• In praise of the humble hotspot.


    So if you're wondering why I'm on the front page yet again, Howard has asked me to contribute some daily -- well, week-daily -- content here.

    For the next couple of posts I'd like for you all to get to know me and my interests a little better; it'll be back to more outward-looking stuff next week. And by the way, if you've an idea for an article by all means shoot me a PM.

    So one thing you should know about me: I really like hotspots -- in addition to mobile phones, of course.

    Not the type of hotspot that you'd find in a hotel room or Starbucks, but the much more secure personal hotspot that you carry with you. MiFi is perhaps the less confusing moniker, but it's also a trademarked brand belonging to Novatel Wireless. So "hotspot" it is...

    And why this irrational obsession with something my phone does anyway? Well, three reasons:

    1. LTE

    My Nexus 4 doesn't support LTE -- at least officially. As a matter of fact, I had no idea how game-changing-ly (?) fast LTE even was until I rented a DoCoMo hotspot during a trip to Japan this past spring. In retrospect the speeds weren't even that great, but once I sampled LTE nothing less would do.

    2. Battery Life

    Specifically, the battery life on my phone... At the risk of stating the obvious, Android doesn't generally compare well to other mobile platforms in this regard. The second biggest drain on my device after the screen used to be the mobile radio. With a hotspot that's no longer the case. If I had to venture an unscientific guess, my Nexus now gets about double the battery life.

    You'd think there would be constant disconnect and wake-from-sleep issues; in fact no such problem exists, provided that you set your hotspot to not time out.

    3. Utility

    With up to ten available connections from either of my current hotspots, I am my own ISP. I don't charge friends or co-workers to connect, of course, but more than once I've come to the rescue of someone whose signal was lacking. And it's seriously convenient to whip a laptop out of a bag and connect to the Internet right away, without having to turn on my phone's hotspot function.

    Ok, that's pretty easy too.

    I'm currently the proud owner of two LTE hotspots -- one each from Rogers and Bell. I posted about the Bell's 700 MHz Novatel MiFi 2 this past spring. Some helpful replies in that thread pointed out that a hotspot from Sierra supported 2600MHz LTE and was potentially faster. Boy, were they right.

    If you poke around a bit you'll find some other hotspot fans on the forums. Jonavin has pointed out that the Huawei E586E on WIND actually supports both AWS and standard bands of HSPA+. At $100 CAD plus unlocking it's a really inexpensive way to get data on any network at speeds of up to 40 Mbps.

    And then there's Howard himself, flaunting the ultimate piece of cottage kit, the Huawei B890 -- I'll just call it the Franken-hotspot. With support for every conceivable flavour of 3 and 4G service you can almost forgive the fact that it has to be plugged in.

    My favourite thing by far about these LTE hotspots is the data plans that come with them. At the time of purchase I thought my plan with Bell was fairly reasonable, $45/month for 2 GB of data. But Rogers offers a much better 5 GB for $40. From what I've seen a data rate of $8/GB is just not available in this country for anything that's not a hotspot or tablet. In fact, there are some forward-thinking forum members attempting to use their smartphones on a hotspot or tablet plan.

    So there it is, my high-five for the MiFi. I'll be looking to dump my Bell MiFi soon, but the cheaper and faster Rogers one will stay in my bag for the foreseeable future -- at least until I get a phone with LTE.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: In praise of the humble hotspot. started by acurrie View original post
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Jonavin's Avatar
      Jonavin -
      For all you people that like to buy 3G tablets. You could save $100 per upgrade cycle if you just get a personal hotspot. If you're already lugging around a tablet, the smaller than a deck of cards hotspot isn't going to be a problem.

      And that E586E, I have used on both Rogers and Telus data SIMs for real worlds speeds up to about 16Mbps. On WIND, with repeated tests at the same location, it's gotten average 20-30% faster data speeds comapared to a Galaxy S3. And I've tried it with both phone SIM and data SIM to eliminate the issue of different throttling between different plan types. Also get faster speeds on my N900, so draw your own conclusions as to what this means.
    1. howard's Avatar
      howard -
      How much battery life do portable hotspots pack? If I take one out with me will it last the entire day or do I need to shut it off when I'm not using it?

      A few years ago, I took a Cradlepoint PHS300 (a portable hotspot sans the modem) with me to Asia:
      http://www.howardchui.com/2008/12/

      The Cradlepoint would only last 2-4hrs with the included battery so I had to make a portable battery pack so it would last the entire day. In Japan I rented a HSPA modem, connected it to the hotspot and used that. For voice I used VOIP so I had to make sure that my hotspot always had power.
    1. howard's Avatar
      howard -
      Another thought, sometimes devices consume data different if they're on WiFi vs using LTE. For example many apps won't install/don't like to install unless you're on WiFi.

      My friend recently used his data stick (okay, not a hotspot but similar) with his computer and found it ate up 1GB of data in just a few hours of usage. And this is a computer savvy user who wasn't downloading/file sharing or doing anything that he thought would use a lot of data.

      Has this every happened?
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Quote Originally Posted by howard View Post
      A few years ago, I took a Cradlepoint PHS300 (a portable hotspot sans the modem) with me to Asia:
      http://www.howardchui.com/2008/12/
      Looks like I was there not too long after you.

      Re: battery life, my Rogers hotspot lasts for at least 8 hours thanks to this extended battery -- which fortunately is not locked to Telus.
    1. Jonavin's Avatar
      Jonavin -
      I have the Cradlepoint, two in fact, plus a spare battery. That was enough to last the day so I never really worried about battery life. The E586E is a lot more convenient.

      Incidently, if battery life is more important than speed, I find bluetooth tethering on an old Sony Ericsson gets me good solid 8 hours at 1mbps.