Digital nomads, Instagram globe trotters and traveling professionals often all experience a similar dilemma while abroad: A safe and guaranteed internet connection. Whether you’re in a technology hub like Hong Kong or zip lining through South Africa, organizing a reliable mobile internet plan before your travels is the smart thing to do. The global mobile hotspot market is valued at $3 billion in 2020 and, due to jobs moving online, it is expected to grow to $8 billion in 2027.
HomeLinkd reviews the various mobile internet plans on the market so that you can make an informed decision before your next overseas trip.
Different from a smartphone hotspot, a mobile hotspot is a portable device you can take with you to access the wireless local area network (WLAN) like 4G or 5G. This could come in the form of a SIM card with a roaming plan for your smartphone, a dongle hotspot that plugs into your laptop like a USB, ora stand-alone router that could connect to Wi-Fi or cellular network. A smartphone hotspot is when your laptop can’t connect to Wi-Fi or a cellular network for some reason and you need a quick-fix connection. Your laptop will essentially be using data that’s for your phone.
A big concern for travelers when using public Wi-Fi is if the data and personal information on their laptop or phone is secure. Email is the easiest form of phishing (the practice of sending fraudulent emails to access personal data) for scammers to get ahold of your banking info and this is largely done through insecure networks like public Wi-Fi. This is another added benefit of getting a mobile hotspot because it is private and only people with the password -you and a travel partner perhaps -will have access to this network.
Start with the network. Before choosing which device is going to be best for you, you first need to find out what the network coverage situation is like overseas. There’s no point in choosing the hardware first when you’re not even sure if that carrier provides coverage to the country or area you’re heading off to. AT&T is available in 95 countries and Spectrum Mobile is in 200 countries, so you’re likely to have success with either one of these two.
Then, pick the device. Great, you’ve chosen a carrier that provides coverage in the area you’re going to be holidaying! Now you can choose a modem or router. Do you want a stand-alone router that you can pop into your laptop bag? Or perhaps a USB-like dongle that’s small enough to fit in your pocket? Take a look at some of the best routers & modems for AT&T internet plans.
There are many perks to the Nighthawk modem, but the main features that continue to impress are the high speeds and the battery life. It has lightening-fast 4G LTE with speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, making it perfect for traveling professionals or digital nomads that rely on their laptop and a good internet connection to fund their lifestyle. The battery life is in a league of its own with 24 hours of battery. That’s better than some of the top smartphones or laptops on the market! On the other hand, the Nighthawk LTE is not the most affordable mobile hotspot with a retail price of $250. You can, however, opt for installments with AT&T for $7 monthly.
If pricing is the motivating factor for choosing a mobile hotspot the Unite Express 2 with AT&T is a good buy at only $4 per month or $145 without instalments. Because this internet plan is cheaper, you can’t expect the same high speeds or long-lasting battery life promised by the Nighthawk, however, there are other features that makes this little guy a suitable travel buddy: Up to 15 devices can connect to it; it has an intuitive touchscreen and is lightweight. You can expect speeds between 400-600 Mbps, which is slower than the Nighthawk, but is still faster than home-use Wi-Fi for most.
This is not the most elegant or high-speed router on the market, but we are impressed by the price at just $90. Unfortunately, the price is about the only thing we’d raise our eyebrows to. The design is old-school and without a screen, you must use a web portal on your phone or laptop to figure out what’s going on with your router. The speed is dismal and not suitable for those needing it for HD streaming or long Zoom meetings.
This router makes use of the USB style modem, making it the smallest out of our list of mobile hotspots. Because it’s a USB, it doesn’t have its own battery, meaning your laptop will have to power it while it’s in use. It works in over 200 countries worldwide to 4G LTE and is priced at $10 per month for a 24-month contract. It’s one of the more expensive options and the 2-year contract is not ideal if you’re looking for a short-term solution.
Overall, HomeLinkd finds that the best mobile hotspot for traveling is the Unite Express 2 with AT&T. It has a reasonable price point of $4 a month, or $145 once-off, and internet speeds of 400-600 Mbps. It’s lightweight and compact, and perfect for family vacations or conference trips where multiple people may need internet access. The battery life is also impressive, with a whopping 24 hours of power before needing to charge.
Browse and sign up for incredible mobile hotspot packages before your next trip!