High-speed 4G data service on your phone is great, but how about carrying a full-blown Wi-Fi hot spot with you wherever you go that can share your mobile data connection with all your devices--or even other users?
Mobile providers like Verizon and Sprint are offering just that, with help from devices made by Novatel Wireless, Sierra Wireless, Samsung and others. These devices turn a 3G/4G wireless connection into a Wi-Fi signal that can be shared by multiple devices wherever you are: in an airport, on a train or at a client site. Typically, up to five devices can hop on the mobile hot spot and surf away.
Devices and deals vary by service provider. Sprint was one of the first out of the gate with its Overdrive, charging $59.99 per month for mobile broadband service to power the device. (At press time, the operator said it was phasing out the Overdrive for a new hot spot product, presumably focused on its growing 4G network.) Verizon gives away its MiFi device, with monthly data plans starting at $35 for 3GB of data.
These credit card-size devices aren't new. Versions have been available for lower-speed 3G networks for some time. But as next-generation networks start to offer higher speeds (5Mbps on up), there's finally enough bandwidth that sharing finally makes sense.
In a twist, more highly capable smartphones have also changed the Wi-Fi sharing game. Many smartphones can now share their 3G/4G connections with others via Wi-Fi for a small price (typically about $20 on top of regular data plan charges).
Feeling more adventurous? Users who "jailbreak" their iPhones or "root" their Android devices can find mobile apps that will let them share their data connections via Wi-Fi for free. But do so at your own risk, as such actions typically invalidate warranties and can make your device maker and mobile operator unhappy campers.
After all, with legitimate options proliferating--and at reasonable prices--you don't need to know how to muck with your phone's software to get a hot spot on the go.