Should You Use Your Mobile Phone for Home Internet?


Kristin Cooke
Researcher & Writer
Read More
Published on June 07, 2021

You can create a mobile hotspot with your phone while you’re on vacation. But will the hotspot feature work for home internet? Short answer: no, unless you barely use it.

Canceling your home internet plan sounds appealing—who doesn’t want to save money 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.

But—and there’s a big but here—using your cell phone for home internet doesn’t work for most people. It will only work for cell-phone-only households. If you don’t have computers, gaming systems, smart TVs, or any other internet-connected devices, it could work. Folks who live in 5G areas may also be able to swing it better than the rest of us.

Problems with using your mobile phone for home internet

  • Data: Most people will run out of data. Mobile plans offer 10–20 GB per month for hotspotting, but the average household uses 344 GB per month.
  • Slowing: Some mobile carriers will slow your connection to dial up speeds once you use 10–20 GB of data in a month while hotspotting. 
  • Risk of termination: Some mobile carriers will flag you for data overage and/or terminate your service.

So, using your mobile data connection to connect laptops and gaming systems at home won't really be practical for most people. You'll end up with slow service and data overage fees. It can work in a pinch, though, like when you're moving or traveling. It can also be a solution for some really low data users who exclusively use their cell phones to connect to the internet and don't have other devices.

A better option is getting a home internet plan from a cell phone provider. Yup, that’s a thing now! Fiber doesn’t reach everywhere, but if you can get a mobile phone signal there’s a good chance you can get a home plan that delivers a connection using cellular data. T-Mobile, Verizon, and many smaller carriers offer fixed or even portable internet plans. Learn more about these options in the LTE home internet section below

In case you’re still curious

Let’s say you have to rely on your phone data for a few months. You know it isn’t ideal, but 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.

Mobile plans with the best hotspot data

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

Above Unlimited Plan
Verizon
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • 4G LTE data
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • 20 GB/mo. mobile hotspot data
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • Slows to 600 Kbps after 20 GB
  • Icon Yes  Light
  • Icon Yes  Light

    $95/mo.*

Unlimited & More Premium
ATT
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • 4G LTE data
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • 15 GB.mo. mobile hotspot data
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • Slows to 128 Kbps after 15 GB
  • Icon Yes  Light

    $80/mo.

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

    $70/mo.

Unlimited Everything
Visible logo
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • Unlimited 3G hotspot data
  • Icon Yes  Light
    • 4G, 4G LTE, 5G and faster speeds unavailable
  • Icon Yes  Light

    $40/mo.

  • Icon Yes  Light

The thing to remember about unlimited mobile plans is that they don’t offer unlimited hotspot data. Nope, let’s be clear about this: almost all mobile phone plans restrict hotspot data usage. And we’re not just talking prepaid data plans.

Even if the plan is called unlimited, it probably restricts data (99% guaranteed). If you look at the fine print of even the priciest unlimited plans, you’ll see that after you use 20 GB of data, your data speed will slow to less than 1 Mbps. Ouch. You can’t do much with 1 Mbps speeds—you can’t even watch that funny TikTok video everybody is talking about! When it comes to providers, there are only a few exceptions to this—such as Visible.

So, barring a beautiful unlimited data plan, the best you can do is go for fast data as much of the time as possible, which is why we’re recommending Verizon and AT&T. These two carriers offer wide coverage and a strong network, meaning you can get some work done at the park or watch movies at the beach.

We also recommend T-Mobile, which does slow data after you reach a certain threshold but not as much as other carriers do. T-Mobile’s slowest data speeds are still 3G speeds—which are fast enough for social media, a bit of mindless TikTok fun, and even some streaming.

Visible is a bit of a wild card, but it works well for some people. It’s an MVNO that operates on Verizon’s network and actually offers true unlimited hotspot data. If you need a phone plan that you can use to connect a laptop for school or emails, Visible might be the most economical option we’ve found. It doesn’t offer the fastest data (4G and up aren’t available for hotspotting), but it does give you an unlimited amount of hotspot data, which is a rare find. It also doesn’t require a contract.

Tired of hotspotting? Check for home internet plans in your area.

What to look for

Cell phone providers differ in the data and speeds they offer for a mobile hotspot. But remember that not all cell phone 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.

Pros and cons of using a mobile hotspot

Using your cell phone 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.

Pros
Pro Bullet Provides a quick Wi-Fi internet connection for any internet-enabled device
Pro Bullet Saves you the cost of a data plan for a secondary device like a tablet or iPad
Pro Bullet Eliminates the need for a home internet plan for some low-data use households
Pro Bullet Sets up easily from most smartphones
Pro Bullet Helps while traveling or working on the road
Cons
Con Bullet Uses a lot of data (5–7 hours of Netflix per month will max out most plans)
Con Bullet Drains your phone battery
Con Bullet Incurs overage charges for data use
Con Bullet Slows to dial-up speeds after reaching the monthly hotspot data limit
Con Bullet 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 cell phone 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 cell phone.

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 cell phone 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.
  • LTE home internet service from Verizon, T-Mobile, UbiFi, Ladybug Wireless, and other carriers can connect rural homes to the internet without all the fiber, cable, and wires. Learn more about 4G LTE internet service in our review.
  • 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:
Info

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.

LTE home internet service

If you’re looking for plenty of internet data in an area where fiber isn’t available, LTE home internet might be the right choice. This wireless broadband option connects your home to the internet through cell phone towers. As long as you have good cellular service at your home, there’s probably a carrier that can deliver this kind of service for you. 

  • Big-name carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon offer home internet in select areas. These plans are relatively inexpensive and offer a lot of data. 
  • MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators—think of Cricket, Red Pocket, StraightTalk, and many others) offer home internet plans using cellular data to many other areas where the big names haven’t reached. 

With this type of service, your speeds will be affected by your proximity to cell phone towers. Typical download speeds for LTE home internet are around 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps—about the same as you’d get on a cell phone.

Best LTE home internet plans
Provider
Price
Highlights
Get it

Verizon LTE Home Internet

$40.00–$60.00/mo.*• Fixed location only
• Limited availability in parts of 48 states
• Unlimited data

T-Mobile Home Internet

$50.00/mo.• Unlimited data
• No equipment cost
• No contract
• Limited availability in 28 states (waiting list)

UbiFi

$99.99/mo.• Fixed location only
• Nationwide availability
• AT&T network
• Unlimited data

Ladybug Wireless

$94.99/mo.• Portable (great for RV and vacation homes)
• Nationwide availability
• AT&T or T-Mobile network

Unlimitedville

$149.00/mo. (T-Mobile network), $199.00/mo. (AT&T), $249.00/mo. (Verizon)• Fixed location or portable
• Nationwide availability
• Choose from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon network

Data effective 4/2/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

*Verizon internet is $60/mo. alone or $40/mo. when bundled with a mobile plan, with auto-pay and paperless billing discount. Service currently available in select locations only.

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.

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 with your phone (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.

There’s also something called a mobile hotspot device (or MiFi), which is different from using your phone as a mobile hotspot. You can learn more about buying a dedicated mobile hotspot device and setting up service on our post about the best mobile hotspots.

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 cell phone 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 cell phone 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 cell phone 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
Browsing
Streaming music
Online gaming
Video streaming

1–3 People

5 Mbps

5 Mbps

25 Mbps

SD Video: 10 MbpsHD Video: 50 Mbps

4–6 People

10 Mbps

25 Mbps

100 Mbps

SD Video: 50 MbpsHD 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 cell phone 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 cell phone allow me to create a mobile hotspot?

Some cell phone 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 cell phone 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.

Can my phone’s mobile hotspot replace home internet service and Wi-Fi?

A mobile hotspot could replace home Wi-Fi only for people with extremely low data usage. If you ever stream Netflix, scroll through social media, or watch TikTok, you’ll probably run out of data just relying on your phone's mobile hotspot. And if you have a mobile hotspot device and try to use it for full-time home internet service, you could end up paying a lot more in service and data overage fees ($400 or more per month) than you would by just signing up for a home internet plan.

So, the bottom line is that if you don’t use much data at home, it’s possible to use the mobile hotspot feature for home internet, but it doesn’t work well for most people. Data is just too expensive.

How can I share internet over my cell phone with a laptop?

If you want to share your mobile phone’s internet connection with another device (like a laptop or tablet), go to the settings in your phone. Look for “personal hotspot” and switch it to “on.” You may need to set a password and enter it on your other device if you haven’t used the hotspot setting before. After you finish, make sure you turn off your hotspot setting so you don’t accidentally waste data.

Can I stream Netflix or watch TikTok if I’m using my mobile hotspot for home internet?

Although you can occasionally stream video from Netflix or TikTok with your mobile hotspot feature, remember that video streaming uses a lot of data. So, watching too many episodes of Umbrella Academy might push you over your data limit and slap you with sluggish speeds of less than 1 Mbps for the rest of the month.

Kristin Cooke
Written by
Kristin Cooke
After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Utah, Kristin learned to geek speak while working as a technical recruiter, interviewing software developers and tech companies. For over 20 years, she has created award-winning content for technology, health, and finance companies. Kristin is an advocate for affordable internet for all and writes about rural internet solutions, satellite internet news, and tech products at SatelliteInternet.com. Her work has been featured in New York Post, PCMag, Forbes, Business Insider, Telecompetitor, Space.com, and The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.