What Are Hotspots?

Cafe customer connecting to a WI-Fi hotspot


  • What Is a Hotspot?
  • 3 Types of Wi-Fi Hotspots
  • Public Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • How Fast Is Hotspot Wi-Fi?
  • Hotspot Security 101
  • AT&T Wireless Hotspots
  • Trust Your At-Home Internet to AT&T

What Is a Hotspot?

A hotspot is a way to wirelessly connect tablets, laptops, and other devices to the internet while you’re away from your home Wi-Fi network.

There are three main types of Wi-Fi hotspots, each with strengths and weaknesses. Your final choice usually depends on what devices you typically use, what level of privacy and security you want, and what your budget is.

3 Types of Wi-Fi Hotspots

Public Wi-Fi Hotspot

  • Hosted by a private business or your internet service provider (ISP).
  • Always shared with other customers, and security settings vary.
  • Often free with a customer password or ISP login.

Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

  • Hosted by your mobile device and its cellular data connection.
  • Always a private, personal hotspot.
  • Free to connect, but uses your cellular data allowance and battery power.

Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot

  • Hosted by a dedicated hotspot device that connects to a cellular carrier.
  • Always a private, personal hotspot.
  • Flexible hotspot data plans, usually on demand with no contracts or obligations.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspot

You’re probably most familiar with this type of hotspot—you can find them everywhere, from fast food joints to auto shops to libraries.

Wi-Fi hotspots use slightly different technology than guest Wi-Fi networks to connect your mobile devices. But both boil down to the same benefit: you get internet access wherever you “park it” for the afternoon.

Many home internet providers also offer public hotspots to their current customers. These hotspots tend to cover general areas rather than being tied to specific storefronts.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are usually free to paying customers; some you can pay for by the hour.

Many business hotspots use industry-standard security protocols and require a password to limit how many people can access the network. But even these measures don’t guarantee security. You should still exercise caution when using public networks.

Public Wi-Fi Hotdpot

Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

Smartphones already use mobile data to give you access to the internet away from home. Even better, most smartphones can create a mobile hotspot to extend their wireless signal to your laptop or other Wi-Fi enabled devices.

Mobile hotspots are incredibly convenient when you can’t access public Wi-Fi. In general, they’re also more secure, because the only devices using the hotspot belong to you.

The biggest challenges when using a mobile hotspot are keeping your smartphone battery charged and your data use low. Laptops use mobile power and data pretty quickly, since you’re usually doing more complex tasks than you do on your smartphone. And although mobile hotspot service is usually included in the price of your cell phone plan, you can quickly rack up extra data fees or hit a soft data cap and experience slower speeds for the rest of your billing cycle.

Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot

Similar to a mobile hotspot, a portable, personal Wi-Fi hotspot connects you to the internet using a private connection between your devices. However, a portable hotspot comes from a third device that’s essentially a mini wireless internet router.

Compared to public and smartphone hotspots, portable hotspot data plans are pricey because they provide a much more advanced and reliable connection. Costs usually include both the hotspot device and the data, and it’s rare to find an unlimited plan. But for frequent travelers who depend on a consistent internet connection, the convenience is hard to pass up.

One last disclaimer with portable hotspots: you can’t magically create a Wi-Fi signal in cellular dead zones. If your hotspot data carrier doesn’t have service in the place you’re traveling, you won’t have internet access until you relocate.

How Fast Is Hotspot Wi-Fi?

The speed of your hotspot Wi-Fi is determined by the cellular network backing your connection.

On a personal hotspot powered by 4G LTE, speeds max out around 30 Mbps per connection point. With a 5G hotspot, speeds may peak around 200 Mbps per connection point in select areas. But the technology has more capacity than that and is predicted to easily handle more bandwidth demands as internet use grows.

For some users, a 4G LTE mobile connection provides enough speed to do mission-critical tasks for a few minutes or hours. For more intensive internet users, 5G hotspot plans provide more reliable signal and speeds.

It’s easy to ID your network type with a smartphone hotspot or portable Wi-Fi plan. Most cell carriers display “LTE” or “5G” on your home screen when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, so you can just glance at the top of your smartphone to get an idea for what speeds to expect. Portable plan speeds are also fairly easy to guess, since providers advertise the network type when you purchase the plan.

On public Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s a little harder to tell the source of the cellular network and guess your speeds in advance. If the specific speed matters to you, you can always connect briefly and run a speed test first thing. Otherwise, it’ll take some trial and error to see what activities you can do on that public hotspot—maybe video tutorials are out, but you have enough speed to submit a medium-sized file to your employer or school before a tight deadline.

Hotspot Security 101

All internet networks and hotspots come with security risks, even mobile hotspots. That’s just part of the deal when you access the world wide web. But with the following tips, you can connect to hotspots more safely.

  • When you can’t use your personal hotspot, choose only reputable public ones, e.g., those hosted by your hotel, coffee shop, or internet provider.
  • For extra security, join hotspots that have an added layer of protection—ones with passwords, sign-in requests, or payment options.
  • When connected to a public network, avoid going to websites where your information could be compromised, such as your banking or retirement accounts.
  • If you see a hotspot with misspelled words, chances are it’s someone else’s personal hotspot—or more dangerously, a potential hacker’s.
  • Consider subscribing to a VPN service and turning it on when you use a public hotspot. VPNs protect your data by disguising your device location and ingoing/outgoing traffic under multiple layers of encryption.
Hotspot Security 101

AT&T Wireless Hotspots

AT&T has Wi-Fi signal hotspots all across the country, in both residential and commercial areas. When you’re near one, it’ll automatically appear in your wireless network list—all you have to do is connect with your AT&T login.

AT&T prioritizes keeping your data safe from hackers and identity thieves when you use public Wi-Fi hotspots. Best of all, AT&T wireless hotspots are free for customers with an active account, and they help users conserve mobile data.

For frequent travelers, AT&T also offers portable hotspot internet plans at a variety of price points.

Trust Your At-Home Internet to AT&T

No need to trek over to the nearest coffee shop when your at-home internet is convenient, secure, and incredibly fast. For home internet users, AT&T fiber internet plans range from 300 to 5,000 Mbps, while copper internet plans offer up to 100 Mbps. And those speeds start at the affordable rate of just $55 per month.

Shop unlimited AT&T internet packages today to get reliable internet service at your humble abode. High-speed internet is within reach with AT&T.

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