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Definition: cellular hotspot


A cellular hotspot converts cellular signals to Wi-Fi and vice versa to provide Internet access. A local hotspot is created by the following methods (see Wi-Fi hotspot).

Mobile Cellular

The following hotspots are available for users on-the-go:

Smartphone Hotspots
Smartphones have both cellular and Wi-Fi built in, and most phones can cross-connect the two to become a portable hotspot for nearby laptops and tablets. Also called "tethering."

Mobile Hotspots
All carriers offer stand-alone portable units, called a "portable hotspot," "personal hotspot," "mobile Wi-Fi," "mobile router," "mobile wireless router" or "travel router." Either the fee is added to the user's existing data plan or a new plan must be activated.

However, a mobile hotspot is one more thing to travel with. To avoid packing yet another device, cellular service can be added to laptops by plugging in a USB dongle (see cellular modem). On tablets, Wi-Fi is standard equipment, but tablets can also be purchased with a built-in cellular modem, and the phone number must be activated just like a cellphone.

Vehicle Hotspots
Built-in units provide a Wi-Fi hotspot within the cabin of a car or truck. In-vehicle cellular hotspots are available for many makes and models, and third-party devices are also made that plug into the car's diagnostic port (see OBD).

Fixed Cellular

Cellular service is increasingly used to provide Internet access within home and office to every computing device: phone, tablet, laptop and desktop.

Typically called a "mobile broadband router," stationary units include a Wi-Fi base station that supports multiple devices within a home or office. See mobile broadband router. See Wi-Fi vs. cellular.




Portable or Stationary
Cellular-based Wi-Fi hotspots can be created when traveling or in the home or office.






Widely Available
These Verizon, AT&T and Sprint (now T-Mobile) devices create hotspots as long as they find a cellular signal. (Images courtesy of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.)






Put It Anywhere
The advantage of a mobile hotspot is its portability.