MHS700L
Verizon’s original basic mobile hotspot, now discontinued and obsolete.
ZTE LivePro Projector
Sprint’s combo mobile hotspot and projector.
Novatel MiFi 6620L
A former flagship XLTE capable hotspot worthy of consideration.
AT&T’s entry-level LTE capable mobile hotspot is a decent basic choice.
ZTE Pocket Wi-Fi
Sprint’s flagship mobile hotspot choice – supporting LTE Plus and 802.11ac.
Ellipsis MHS800L / MHS815L
Verizon’s most basic currently offered mobile hotspot.
ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector
A combinations LED projector and hotspot.
Netgear Fuse AC779S
Sprint’s prepaid mobile hotspot is very basic, but DOES support external antennas.
Verizon’s 2015 USB cellular modem option.
Karma’s proprietary mobile hotspot provides service powered by Sprint.
AT&T’s connect car mobile hotspot is tied to one of the best plan deal around.
Verizon’s 2015 flagship mobile hotspot, packed with features.
Connect car mobile hotspot provides internet while driving on the Verizon network.
Franklin Wireless R850
Sprint’s hotspot with LTE Plus support but no 3G fallback.
ZTE Falcon Z-917
T-Mobile’s basic but capable LTE Band 12 compatible mobile hotspot.
Alcatel ONETOUCH Ride-Fi
Sprint’s DC powered mobile hotspot, intended for use in vehicles.
Netgear Unite Explore AC815S
AT&T’s newest flagship hotspot is full featured and built for abuse.
ZTE SyncUp Drive
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.
ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector for Verizon
A combinations LED projector and hotspot.
T-Mobile’s new basic but capable LTE Band 12 compatible mobile hotspot.
Netgear 4G LTE Modems
A group of cellular modems that combine hardwired ethernet and cellular hotspot functions.
Verizon’s newest flagship mobile hotspot, packed with features and Cat-9 LTE support.
Verizon’s connected car mobile hotspot provides internet while underway.
ZTE Velocity USB Modem
USB Modem designed for use with AT&T cellular data.
A very basic mobile hotspot for Verizon.
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.
A flexible global mobile hotspot with a virtual-SIM or personal SIM options.
Verizon’s newest (2017) USB cellular modem option.
Global mobile hotspot with a virtual-SIM that allows you to purchase day passes for unlimited international use.
$99 - $149
Netgear Nighthawk MR1100
AT&T’s ‘5G Evolution’ hotspot device is packed full of features: Cat 16, Carrier Aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and an ethernet port.
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.
AT&T Velocity 2
AT&T’s updated entry-level LTE capable mobile hotspot is a decent basic choice.
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