What’s the Difference Between Hotspot and Tethering?

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Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about remote work. While this has been a trend for some time, it’s been accelerated by the pandemic. Instead of working at a central office, many of us are working from home. But who says you have to be home to work from home?

As long as you’ve got your laptop and an internet connection, you can work from anywhere. You can spend your morning at the park, or at a restaurant’s streetside terrace. That said, these situations don’t always allow for internet access. This puts some significant limits on where and how you can work. But with a hotspot or mobile tethering, you can get online from anywhere.

Remote work isn’t the only reason you might need to use one of these technologies. For example, you might spend a lot of time in airports, or commuting by train. In those situations, it can be difficult or impossible to get online. Depending on your habits, you might be forced offline for hours a day. Once again, a hotspot or mobile tethering can come to the rescue. You can do some of your work on the train, or get online and game while you’re in the airport. Point being, you’ll have freedom.

Unfortunately, the terms “tethering” and “hotspot” are often used interchangeably. This makes sense in a way. Both of these technologies are ways to get internet access “in the wild.” But they work on entirely different principles, and they have their own benefits and drawbacks. We’re about to talk about both hotspots and tethering, how they work, and how they’re different. By the end, we’ll have a clear picture of why you’d want to use one or the other. Let’s get started!


What is a Mobile Hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is a portable device that connects to your mobile provider’s nearest cell tower. It works like a portable router, which you can take with you anywhere. As long as you’re in range of a cell tower, you’ll have internet. Different hotspots are designed with different capabilities, bandwidths, and security features. Depending on which one you choose, you can connect up to 15 devices simultaneously. Forget about your personal internet needs. That’s sufficient for the whole family, which is great for a vacation in the country. And since these devices are designed specifically for internet access, you can get very fast service.

If you’re using any major wireless network, they’ll have devices available. Alternatively, you can buy a third-party mobile hotspot and set it up with your provider. Keep in mind that a mobile hotspot requires its own data plan. If you’re only going to use it once in a while, you might want to consider mobile tethering, instead.

That said, a data plan can be a great value if you spend a ton of time on the road. If you’re hardly ever home, it can even be a substitute for home internet. You’ll also want to consider what type of plan you want. Most hotspot plans have some kind of data cap. For unlimited data, you’ll pay more than you’d pay for a comparable smartphone plan. Then again, a smartphone plan isn’t designed to supply your whole family’s internet.


Mobile Hotspot Features

So, what should you be looking for when you choose a mobile hotspot? To begin with, you should look at the speed and bandwidth. A good quality hotspot should provide a dual-band connection, meaning both 5GHz and 2.4GHz. The 5GHz band is important because it provides the bulk of your bandwidth. Without a 5GHz connection, your internet speeds drop. That said, 2.4GHz gets you longer range. You shouldn’t expect the same kind of range you’d get from a home router. But for portable use, you’ll have nothing to worry about. The speed will depend on your data plan, and it won’t be as fast as home internet. But if you’re willing to pay up, you can easily find speeds as fast as 50 Mbps.

Almost as important as speed and bandwidth is battery life. Without a long-lasting battery, you won’t be able to use your hotspot as much as you’d like to. A modern hotspot with a high-quality Lithium Ion battery can last for 24 hours, depending on the model. A lot of this will depend on how heavily you’re using it, though. If you’re connecting a bunch of devices, your battery might only last for 10 hours or less. It also helps if the hotspot charges via USB Type-C, rather than Micro USB. USB Type-C is much faster, so you’ll have less downtime.

Security features and controls are also helpful. When you’re on the go, you’re often surrounded by strangers. Since you never know who might be trying to swipe your data, you want a very secure system. It helps if the hotspot supports a VPN, for example. Some even have a built-in VPN that always masks your IP address. Some hotspots allow you to set up a guest network. This allows you to share your internet with a friend, but without giving away your password. People on the guest network also won’t be able to see or access devices on the regular network. As a result, it’s much harder for hackers to get into your personal information.


What is Mobile Tethering?

Mobile tethering does not require you to have any extraneous devices. Using only your smartphone, you can connect your laptop, tablet, or other device to the internet. There are a number of ways of doing this. You might connect to your phone via Bluetooth or USB. Alternatively, many smartphones can be set up as a WiFi hub. Keep in mind that this is not the same as a hotspot. While a hotspot can support many devices, a smartphone will only allow you to connect one. You’ll also have to make sure your mobile data plan allows for tethering.

That said, mobile tethering has some significant strengths. Not only do you not need another device, you also don’t need to pay for a second data plan. This isn’t necessarily ideal for people who spend a ton of time on the road. But tethering is great for one-off situations where you need to get online away from home. It’s an effective solution when you’re on vacation, or even if you’re taking a camping trip. If all you need to do is connect a single device, this is a perfectly viable solution.

Mobile Tethering Features

Mobile Tethering Features

When you use your phone for mobile tethering, you’re putting a significant extra drain on the battery. This is especially true if your phone acts as a WiFi hub, even if the WiFi isn’t being used. For this reason, you should always turn your phone’s hotspot mode off when it’s not in use. If you’re using it a lot, it can also make sense to invest in a portable power bank. This will ensure that you have a backup supply of power if you’re burning through a ton of data.

Speaking of data, remember that your laptop or tablet is sharing your smartphone’s data plan. If you have a data cap, you can quickly hit that cap. Then, you’ll have to stop going online, or invest in a data boost package. Even if you have an unlimited plan, you’ll want to check your contract. Many wireless service providers set a separate data cap for mobile tethering. After that, your tethered internet speed will slow to a crawl. The intent is to prevent people from abusing mobile tethering and using it as a replacement for home internet. But it’s something you should be aware of when you’re signing your next mobile contract.


Final Verdict

So, is a mobile hotspot the best solution for your needs? Or should you use mobile tethering to get online? A lot depends on what you’re doing. To begin with, ask yourself how many devices you want to connect. If the answer is more than one, a hotspot is the best way to go.

Another important thing to think about is what kind of speeds you need. With mobile tethering, you can check your email, watch a YouTube video, and perform other basic tasks. But if you want to watch a lot of streaming media, a hotspot will get you better speeds. For online gaming, or projects like video editing that require a lot of bandwidth, you’ll definitely need a hotspot.

On the other hand, hotspots can get expensive, since they require a monthly data plan. If you’re not using them, this can add up over time for no good reason. With mobile tethering, you use your existing data plan, so you’re not out any extra money.

Finally, you want to think about convenience. A hotspot can provide very fast speeds, but you’re carrying and charging an extra device. You already carry your smartphone everywhere you go, so you don’t have to carry any extra gear. This is very convenient, especially if you like to travel light.

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