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cellular hotspotA device that converts cellular 3G, 4G/LTE signals to Wi-Fi and vice versa. As long as a cellular signal is available, the device creates a local Wi-Fi hotspot to provide access to the Internet for some number of Wi-Fi devices nearby. The Wi-Fi speed depends mostly on the cellular connection.
Smartphones have both cellular and Wi-Fi radios built in, and most phones can be made to cross-connect the two and turn the device into a portable hotspot for Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops. Also called "tethering."
Small, dedicated units are available from all carriers. Also called a "portable hotspot," "personal hotspot," "mobile router," "mobile wireless router" and "travel router," the cellular fee is either added to the user's existing data plan, or a new plan must be activated.
However, a stand-alone hotspot is one more thing to travel with. To avoid packing yet another product, cellular service can be added to laptops by plugging in a USB dongle (see cellular modem). Tablets can be purchased with a built-in cellular modem in addition to the standard Wi-Fi. Like every smartphone, the tablet's cellular phone number must be activated, although it is used for data only in most cases.
Built-in units provide a Wi-Fi hotspot within the cabin of a car or truck for all passengers. In-vehicle cellular hotspots are available for many makes and models, and third-party devices are also made that plug into the OBD port (see OBD).
Typically called a "mobile broadband router," stationary units include a full-blown Wi-Fi base station that supports more devices over a wider range than a mobile hotspot. See mobile broadband router. See cellular vs. Wi-Fi.
|Portable or Stationary|
|Wi-Fi hotspots can be created when traveling or at home.|
|These Verizon, AT&T and Sprint devices create hotspots as long as they find a cellular signal. (Images courtesy of Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.)|
|Put It Anywhere|
|The advantage of a mobile hotspot is its portability.|