Verizon Mobile Hotspots: Smartphone vs. MiFi


4-Step Computer Security Upgrade

Learn to encrypt your files, secure your computer when using public Wi-Fi, enable two-factor authentication, and use good passwords.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been subjected to extensive travel and the occasional unorthodox office arrangement. That means I’ve had to find a way to work effectively without a reliable and constant internet connection. Easier said than done. For a while, I did the coffee shop and library thing but eventually came to my senses and realized that working on an open wireless network is a worse idea than the Tupac hologram. So I decided to look in to some of the “hotspot” devices that Verizon offers to see if they could hook me up with what their ads claim to provide, i.e., secure internet everywhere.

The DROID Hotspot

For the uninitiated, a “mobile hotspot device” is a gadget that provides a wireless signal for your laptop, iPad or anything else. Smartphones are now able to provide this same service with a “hotspot” feature built-in. So, rather than carrying around an extra device (see below) to provide a wireless signal, you can use any newer smartphone to double as a wireless internet source. This is a pretty awesome feature, but only when it works.

I tried to use this feature on two different Motorola DROID X phones, and it worked miserably both times. On one phone, the signal would drop off about every five minutes, requiring reconnection. On the other phone, the hotspot software would shut the phone down after about ten minutes. But man, when it worked, it was an awesome ten minutes. Mobile hotspot? More like, COLDSPOT, amirite you guys?

I realize that tons of new phones with better capability have been released by all the major providers since my crappy DROID X came out (Verizon has replaced mine 3 times), but I definitely walked away with a sense that hotspot features on some smartphones can be pretty flaky and unreliable. And if you are relying on an internet connection for work, you might want to have a device that you know will work every day and in most locations. My particular smartphone didn’t provide that reliability.

Now, I fully realize that a lot of people have had luck with their smartphones as hotspot devices. Good for them. If it works on a consistent basis and can provide a good enough connection for you to get your work done, then that’s great. But for those of us with cell phones that don’t live up to the task, there are other options.

The MiFi Device

I occasionally have to work in an office without internet access. Because my bosses feel bad for saddling me with this devastating first-world problem, they gave me a Verizon MiFi Mobile Hotspot device so that I could connect to the wonderful world of email and Google. It works like gangbusters. The connection is pretty fast as wireless goes, and I hardly ever experience drops. It also connects to a workplace VPN without a problem.

The device itself is fairly cheap, though, as is the case with any phone or wireless device, the cost comes in the form of 2-year contracts and service/data usage fees. Niki Black wrote about a similar device that she got on Amazon for $0.01, so the initial investment can be nominal. The question is whether you want to sign up for an additional contract and data usage fee on top of the one you are already paying for on your cell phone.

This is where the math comes in, because the one downside in all of this is that you will in all likelihood have to pay some kind of fee for the mobile broadband service that comes with connecting to the internet through a hotspot. It may make more sense for you to use the smartphone that you already have, but that depends on the quality of service. If you don’t have a smartphone, or if the one you have is terrible, a simple MiFi device could be a viable option.



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  • Esteban

    Thanks for the info. I also find myself working in different locations; I have thinking about investing in a mifi device or using a smartphone as a wifi.

    Your article will help in my decision making process.

  • Ginger

    I have heard the same from iPhone users, so it isn’t just with the Droid. I agree that a device like the MiFi is the answer. If you don’t want a contract, but want the Mifi, Virgin Mobile offers the same device for $50 per month. I recently used it on a 17 hour road trip and it worked beautifully. It operates on the Sprint network so if there is Sprint coverage, you will have coverage.

  • Dan

    Whether or not your smartphone is 4G will have a HUGE impact on Wifi Hotspot speed and reliability. The DroidX is not a 4G phone, so I would imagine you had a poor experience. 4G phones can be upwards of 20 times faster than 3G.

    So, if you only need mobile hotspot every once in a while for backup and already have a 4G phone, using that could save you $30 per month.

  • Christy

    I have a 4g Verizon smart phone and just got a lap top…how do you turn your phone into a hot spot and does Verion harge you extra for this?

    • Just go into the settings. If your phone has the capability, it’s in there. I don’t think Verizon charges extra anymore, but you will use up your data, of course.

  • Dan

    No, Verizon still charges $20 per month for phone hotspot. They have the option blocked on your phone unless you pay.

    Now, there are ‘ways’ around this block, but they are questionably legal, and you didn’t hear it from me.

    • On my iPhone, at least, that’s not true. But I have a brand-new phone and plan. All I do is turn on the hotspot option, and I’m able to connect and use the web with my other wireless gadgets (and at LTE speeds!).

      • Dan

        I may stand corrected! I just did some quick research… it looks like it depends on which plan you have through VZW.

        Supposedly, if you’re still on a grandfathered Unlimited data plan then they block tethering. If you have one of the newer tiered family share plans, hotspot is included, but counts towards your data limit.

        Thanks for helping me clarify that.