|Price per Month||$60||$85||$70||$50 with Phone Plan|
|Data Limit||15 GB||35 GB||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Price Per GB||$4.00||$2.43||–||–|
|Data Overage||$10 per 2 GB||$10 per 2 GB||–||–|
|Hotspot Device Price||$200 + Tax||Included in Price|
|Device Payment Plan||Yes|
|Availability||Nationwide (map)||Select Cities (1)|
|Price per Month||Call for Pricing 1-800-TMOBILE||$35||$50||$90|
|Data Limit||Up To 22 GB 4G LTE , Then Unlimited 3G||20 GB||40 GB||100 GB|
|Price Per GB||–||$1.75||$1.25||$0.90|
|Data Overage||–||No data access over purchased limit.|
|Hotspot Device Price||$94 + Tax||$79 + Tax|
|Device Payment Plan||Yes||No|
|Availability||Mostly Nationwide (map)||Mostly Nationwide (map)|
So, which one is best?
Which mobile plan is best is really going to depend on your particular requirements, but I’ll summarize here the merits of each:
On the surface, it looks like AT&T gives you the least data per dollar. It seems like you could choose another provider and get more bang for your buck. And you’d be right!
However, having lots of experience with AT&T personally, the large company does have its advantages. One of those, is simply that AT&T has really strong coverage across the nation. I frequently rely on AT&T on road trips and I have to say that their strength is in the strength of signal you get along almost all interstate highways. AT&T’s service is very reliable when you stick to major metropolitan areas and along major highways. Of course, again, the major downfall is they are on the pricier side of mobile internet providers
Including Verizon in this comparison is a bit unfair. I included Verizon, mostly because they are one of the few providers with an unlimited data plan. That alone will be enough to sway many people. When you are doing remote work and remote schooling, you don’t want to be inconvenienced by data overages or worse, having your service cut off because you hit your monthly limit. The thing about Verizon that really puts it in its own category, is that their plan is really meant to be a “home internet” plan rather than a “mobile internet” plan. I say that because the hardware they use is much more similar to that used by wired broadband providers.
With Verizon’s plan, you get a device that connects you to your cellular data service, and then you get another device, a router, that provides wifi to your home. This is very different from the phone-sized devices of other companies that provide both connectivity and wifi.
Because of this, Verizon is much better suited to customers who plan to use their cellular data exclusively at home. Not that you couldn’t take Verizon’s devices on a road trip, but you’d probably have to do a lot of finagling to get it powered up and working in your car, and would probably only use it in your hotel room.
T-Mobile has some serious issues with their mobile internet plan. For one, there is no directly stated pricing on their website. Now, this may be due to geographical availability issues, but I’d still like to know what it is I’m calling about before I invest time on hold with them. Secondly, their data, although the implication is that the plan is unlimited, there is a 22GB cap on their “high speed” service. After that, your data speed is stepped down to their 3G offering, which appears to be 128Kbps. That data rate is VERY low and really only good for checking emails. So, if you are going to be streaming Netflix and running a remote desktop application for work, you may want to look elsewhere.
Cricket actually comes in looking pretty good based on their prices. Their middle-tier plan is cheaper and has more data than AT&T’s higher-end plan. So, with Cricket, you can get mobile internet at a pretty good price. As far as coverage is concerned, Cricket is mostly nationwide. Check Google to see if there is a Cricket retailer in your area. If there is, then most likely, you are in an area that they cover pretty well.
Cricket’s major drawback, and I do mean major, is that once you hit your data cap for the month, your internet access is cut off until the next month. I’m no fan of overage charges, but if you are like me, and use your internet for work, not having access to the internet can put your job at risk.
So, if you are purchasing mobile internet for occasional use,or to just entertain the kids with online games and streaming movies, Cricket may be a good and economical option for you. If having internet access is more important to you than possibly getting an extra $10 tacked on to your monthly bill, you may want to steer clear of any plan that cuts you off at your contractual data limit.
You may be wondering why I did not include SmartTalk in this comparison. It is one of the more accessible options as it’s sold at Walmart which is in almost every American city. Well, I perused SmartTalk’s prepaid data plans, and Gigabyte for Gigabyte, they were even pricer than AT&T with much lower data limits. SmartTalk prepaid data comes in around $10 PER GIGABYTE. So, they are definitely not an option that I would promote to anyone who really needs an affordable mobile internet solution.
My Personal Pick
Despite some of the benefits of other providers, my choice is AT&T. Some other factors weigh in, however. Firstly, my biggest priority is having great connectivity in metropolitan areas. I don’t do much traveling to rural spots, and I don’t do much backwoods camping, so most of my travel is in areas where AT&T coverage is strong. Secondly, I actuall get a bit of a discount on their service through the company I work for. If you work in the government sector, or military, definitely ask your human resources department if your company has a discount deal with any of the service providers. That may be a deciding factor for you.
Why use a mobile hotspot for home internet?
When it comes to home internet, my first choice will always be wired broadband. Specifically cable broadband. But there are reasons that you might want to explore mobile internet as an option.
Of course, the biggest benefit is mobility. When you use a mobile hotspot for home internet, your internet is always mobile. If you go on a family road trip, just pick up your mobile hotspot device and bring it with you. Now you have access to the internet for your family’s laptops, tablets, and gaming systems. This allows you to keep everyone entertained with games, movies, ebook downloads, and podcasts. And you don’t have to rely on finding a coffee shop or book store for wifi, you can use it while you are riding down the highway.
A second benefit is simply having reliable internet access wherever you are. Even though most hotels have complimentary wifi, some things are much easier when you bring your internet device with you. For example, it can be difficult to navigate wifi usage agreements and room-specific passwords when using devices that don’t have a browser like a game system. With my family, I like to bring along a video streaming stick to plug into the hotel TV. If you use your own mobile internet device, you can be sure that your streaming stick is set up correctly before you leave home. That way, when you get to the hotel, you have all of your familiar streaming services available wherever you go.
Almost everyone has a mobile phone. And when you choose to get your internet access through your mobile provider, that becomes one less bill that you receive separately in the mail every month. Not only that, but some mobile data service providers offer discounted rates when you combine services. One example seen in the table above, is that Verizon offers a $20 per month discount as long as you maintain a qualifying mobile voice plan as well.
I’m sure there are some internet users out there who will simply carry both services: a mobile hotspot and home wired service. This would be especially convenient for power-users or online business professionals. But most families will probably need to prioritize one over the other. If your family is on the go a lot, if you travel frequently within the US, perhaps mobile home-schooling, or simply visiting relatives, a mobile hotspot device and plan are a solid choice.
A final word on mobile internet plans
Now that we’ve gone through the major offerings of mobile internet plans, I’d like to throw in my 2 cents on whether or not you want a mobile internet plan at all.
Mobile plans and mobile devices can be tricky. We are all used to accessing the internet through our smartphones, but we have to keep in mind that smart phones and smartphone apps are designed to be frugal with their internet access. Most phone operating systems can show you in their settings, which apps are using network data. And when you find one that is using exceptional amounts of data, you have the option to put that app to sleep or uninstall it completely.
When using a mobile hotspot as your home internet connection, things are not so simple. On desktops and laptop computers, there are many apps and services that run in the background in order to provide you a great user experience. These apps can pre-load data from servers across the internet that they know you’ll want to see next time you open the app. Others report usage statistics to help developers identify problems in their app code before they become big issues. All of this can mean that your home computing devices may be using much more data than you are aware of.
Because of this, it is not hard to find reviews of mobile data plans and devices that report monthly data allotments being consumed in a matter of days. To me, this is one of the biggest reasons not to use mobile internet devices as your one and only home internet solution.
My personal preference is to keep a wired broadband connection to my home, like cable or fiber internet, and to have a mobile hotspot for travel, or for just when you are out and about with the family and don’t want to rely on Starbucks being open.
Also, keep in mind, that there is another option for mobile internet. Many cellular phone providers offer hotspot and tethering functionality through the phone that you already have. If you are willing to pay a little extra, you can share data between your smartphone and your family’s tablets and games. Of course, when using this option, it’s best to keep your phone attached to its charger, because providing access to multiple devices can drain your battery.
Verizon’s Available Home Internet Locations as of September 2020
Los Angeles, CA