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Even though we've listed the full price of the Wi-Fi hotspots on this list, you can buy most of them on low monthly installments with a qualifying data plan. (Note that this option isn't available for our unlocked and pay-as-you-go picks.)
A standalone Wi-Fi hotspot requires a data plan from the carrier of your choice, and plan prices vary depending on the amount of data you choose. That is, unless you choose a pay-as-you-go hotspot.
If you only plan to use the hotspot for web browsing and staying on top of your work email, there's no need to spend a whole lot on data. However, if you plan to connect multiple devices to the Wi-Fi hotspot, or stream video, consider a plan with more data in order to avoid potential overages. Or, if you don't want to spend the money on a Wi-Fi hotspot, consider using your iPhone or Android smartphone instead. If you choose that route, just be sure you have the right plan for it, so you don't incur any unexpected extra charges.
Best for Verizon Users
Verizon's Jetpack AC791L is a top-shelf portable Wi-Fi hotspot with robust LTE connectivity, intuitive touchscreen controls, and a large 4,340 mAh battery that helps it deliver mobile Internet for up to 24 hours. The battery is also removable, so you can purchase additional batteries for some extra juice.
The Jetpack AC791L can connect up to 15 devices to a Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n network, it outputs both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signals, and it uses WPA2 encryption. It also has a convenient guest option, so you can keep your main password private. It even works as a backup battery pack, and it can keep your other devices charged — as long as they recharge with a USB port. Verizon charges $50 for the hotspot under a 2-year contract, and it has service in over 200 countries.
Best for AT&T Users
If you want to use a Wi-Fi hotspot on AT&T's network, we recommend going with this one from Netgear. It's the first gigabit LTE hotspot, and it's capable of hosting up to 20 devices via 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, up to the 802.11ac specification. It's equipped with a 5,040 maH battery that lasts for a day, and when the hotspot dies, it recharges quickly because it's compatible with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0.
It's one of the few hotspots that has a built-in Ethernet port, which you can use for offloading your traffic to limit your cellular usage. Like Verizon's hotspot, it has a USB port for charging other devices, but this one has a full-sized port, compared to Verizon's micro-USB port, which requires a separate adapter. Its USB port can also be used to connect an external hard drive or thumb drive to share files to connected devices. Netgear has a complementary app that lets you manage the Wi-Fi connections for all of your devices, adjust settings, check usage, and view media files.
Best for T-Mobile Users
The Alcatel LINKZONE is a portable Wi-Fi hotspot exclusive to T-Mobile. It's also the only hotspot T-Mobile offers. The device weighs a tad more than 3 ounces, and it's smaller than a deck of cards, so you can easily slide it in a pocket. It can deliver Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n connectivity to up to 15 devices by utilizing T-Mobile's 4G LTE network.
Unfortunately, it only works on a 2.4 GHz band. Other hotspots can output a 5GHz band, which comes in handy in congested areas like airports. The hotspot's 1,800 mAh battery is slightly smaller than other hotspots, too, and it provides about 8 hours of use. This hotspot doesn't have a display, so there's no way of telling how strong the signal is. Despite these shortcomings, the Alcatel LINKZONE is a good value for the price. T-Mobile charges less than $100 for the hotspot, while others are twice as expensive.
Best for Sprint Users
In case you really need a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that works on Sprint wireless, the Franklin R910 is the one to go for. Sprint's network is notably slower and smaller than other top carriers, so it occasionally experiences hiccups when streaming HD video.
Like the Alcatel LINKZONE, this one lacks a touch screen, but fortunately it still has a display that shows the cell signal and battery life. You can expect 12 hours of battery life for the R910. The LTE hotspot can connect to up to 10 devices, and it's capable on both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequencies.
Best Unlocked Hotspot
The Huawei E5770s is an affordable and good-looking Wi-Fi hotspot that comes unlocked, allowing buyers to choose their own service provider. It's available in black or white with a leather-style texture, and it has a large battery that can deliver mobile Internet for up to 20 hours on a single charge.
It supports up to 10 connected devices, and it's an excellent portable option for users who travel abroad often, because it supports global 4G LTE bands. It's important to note that it doesn't support all of T-Mobile's LTE bands in the U.S. Like other hotspots, this one works as a portable power supply because it has a full-sized USB port. This comes in handy when your tablet or smartphone is short on power and needs a quick boost.
Best Pay-as-You-Go Hotspot
If you don't want to fuss with contracts or add a line to your current data plan, consider this Wi-Fi hotspot from GlocalMe. It's an attractive-looking touchscreen hotspot that resembles an iPhone 4, and it's available in gold or black. It comes with 1 GB of 4G LTE data, and it works in over 100 different countries.
It offers 15 hours of battery life, and it has a built-in USB port for fast charging other devices. It takes just 4.5 hours to recharge, and it supports up to five connected devices. GlocalMe has a free app that lets you track your data usage and add more data to your line in the event you run out. Their data rates vary based on location, and you can check out pricing here.