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.
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 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
|Browsing||Streaming music||Online gaming||Video streaming|
|1–3 People||5 Mbps||5 Mbps||25 Mbps||SD Video: 10 Mbps|
HD Video: 50 Mbps
|4–6 People||10 Mbps||25 Mbps||100 Mbps||SD 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.
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.