MIFI or Your Phone’s Mobile Hotspot?

Back to Blog  •  Posted on November 11, 2014 by admin

In a lot of ways, the cell phone has become the alarm clock of the 21st Century. Not just because it is the most common object found on nightstands across the U.S., but because manufacturers seem to be constantly adding features to an already robust platform. The most popular of these value added features is the “Mobile Hotspot” functionality, pioneered by Apple, but later adopted by the majority of mobile hardware manufactures.


The obvious question, then, is “does this make stand alone mobile hotspots obsolete?” Well, just as the alarm clock radio never ended up supplanting high quality home HiFi, the cell phone hotspot functionality will never replace standalone mobile WiFi.


On the surface, the capability of the Mobile Hotspot on a cell phone looks comparable to the features present in most stand alone mobile hotspots. However, when one digs a little deeper, the benefits of the latter tend to rise to the surface.


The obvious advantage of owning a MIFI device has to do with, of course, data usage. There is a benefit to having a separate line dedicated to data usage. Data can be managed more effectively via a mobile hotspot, but also, consumers have a wider range of options when it comes to which service provider they choose. Typically, individuals are locked into data plans with their carrier, and overage charges can be costly. Even switching providers can be headache.


With an unlocked data device, such issues are resolved in a more streamlined fashion. Unlocked GSM data-devices enable its owner to swap out an AT&T sim, for example, for an international carrier-sim when traveling. Also, MVNOs (Net10, RedPocket, Freedom Pop, Simple Mobile etc.), offer prepaid options. This is a cost effective solution for home Internet without the mess of a long-term contract.


Data devices also offer better speeds. An IPhone 4 or 5, and now 6, all have hotspot functionality on 4G LTE networks, but that does not mean they are optimizing the data speed of the network. 4G LTE is said to typically deliver 8-12 Mbps download speeds, however, you wont see a phone download a 700 MB video file in 7 Minutes. Hotspots are optimized to allow up to 150Mbps, meaning that not only are they capable of handling 12MBps DL speeds, but they are capable of doing it for 8 devices at once. Your phone will slow to crawl with just two users on the hotspot at anytime.


Most importantly, though, is battery life. The newer hotspots available today have extended batteries, which will support 12-16 hours of continuous usage time. The hotspot functionality on a phone will drain the battery in just a few hours, as it requires loads of extra power to broadcast a WiFi Signal.


The list goes on: Phone calls and texts interrupt the WIFI signal being broadcast from your phone. The ability to connect to devices is more streamlined using a hotspot, (ever have issues finding your phone on available WIFI networks? This is why). Additionally, a data only device can be fully customized via the GUI screen. This allows for port forwarding, network optimization, and a host of other features that are, simply, not available on cell phones.


In the end, data-only device’s viability as a consumer product is limited by its application to niche markets. They are for the frequent traveler or cash strapped Internet user, among others. But, the cell phone hotspot will never replace them, as they are just not on the same level, from a performance standpoint. Just as the radio-alarm clock ultimately became ubiquitous across the alarm clock market, so too will the Cell Phone Hotspot. However, just as the radio-alarm clock was never a match for high quality home audio systems, the Cell Phone Hotspot will be unable to supplant the high powered, stand alone, mobile hotspot for the foreseeable future.