Should You Use Your Mobile Phone for Home Internet?

You already know that you can create a mobile hotspot with your phone while you’re on vacation. But have you ever wondered if you could eliminate a bill every month by using your mobile phone for home internet?

It sounds appealing—who doesn’t want a little more cash every month? You’re already paying for internet service (data) with your mobile phone plan, so sharing that at home via a hotspot could potentially save you some money every month.

Let’s take a look at the best mobile phone plans for hotspots, how to set them up, and what full-time hotspot usage really looks like. (Hint: It doesn’t entail streaming Netflix and Hulu all weekend, unless you want to pay through the nose for extra data.) We’ll also cover some additional internet options that might work better for you.

Best plans for hotspots

Here are the mobile phone plans we recommend if you’re interested in using the personal hotspot feature.

Above Unlimited Plan
verizon wireless logo
  • 4G LTE data
  • 20 GB/mo. mobile hotspot data
  • Slows to 600 Kbps after 20 GB

$95/mo.*

Unlimited & More Premium
att internet
  • 4G LTE data
  • 15 GB/mo. mobile hotspot data
  • Slows to 128 Kbps after 15 GB

$80/mo.

ONE
T Mobile logo
  • 4G LTE data
  • 20 GB/mo. mobile hotspot data
  • Slows to 3G after 20 GB

$70/mo.

*Plus taxes & fees. When you enroll in Auto Pay. Data effective 5/3/2019. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

What to look for

Cellphone providers differ in the data and speeds they offer for a mobile hotspot. But remember that not all cellphone plans allow you to create a mobile hotspot, and some providers charge extra for it.

If you want to use your phone as a hotspot, check out these three things on your phone plan.

  1. Look at the total data limit. Unless you want accidental overage fees, get an unlimited data plan. But remember that the total data limit (even if it is unlimited) is different from the hotspot data limit.
  2. Check out the hotspot data limit. When you reach this monthly data limit, your hotspot data will be deprioritized to slower data speeds.
  3. Know what the slowing speed is. Learn how slow the data speed will be after you reach your hotspot data limit.

Advantages and disadvantages of using a mobile hotspot

Using your cellphone as a mobile hotspot is handy while traveling and might be able to save you the cost of home internet service. But before you cancel your home internet plan, consider the lifestyle changes you’ll need to make, starting out by saying goodbye to weekend binge-watching. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of creating a mobile hotspot from your phone.

Thumbs Up Pros

  • Provides a quick Wi-Fi internet connection for any internet-enabled device
  • Saves you the cost of a data plan for a secondary device like a tablet or iPad
  • Eliminates the need for a home internet plan for some low-data use households
  • Sets up easily from most smartphones
  • Helps while traveling or working on the road

Thumbs Down Cons

  • Uses a lot of data (5–7 hours of Netflix per month will max out most plans)
  • Drains your phone battery
  • Incurs overage charges for data use
  • Slows to dial-up speeds after reaching the monthly hotspot data limit
  • Needs an app on some older phone models

Using a mobile hotspot for home internet can work well for people with very light internet use. If you just use the internet at home to check email, shop online, and browse the internet, it might be a good idea for you.

Maybe you primarily use your phone for internet, and you only crack open the old laptop occasionally. A mobile hotspot could be a good option for you if you fit into this category.

But if you’ve already cut cable, and you rely on the internet for all your movies and TV, you’ll probably be better off sticking with home internet service. People who work from home uploading or emailing large files will also be frustrated by the limitations of a mobile hotspot.

Tethering vs. hotspot: Which should you use?

If you use a cable to share your phone’s internet with another device, this is usually known as tethering. When you use your phone to broadcast a wireless Wi-Fi signal, this is called a mobile hotspot, MiFi, or Wi-Fi sharing.

Tethering requires you to use a USB cable, which can be inconvenient. It also requires your phone and your other device to be close together, connected with the cable. But tethering doesn’t run down your phone battery as quickly as a mobile hotspot. That can be an advantage if you’re off the grid and have limited access to power.

Most phones have built-in mobile hotspot capability. A mobile hotspot can be used with several devices at once, and they usually give you a 30-foot range. Since it’s so convenient, a mobile hotspot is the most common way of sharing phone internet with another device. But if you’re ever running on low power, it’s a good idea to connect with a USB cable.

How to make a home Wi-Fi hotspot

Android

Almost any cellphone can be used to turn a phone into a hotspot without a plan for a MiFi device. Setting up a hotspot on your Android device takes a couple of quick swipes. Just make sure you create a secure password for your new network, particularly if you’re in a public place.

Mobile hotspot on Android

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Click More > Tethering and Wi-Fi Hotspot > Mobile Hotspot.
  3. Turn on Mobile Hotspot.
  4. Create a password.
  5. On your other device, select your phone’s hotspot on the list of Wi-Fi options.
  6. Enter the password you created for your phone’s network.
  7. You’re connected!

iOS (iPhone)

Setting up a mobile hotspot on an iPhone is simple. Once you’ve done it a few times, you can set it up in seconds.

Mobile hotspot on iOS (iPhone)

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Click Personal Hotspot.
  3. Turn on Personal Hotspot.
  4. Create a password.
  5. On your other device, click on the Network icon and select your phone’s network.
  6. Enter the password you created for your phone’s network.
  7. You’re connected!

Verizon Jetpack and other hotspot devices

Although it’s possible to turn a phone into a mobile hotspot without a plan, there are data and privacy issues associated with prolonged mobile hotspot use from your cellphone.

Stand-alone mobile hotspot devices like the Verizon Jetpack go with you anywhere. Just know when you fire up the Jetpack, your flights will be fueled by a limited supply of high-priced data (starting at $20 per month for 2 GB and going up to $710 per month for 100 GB).

The Verizon Jetpack allows multiple devices to access the internet at the same time, and it doesn’t use data from your phone plan. Bear in mind that you’ll need a separate data plan for a mobile hotspot device and you’ll also have a $20 per month line access fee for your Verizon Jetpack.

If you’re just using the mobile hotspot feature a few times per month, it’s usually more cost-effective to use the hotspot feature on your phone. However, if you travel frequently or work on the road, adding a Verizon Jetpack to your Verizon mobile plan can save you the bother of looking for free Wi-Fi zones everywhere you go.

Can you use the Verizon Jetpack for home internet?

There are some low-data households who like portable hotspots so much they’ve started using the Verizon Jetpack for home internet. This can be a good solution for people who work on the road, college students, or RVers. Some plans allow you to pay only for the months you’re using data.

If you’re using a Verizon Jetpack for home internet, remember to keep an eye on data usage. Keep high-data activities like video streaming and gaming to a minimum to save on data fees. Going way over on data every month could cost more than a home internet plan.

How to improve your rural home internet connection

The idea of getting free home internet with your phone’s mobile hotspot feature sounds appealing until you face the data and speed limitations. For most households, using a mobile hotspot isn’t a workable solution. Mobile hotspots don’t give you enough data and speed to run a home business, work remotely, stream entertainment, or make video calls.

However, many locations in the US don’t have access to high-speed cable or fiber internet because they lack the infrastructure. If you’ve recently moved to a small town, you might be wondering, “Is a mobile hotspot my only option in rural areas?”

So, here’s some good news—if you can get cellphone service at your home, that means you have other internet options.

  • Satellite internet service from Viasat or HughesNet is available to almost all the US. As long as you have a clear view of the sky from your home, you can get satellite service.
  • Dial-up internet from NetZero might be too slow to stream video, but it’s hard to beat the price: the basic plan is free for up to 10 hours a month. NetZero also offers a DSL plan with speeds up to 6 Mbps for $26.95 per month, which meets Netflix’s recommended speed requirements.

Pro tip:

If you’re fond of getting fast internet in wide open spaces, you can learn more by reading our review on high-speed internet for rural areas.

Satellite internet service

Satellite internet is available almost everywhere, and some plans even offer unlimited data. Viasat and HughesNet are the main satellite providers that deliver steady service to areas of the country that aren’t covered by other providers. You can get a side-by-side comparison of HughesNet and Viasat on our review page.

Spoiler alert: Viasat internet is our first pick, thanks to its faster speeds and low introductory prices.

Viasat plans and pricing

PackageIntro. priceSpeedData limitPrice increase
Unlimited Bronze 12$50/mo.Up to 12 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 35 or 40 GB depending on plan)$70/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Silver 12$100/mo.Up to 12 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 45 GB)$150/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Gold 12$150/mo.Up to 12 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 65 GB)$200/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Bronze 25$50/mo.Up to 25 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 35 GB)$70/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Silver 25$70/mo.Up to 25 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 60 GB)No price increase on this plan
Unlimited Gold 30$100/mo.Up to 30 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 100 GB)$150/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Gold 50$100/mo.Up to 50 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 100 GB)$150/mo. after 3 mos.
Unlimited Platinum 100$150/mo.Up to 100 MbpsUnlimited (slows after 150 GB)$200/mo. after 3 mos.

Data effective 5/3/2019. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

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HughesNet

HughesNet also offers satellite internet service throughout the US. HughesNet offers the best value for satellite internet at speeds up to 25 Mbps. Another advantage of HughesNet is that it doesn’t bump up the price like Viasat after the introductory period. Prices are set for a 24-month period. You can read more about HughesNet internet on our review page.

HughesNet plans and pricing

HughesNet Internet PackageIntroductory PriceDownload SpeedData
HughesNet 10 GB$59.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps10 GB
HughesNet 20 GB$69.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps20 GB
HughesNet 30 GB$99.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps30 GB
HughesNet 50 GB$149.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps50 GB

Data valid as of 6/3/2019. Speeds and pricing vary by area and are subject to change. Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.

NetZero internet

If satellite internet is too pricey for your budget, check out NetZero, which is extremely affordable. You can get 10 hours of dial-up for free each month with a basic account, although speeds are too slow for video streaming or gaming. So if you’re thinking of switching to NetZero, pick up a few board games and make some new hobbies, because you won’t be Keeping up with the Kardashians anymore.

NetZero is a basic service that allows you to check email and browse the internet. If you are skipping home internet service and using a mobile hotspot plan, signing up for a free NetZero internet account could save you from going over your data limit. Bear in mind that NetZero dial-up service requires that you have an active home phone line (a landline). It will also tie up your phone line anytime you’re online (giving callers a busy signal).

NetZero also offers affordable and somewhat speedier DSL internet packages. For $26.95, you’ll have download speeds of up to 6 Mbps, which isn’t technically fast enough to be considered broadband, but it lets you load a webpage in seconds instead of the several minutes it’ll take on the basic free plan. You can also get some basic video streaming with this plan. Also, the DSL plan doesn’t tie up your phone line like the free plan does.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on internet service, Netzero internet is a viable option for rural internet and low-priced internet.

NetZero plans and pricing

PlanPriceSpeedsTime limitsFees and chargesSystem requirements
NetZero FreeFreeUp to 56 KbpsUp to 10 hours/mo.Technical support billed at $25 per incidentWindows only
NetZero DSL Broadband$26.95/mo.Up to
6 Mbps
No time limitsFree technical support; additional fees include $29.95 one-time set-up fee and a monthly surcharge of $2.95/mo.Windows and Mac

Data effective 5/3/2019. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Find the right internet connection for you.

Now that you’ve got the scoop on how to create a mobile hotspot, you can try it out next time you’re away from Wi-Fi. You also know the pros and cons of using a mobile hotspot for home internet and the best rural internet options so you can stay connected from anywhere.

While we don’t recommend using a mobile hotspot for home internet as a long-term solution for most households, it can work for people who don’t use much data and are serious about saving money.

For the rest of us, we recommend a steady home internet connection to keep your home humming.

Whether you’re after satellite, mobile, or DSL, find the best internet speeds in your area using our search tool.

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Mobile hotspot FAQ

What is a mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is a shared internet connection you can temporarily turn on between your mobile phone and another device. In this way, your smartphone can function as a router that broadcasts your phone’s internet to a tablet, laptop, or a friend’s phone. Creating a mobile hotspot (which is known as tethering when you do it with a USB cable) lets you share your phone internet and data plan with other devices.

Is mobile hotspot data unlimited?

If you’re wondering if mobile hotspot data is unlimited, the answer is tricky. Data is the biggest obstacle to using a mobile phone for home internet. A lot of people get confused about unlimited data plans, thinking that this means that mobile hotspot data is also unlimited. But, this isn’t the case. Even on cellphone plans with unlimited data, there will be a cap for how much data you can use as a mobile hotspot.

Once you reach that limit, the data will be deprioritized, which basically means your data speed will slow way down until your limit starts over the following month. So, technically, your data is unlimited—even after you hit your limit, you can use as much slow-speed data as you want. But the slower speeds don’t support video streaming or gaming. These slower speeds will support basic email and browsing functions.

How do I know what my mobile hotspot data limit is?

If you’re wondering what your mobile hotspot data limit is, you’ll want to check your cellphone plan, because every plan is different. Some plans don’t allow mobile hotspot at all, while others have limits. There aren’t any mobile plans that offer unlimited, full-speed data for mobile hotspot. If they did, we’d all cancel home internet.

Many cellphone carriers have monthly caps of 5 to 15 GB of data per month before they start slowing things down (throttling data) or charging you for data overage. Check out the details of your mobile plan and look for info about mobile hotspot or tethering. The mobile hotspot data limit is different from other data limit amounts. You can check with a customer service representative if you’re having trouble finding out the correct information on your plan.

How do I know how much hotspot data I’ll need?

You can get a rough estimate of how much hotspot data you’ll need each month by using T-Mobile’s Smartphone Mobile Hotspot Data Calculator. For an exact calculation of how much data you use each month at home, log in to your Internet Service Provider account and check your monthly data usage.

As a general guideline, streaming Netflix uses 1–3 GB of data per hour, which means that 5–15 GB of monthly mobile hotspot data won’t last long if you’re streaming video.  Video streaming, file transfers, and gaming use up a lot of data. Sending emails and browsing the internet use very little data by comparison.

How do I know how much speed I need?

Recommended minimum download speed

BrowsingStreaming musicOnline gamingVideo streaming
1–3 People5 Mbps5 Mbps25 MbpsSD Video: 10 Mbps
HD Video: 50 Mbps
4–6 People10 Mbps25 Mbps100 MbpsSD Video: 50 Mbps
HD Video: 100+ Mbps

If you want to know how much internet speed you need for your favorite online activities, use the HighSpeedInternet.com recommended internet speed quiz. This will give you an idea of how fast of an internet connection you need for your everyday activities. If you’d rather not take a quiz, the chart below is also good reference for data speed.

Can a mobile hotspot replace home internet service?

A mobile hotspot can replace home internet service if you’re a light data user. Light data users use the internet at home just to check email, shop occasionally, and browse websites, a mobile hotspot can work for you.

If you like playing games online, streaming videos through YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu, or if you work remotely and transfer large files, a mobile hotspot isn’t the answer. All of these activities use up a lot of data. Due to data caps, heavy-internet users and video streamers may max out data plans in the first few days of the month and end up with data overage fees, which will be much more expensive than paying a home internet plan.

Are mobile hotspots protected networks?

A mobile hotspot is a protected network because it’s through your cellphone number. Your phone should prompt you to set up a password, which you will then enter on your other devices to access the internet. This makes a mobile hotspot safer and more secure than using free public Wi-Fi.

Does my cellphone allow me to create a mobile hotspot?

Some cellphone plans don’t allow you to create a mobile hotspot at all. You can find out quickly if your phone plan allows it by going to Settings and trying to turn on the personal hotspot. If you don’t see the option for Personal Hotspot or Wi-Fi Hotspot, or it’s greyed out, your plan does not support this feature. You can learn specifics about your plan by contacting your cellphone provider or reviewing details about your phone plan on their website.

What are the limitations of using a mobile hotspot?

The main limitation of using a mobile hotspot is the data usage. Anytime you’re using a mobile hotspot from your phone, you need to pay attention to how much data you’re using. Streaming videos, gaming, and transferring large files are all activities that use a lot of data. Unless you want to pay for extra data, you’ll have limited access to these online activities while using a mobile hotspot.

Edited by Cara Haynes

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