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How do hotspots work? Mobile hotspot technology explained

Stay connected when on the go!

Published onAugust 7, 2022

What good is a laptop or tablet without an internet connection? We can’t always work offline, and Wi-Fi connections aren’t available everywhere. You could use your smartphone’s hotspot feature, but it is a huge battery hog that uses your mobile data (which can be limited). Mobile hotspots are the perfect solution for the working nomad, but how do hotspots work? Let’s tell you all about them.

What is a hotspot?

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

A hotspot is a device that provides an internet connection to other smart products such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and any other Wi-Fi devices. It’s pretty much a mobile router. This is a widespread feature in smartphones, but we’re focusing on standalone mobile hotspots in this case. Either way, the concept is similar. You just have to choose whether you prefer using your smartphone’s hotspot feature or if a standalone specialized unit is better.

More: The best mobile hotspots available 

How do hotspots work?

Mobile hotspots connect to a wireless carrier’s network. These usually come with a battery, working as portable routers that can share an internet connection through Wi-Fi. They sometimes even have Ethernet ports.

These connect to the internet through carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, as opposed to a wired connection. This means you’ll need to pay for a data plan, and all major carriers offer plans for hotspots and other connected devices.

CAT Phones Q10 Rugged Mobile hotspot front
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Of course, mobile hotspots are limited to all the factors you’re used to dealing with. Speeds depend on your carrier, location, and data connection. Some hotspots support 5G speeds, while most still work through 4G LTE. There’s also a difference in terms of performance and connection efficiency. Some hotspots can handle more simultaneous connections. The NETGEAR Nighthawk M6 Pro can manage 32 devices at a time, which is pretty impressive for a mobile hotspot. More affordable units can usually handle 10-15 device connections.

It’s important to note you’ll be especially limited by mobile plans. Unlimited plans are extremely rare by now, and chances are most can’t get access to one. Most hotspot plans are either capped at a certain data usage amount, or will throttle you after a certain point. This means mobile hotspots are meant to be used as temporary solutions, not exactly traditional internet service replacements. You better be ready to pay up if you want to use a hotspot as your primary internet provider.

Lastly, you’ll also have to worry about battery life. You’ll have to look into battery sizes and efficiency. Factors like 5G connectivity and many simultaneous connections will affect battery life. So will signal strength and added features. Some of these devices are very capable, offering app control, parental controls, and more. A few even have Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E!

Next: The best mobile hotspot plans


There are many variables that will affect a mobile hotspot’s data speeds. In general, 4G LTE speeds range between 20-50Mbps. Those with 5G connectivity can see upwards of 1Gbps rates. Of course, network availability, signal strength, network congestion, and other factors will make a difference.

Mobile hotspots are pretty much mobile routers, so you’ll need a data connection through a mobile carrier.

How many devices can connect to a hotspot depends on the device you own. Most affordable ones can handle about 10-15 device connections. The best ones can go up to about 32.

Wi-Fi 6 technology improves performance, allows for more connections, expands the range, and optimizes networks better, among other things. While great improvements, this technology may be overkill to most users. It only makes sense to those who need to replace traditional internet with a hotspot, or need serious performance when on the go.

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