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What Carrier Is Best for Wi-Fi Hotspots?
If you're willing to sacrifice internet speed in exchange for unlimited hotspot data, you should consider Visible's $40 Unlimited Plan. Visible's plan offers unlimited 5 Mbps data and reliable coverage, and it's about half the cost of both AT&T's and Verizon's plans. But you won't be able to stream or game at such a slow speed.
If reliable coverage matters most to you, then Verizon's Do More Unlimited is your best bet. But it's not a great deal considering Verizon's plan gives you only half the data as AT&T's but at almost the same price.
If you want lots of high-speed hotspot data and are willing to pay for it, AT&T's Unlimited Elite is the plan for you.
- : Best budget option
- : Best coverage
- : Most high-speed hotspot data
The Big Three mobile carriers—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—are all offering great trade-in deals right now. That means you can get $700 or more off select smartphones like the iPhone 12 when you trade in your old device.
Meanwhile, smaller MVNO carriers like Mint Mobile and Visible Wireless are offering $50 virtual gift cards or discounts on select phones to entice new customers interested in more budget-friendly smartphones like the iPhone SE (2020) or Google Pixel series.
Find these and other offers in our monthly roundup of the best cell phone deals.
What should you look for in a mobile hotspot plan?
When comparing cell phone plans in terms of hotspot data, our team recommends considering the following essential factors.
How much data do you get? This might be the most important factor because mobile hotspots can be data hogs. Our recommendations start at 15 GB of hotspot data and go up to unlimited.
How fast will your mobile hotspot up- and download data? This determines what kind of activities you can do online while using your hotspot. Without high-speed data, streaming video and gaming with your hotspot is pretty much off the table.
Where can you access your mobile hotspot data? Mobile data is only valuable if you're somewhere you can actually use it, so when considering mobile hotspot plans, you have to balance the data allotment against network coverage.
We always look for the most reasonably priced plan. If there's a perk or promo that's truly unique, sometimes that changes how we think about the advertised cost.
Visible $40 Unlimited Plan: Best budget option
- Unlimited 5 Mbps hotspot data
- Reliable coverage
- No high-speed data
- Unexpected data slowdowns
Visible is an MVNO that offers unlimited hotspot data capped at 5 Mbps on Verizon's top-notch network. It's a unique combo that allows them to offer attractive pricing.
Unlimited 5 Mbps mobile hotspot data
Visible's 5 Mbps service should give you enough data speed to open and send emails, browse the internet, and stream music without problem. And unlimited means unlimited—you can use as much mobile hotspot data as you want every month.
At only 5 Mbps, you will, however, definitely struggle streaming video, gaming, or doing any other data-heavy activities with 5 Mbps of hotspot data. Check out our rankings of mobile hotspots for gaming, if gaming is your main online activity.
Great network coverage courtesy of Verizon
Visible Wireless is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that uses Verizon’s network. Translation: Visible uses Verizon’s super reliable network, but charges way less for its services.
Take a look at the coverage map below to get an idea of what to expect with Visible:
Visible (Verizon) coverage map
Deprioritization could be a problem
The downside to going with an MVNO provider over a traditional carrier is that you’re subject to deprioritization. Long story short, your data speeds can drop out of the blue because the parent network gives priority to its own users over MVNO users on the same network.
So if you go with Visible and you notice your signal drops during rush hour, it’s because the Verizon network is prioritizing its own customers during a peak usage period.
Get more information on deprioritization and other details you’ll want to know before signing up for Visible.
Verizon Do More Unlimited: Best coverage
- 15 GB of high-speed hotspot data
- Most reliable coverage
- Pay more per GB
Verizon offers the best coverage, so your mobile hotspot data is available in more places. That coverage comes at a price.
Get 15 GB of high-speed hotspot data per month
You don’t quite get 30 GB of hotspot data like you do with AT&T, but the Verizon Do More Unlimited plan gets you 15 GB of hotspot data that you can use basically anywhere.
If you need more, you can double your hotspot data allotment to 30 GB by opting for Verizon’s Get More Unlimited plan, but it’ll cost you an extra $10 a month.
Verizon has the best network coverage for mobile hotspots
Currently, Verizon offers 4G coverage to a whopping 70% of the country. To put that number in context, AT&T offers 68% coverage, while T-Mobile only offers 62% 4G coverage (though that might change in the future now that they've acquired Sprint).
So if you’ve got Shining-like aspirations of working in the woods somewhere with your mobile hotspot, Verizon is your best bet. Seriously, look at the coverage map below—you could get a Wi-Fi hotspot signal on some remote lake in Michigan … if that's where you wanted to be, for whatever reason, and you'd still have the ability to answer emails, watch YouTube videos, or post to your Insta feed.
Verizon coverage map
A tradeoff between less data and wider coverage
All that reliable coverage does come at a cost, and in this case, it’s to the tune of $80 a month for the Do More Unlimited plan. So while Verizon gives you less data than other carriers at that price, Verizon's better coverage means you can use your mobile hotspot data in more places.
For folks who travel often or live in more rural areas, that tradeoff between a smaller data allotment and broader coverage might be worth the cost.
Want to get all the details on why its coverage can make it worth the price?
AT&T Unlimited Elite: Most high-speed hotspot data
- 30 GB of 4G hotspot data
- HBO Max included
- Slowest download speeds
If you just want the biggest allotment of mobile hotspot data for the best price, AT&T is the carrier for you.
Get 30 GB of mobile hotspot data for a great price
Currently, AT&T wins the hotspot data allotment battle among all the wireless providers by offering 30 GB of high-speed hotspot data every month for $85 a month. If you just want the best GB-to-dollar ratio, it's AT&T's Unlimited Elite plan.
For context, Verizon’s über-expensive Get More Unlimited Plan almost competes with 30 GB of hotspot data, but it costs $90 a month. As for T-Mobile, the Magenta Plus plan only gives you 20 GB of hotspot data for the same price as AT&T at $85 a month.
If you’re all about getting the most hotspot data for the best price, AT&T takes the crown. It's just simple math.
If you're paying for mobile hotspot data, you might want to use some of that streaming HBO Max, which is included as a perk for AT&T subscribers on their Unlimited Elite plan.
So if the AT&T Unlimited Elite plan seems a little pricey to you at $85, don't forget to consider that HBO Max would normally cost you $15 per month.
Good coverage but poor download speeds
If you're on the fence about AT&T, it's worth knowing that it has the second-largest network. AT&T is right behind Verizon in 4G coverage. That means your tons of mobile hotspot data is available in tons of places.
However, our own research has shown AT&T has the worst up- and download speeds of the Big Three. That's bad news if you're trying to stream video or game with your mobile hotspot.
Get all the details before making a final decision.
T-Mobile is not one of the best carriers for mobile hotspots
You probably noticed T-Mobile, one of the Big Three mobile carriers, is missing from our top recommendations for hotspot data providers. T-Mobile was fairly easy to cut based on cost and coverage.
The premium T-Mobile Magenta Plus plan costs the same as AT&T's Unlimited Elite 30 GB plan, but T-Mobile offers only 20 GB of high-speed hotspot data. Verizon's Do More Unlimited plan gives you less mobile hotspot data than T-Mobile's Magenta Plus, but Verizon's plan also costs less and operates on a better network.
That means T-Mobile's Magenta Plus plan has the lowest value, the least-impressive data allotment, and the worst network coverage. That's a real Triple Frown.
We hope that T-Mobile steps up its hotspot data game, but in the meantime, we can't in good conscience call them one of the best carriers for mobile hotspots.
Recap: What mobile carrier is best for Wi-Fi hotspots?
Most wireless carriers offer WI-Fi hotspots, but Visible, Verizon, and AT&T offer the most bang for your buck with these three cell phone plans.
- Best budget plan: Visible’s $40 Unlimited Plan offers unlimited hotspot data, but your data speeds are capped at 5 Mbps. It’s enough to browse the internet, but not enough to reliably stream or game.
- Best coverage: Verizon’s Do More Unlimited plan gets you 15 GB of high-speed hotspot data and the most reliable coverage in the country.
- Most high-speed hotspot data: AT&T's Unlimited Elite plan gets you 30 GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data for the best price, bottom line.
Frequently asked questions about hotspot data
Going deeper on mobile hotspots
Still have burning questions about mobile hotspots and hotspot data? We've got you covered in our FAQ. Have a question we don't answer here? Drop it in the comments!
What is hotspot data?
Hotspot data allows you to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal from your phone. So basically, if your phone gets a signal, you can share that signal with your laptop, Nintendo Switch, or any other device that connects via a Wi-Fi signal.
How do I use hotspot data?
The first thing you need to do is enable a Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone, which is an option that can be found in your settings. After that, you can find your hotspot signal on the device you want to connect.
What happens when I run out of high-speed hotspot data?
Once you run out of 4G high-speed hotspot data in a month, you’ll typically get bumped down to 3G hotspot speeds. For most providers, you can still create a hotspot with your phone, but the data speeds will be significantly slower. You should still be able to open and send emails, but you probably won’t be able to stream reliably with 3G speeds.
Do non-unlimited data plans have hotspot data?
You’ll need to check with your specific plan, but most plans have hotspot capabilities. If you don’t have unlimited data, your hotspot data gets clumped together with your monthly data allotment. For example, if you have 3 GB of data every month, your hotspot will pull data from that same source. Be very careful about using hotspot data on a non-unlimited plan—hotspot data is a real data hog.
To determine our list of best carriers for mobile hotspots, we started by comparing all mobile plans that include hotspot data as part of the service. We used online comparison tools from our partners at WhistleOut to identify the following factors in a mobile hotspot plan: data allotment, data speed, network provider, and cost.
From there, we narrowed down our list by filtering it through our own extensive research into cell phone carriers and their networks. We've reviewed cell phone plans from all the major carriers and most of the smaller ones. We've conducted our own tests to determine network upload and download speeds.
We used this knowledge base to look at each mobile hotspot plan and weigh its data allotment, data speed, and network coverage against the cost. This allowed us to determine which plans offer the best mobile hotspot services according to each of the key factors.
If you still have doubts and you want to do your own research (or if you want to check our math), you can use the same online comparison tool here.