As remote work continues to permeate the professional landscape, the use of mobile broadband internet solutions with business-level reliability and speeds becomes essential.
Whether you’re using it for travel, supplementing a spotty internet connection at your home office or taking video conferences, a mobile hotspot or satellite internet connection could be a viable solution. Read on to learn which type of internet connection is best for your needs.
A mobile hotspot provides internet access wherever you have a strong cellular signal. You can create an internet hotspot on your smartphone and share your connection with other devices (like tablets and laptops) via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB cables.
A dedicated hotspot device, like the Orbic Speed 5G UW for Verizon or the Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro for AT&T, offers a better signal and faster service. You can create a Wi-Fi hub to share your broadband connection with multiple devices. You get a faster and stronger connection this way than you do by using a dedicated hotspot device when tethering with a smartphone.
Prices, speeds and data caps vary widely by provider, so make sure to read the fine print before you commit to a new contract for a dedicated mobile device. Even if you have an unlimited data plan through your mobile service provider, it probably does not apply to hotspots.
If you live somewhere with a consistently strong 4G LTE or 5G cellular service and have the budget to spend on the latest hardware, a dedicated mobile hotspot hub is an excellent way to stay connected to clients, vendors and co-workers wherever business takes you or them.
One reason hotspots have become such a popular mobile internet solution is their accessibility, as many smartphones now come with built-in hotspot or tethering features. However, if you use your smartphone as a hotspot regularly, you’ll notice how fast your battery drains.
Conversely, dedicated mobile devices are built for the sole purpose of creating a Wi-Fi network that others can log in to. As a result, they’re equipped with much larger antennae and lithium-ion batteries that are capable of delivering a broadband internet connection for 24 hours at a time.
When you take out a contract for your mobile hotspot service, ask your provider if they’ll include the equipment with the deal. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to pay about $60 to $400 for the equipment.
Satellite internet can provide you with a data connection wherever you have clear skies for your satellite dish.
Download speeds range from 20 Mbps to 250 Mbps, depending on your service provider. There are no hard data caps on any of the tariffs offered by the three main providers – Starlink, HughesNet and Viasat.
There is a cap however on what Starlink called priority data – an extra you must subscribe to. Priority data on Starlink is when your connection speed is attended to first in preference to standard data – a kind of fast lane. You can buy up to 2TB of priority data on their “one location” tariffs or up to 5TB of mobile priority data on their “on the go” tariffs. Mobile priority data is given an even higher network preference.
Once you install your dish and point it in the right direction, you’ll be able to access broadband speeds through a modem and Wi-Fi router, just as you would for a standard cable internet system.
However, satellite internet users often experience poor download speeds, very long latency and data usage limits. For many businesses operating in rural areas, though, a satellite connection is the only way to get online with decent data speeds and reliability.
Availability, pricing, speeds and data limits vary by provider. The signal strength and speed of your satellite internet connection are dependent on your location and access to the sky. If you work in an area surrounded by tall trees, large hills, mountains or large structures, you may not be able to keep direct contact with enough of the sky to send data in a straight line to your orbiting satellite.
Two of the most important factors that determine the quality of an internet connection are speed and latency.
So, how do mobile hotspots and satellite internet compare in terms of speed and latency?
A mobile hotspot device can deliver download speeds of up to 100 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps to share among users. Latency is low, at about 60 milliseconds. This should be reliable enough for day-to-day tasks such as sending emails, making VoIP calls, streaming music and conducting HD video conferences.
With a clear sky in a good location, you can get up to 250 Mbps from the best satellite systems. The drawback of satellite internet is its latency, which can range from 594 to 624 milliseconds because of the distance data has to travel between the orbiting satellites and your dish.
That won’t make a big difference for sending emails or downloading files, but it could be frustrating for video conferencing and uploading to YouTube. It can also be hard to maintain a decent signal when you’re on the move.
Physical obstructions and weather conditions affect both mobile hotspot and satellite internet performance to different degrees. Before you choose a solution for your company, speak to representatives from both types of providers to help you determine which type of connection will be most reliable for your business.
Consider these factors when you’re deciding between a mobile hotspot and satellite internet.
On both types of connection, you’ll pay a flat monthly fee for access, which will normally have inclusive data.
Mobile hotspot services start at around $20 per month. A handful of providers offer exclusively 4G and 5G connectivity, but most will want you to sign up for a normal business broadband package. For satellite services, the costs can be much higher, ranging from $69.99 to $399.99 per month. You can top that up with priority and mobile priority data on Starlink.
Regarding data usage, there are two types of subscription: plans with soft maximum monthly data caps, and plans with unlimited data usage. All three major satellite providers — HughesNet, Starlink and Viasat — offer unlimited data plans. However, Starlink has data limits on its “Priority” and “Mobile Priority” add-on plans after which the data you’re downloading is no longer first in line.
If you choose a plan with a soft data cap and you regularly exceed the monthly limit, your provider may ask you to move to a more expensive plan or to make a separate payment for the overage.
In months when you exceed your data limit, your internet provider may apply throttling to your account, meaning they deliberately slow your connection. This may be a problem if you have frequent video conferences and perform other data-intensive activities.
Hotspot and satellite providers handle throttling differently, so be aware of your “backup” internet speeds and potential overages once you pass your allowance.
While some providers bundle mobile hotspot equipment with a new plan, others charge separately for it. For satellite internet, you’ll pay an equipment charge of between $599 and $2,500 upfront for your equipment on Starlink and monthly with HughesNet and Viasat.
Providers generally apply soft data caps to subscribers who pay monthly but apply hard data caps to pay-as-you-go users. With a hard data cap, your service stops altogether once you hit your data transfer limit.
There are many mobile hotspot providers, but there are currently only three satellite service providers. Check out the best options below.
Many of the best internet service providers also offer mobile hotspot devices and data plans. Verizon has a reputation for providing the best speeds, but if you’ve experienced better cellular reception in your area with another provider, that will probably be your best option. We’re providing stand-alone pricing, but you may be able to bundle a dedicated hotspot device with an existing mobile plan.
Read our Verizon internet service review.
Read our AT&T internet service review.
Two major satellite internet service providers, HughesNet and Viasat, offer nationwide coverage with speeds that vary by location. Newcomer Starlink has more than 4,500 satellites in orbit, with long-term plans to launch a low-orbit constellation of more than 40,000 satellites capable of delivering higher speeds and lower latency to dishes anywhere on the planet. Starlink’s service offers users much promise, and the company is building out its infrastructure fast. However, availability is still limited by location.
Amazon plans to invest $10 billion with subsidiary Project Kuiper to develop 3,236 similar low-Earth-orbit satellite internet systems, with public access expected in the next few years. Other companies are also gearing up with competing services. For example, OneWeb recently merged with French operator Eutelsat. With increasing download speeds, low latency and unlimited data plans on the horizon, the future is growing brighter for satellite internet each year.
In addition to considering price and data use, you should think about setup and maintenance for your equipment. Mobile hotspots are essentially plug-and-play and require less technical know-how, whereas you may need assistance to install and configure a satellite system.
Jeff Hale contributed to this article.