A personal WiFi® hotspot is a portable bubble of Internet connectivity that can be used on the go to connect up to five devices. The personal WiFi® hotspot is created by a battery-operated, pocket-sized, miniature router compliant with cellular broadband standards. The router broadcasts a personal cloud or Internet bubble with a radius of up to 30 feet (9.14 m). Products with compatible wireless modems or adapters can jump on the network to collect mail, stream videos or just surf the Web.
The advantage of a personal WiFi® hotspot is that it can be created anywhere within the carrier’s broadcasting range. On a beach, backpacking in the woods, in a ski lodge, waiting room, taxi, train, or stuck on the tarmac inside an airliner, you can be working, playing, or just passing the time. What’s more, you can share your network with up to four companions for a total of five connected devices.
Networks created by portable cellular routers are encrypted with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Technologies and product features vary between brands and models, but typically the router’s settings can be accessed by entering 192.168.11 in the Web browser’s address field. From here various tweaks and customizations can be made such as changing the network’s password, renaming the personal WiFi® hotspot, limiting connectivity to specific computers, or enabling port forwarding, (an option sometimes required for online gaming or for running remote desktop applications).
Some routers designed to create a personal WiFi® hotspot do not have a built-in modem. In this case one must purchase a wireless USB modem separately, which plugs into the USB port of the portable router. Cradlepoint® is one such brand, (though future versions might have built-in modems). This setup is somewhat bulky and cannot easily or cleanly fit in a pocket because of the attached adapter.
The more streamlined MiFi® by Novatel®, is a router with an integrated cellular modem. This product is only a few times thicker than a credit card, slipping easily into a pocket or purse. Once the router is turned on, the connectivity bubble is created within 30 seconds. A fully charged MiFi can run for four hours straight or for 40 hours on standby before requiring a re-charge, according to specifications.
The cost of a portable router varies according to plan discounts and the type of plan chosen, but cellular broadband remains one of the most expensive types of connectivity. It also carries bandwidth caps with it, with some carriers offering cheaper plans for lower caps and more expensive plans for higher caps. If you prefer a personal WiFi® hotspot as a backup plan or for emergencies only, at least one major carrier offers a pay-as-you go plan where the user pays a flat one-time fee for a 24 hour pass.
A router can only be used with the carrier for which it’s branded, so explore all options before purchasing. Routers manufactured to use the newest and fastest cellular technology are typically more expensive, at least initially, than those pumping slower broadband, though a built-in modem also factors into price. Check your preferred cellular carrier for details.