Wireless Service

How Much Data Does Your Phone’s Mobile Hotspot Really Use?

By
Kyle Reyes
October 7, 2022

We use a ton of data every day. Just about everything we do on our phones when we aren’t connected to Wi-Fi uses up some data. The speed at which that data is used depends on what we are using it for. For instance, streaming video uses data at a tremendously high rate, while browsing the web or scrolling through social media is oftentimes much less. That all fits into your data plan. If you have an unlimited data plan you are free to stream and surf as much as you want during the course of the month with no additional charges. These plans, however, often have a separate category for data used through a mobile hotspot. 

A smartphone’s hotspot lets other devices connect to it as if it were a Wi-Fi network. The network, in this case, is coming through your smartphone, which is working overtime as a makeshift router. A hotspot allows you to use devices that do not have a data connection, well, just about anywhere! This does, however, come at a cost. Be sure to check your plan to see their rules and regulations regarding the usage of mobile hotspot data. Some companies will cut you off when you reach a certain amount of data, some will slow you down, and some will charge you overages the moment you step over that line. 

So, how much data does a mobile hotspot use? This article will cover topics surrounding mobile hotspot data usage, like

  • What is a mobile hotspot?
  • How much data does a mobile hotspot use? 
  • How to take advantage of your mobile hotspot data

What is a Mobile Hotspot? 

Mobile hotspots let you connect non-data driven devices to your cellular network. This is nice, but mobile hotspots use a lot of data. 

A hotspot is any wireless device that lets you connect other devices to it and provides access to the internet. Most smartphones have the ability to become mobile hotspots, but there are also mobile hotspot devices that provide that internet connection with faster speeds. While your phone can, likely, become a mobile hotspot, data usage is an important limit. 

Using a Hotspot on Your Phone

Enabling the personal hotspot on your phone is likely only a few clicks away! There is likely a tab in settings that enables the hotspot mode on your phone. That mode oftentimes provides a major drain on your phone’s battery, so use it with caution. 

How Much Data Does a Hotspot Use

Data usage on a hotspot is higher than its respective usage through your smartphone. Since there are additional steps to the process, the hotspot won’t be as efficient as the phone in speed or data usage. This table denotes, roughly, the data usage of activities on a mobile hotspot.

Surprisingly, Instagram takes the cake for the most data used per amount of time on a mobile hotspot. This may be because of the way the site functions as well as the content that you are viewing. As Instagram turns from pictures to video and becomes more intricate with stories and reels and comments and posts the data meter ticks upwards and upwards. 

These numbers will vary but expect to use roughly that amount of data through your mobile hotspot. Mobile hotspots are a valuable addition to the utility of your smartphone, but an understanding of the streaming speeds and the data usage are important to know the times and places where hotspots are most effective. 

How Much Does a Mobile Hotspot Cost? 

It is rare that turning your phone into a mobile hotspot will cost anything extra. In more cases, your mobile hotspot is tied to your phone plan, and the plan will give you all the important information regarding how much data you can use with your mobile hotspot and what happens if you exceed that allotment of data. If it’s a hard data cap you might have to pay if you exceed that data, but otherwise, the company will just slow down the speeds. These slowdowns, mind you, are pretty significant and will leave you unable to do anything that requires a lot of data. 

If you don’t have a hotspot-enabled smartphone or you want to have a dedicated device for hotspot usage there are a wide variety of devices that function only as mobile hotspots, as we mentioned earlier. These devices are your best bet for faster speeds and more efficient data usage, but they come with a fairly significant price tag. You might also have to pay a monthly fee to activate that device, as it needs to access your cellular network to be effective. 

One thing to note — being on an unlimited data plan does not always mean you have unlimited hotspot data as well. Most unlimited plans offer a limited amount of hotspot data or no hotspot data at all. That particular allotment varies greatly on your cell phone provider. In this next section, we will showcase some of the best plans for mobile hotspots, and what the competition has to offer. 

Cell Phone Plans with the Best Mobile Hotspots

There is a wide variety of cell phone plans on the market, each one with their own pros and cons, and one of those is in the hotspot data that they offer. Although it is less common now, some companies will charge overages the moment you go over your allotted hotspot data, making it very important to track your usage to avoid getting hit with a big bill at the end of the month. Other companies will slow down your data, which isn’t as bad but it does severely limit your abilities to stream or complete other data-heavy tasks. 

Verizon

The plans at Verizon generally offer less total data with higher mobile hotspot speeds. On their unlimited plans, they offer up to 30 GB of a 4G hotspot, which provides a ton of data at an excellent speed. The major downside to that is that it is attached to their 5G get more plan, which comes in at $90 a month. Mobile hotspots are oftentimes an incentive on mobile company's higher-tier plans, meaning they come at quite the cost. 

AT&T

The plans at AT&T are pretty standard when it comes to mobile hotspot data. They offer fast data speeds and their premium plan comes with 50 GB of hotspot data at $85 a month. It bears mentioning, however, that getting too much hotspot data is not ideal. Their premium plan adds that huge amount and ups the price accordingly. We recommend figuring out how much hotspot data you generally use in a month before going in on a plan like this, or like any of the other high-tier plans from the major providers.

T-Mobile

The Magenta MAX plan at T-Mobile comes with 40 big gigs of high-speed hotspot data. T-Mobile also brings home the gold in terms of how well their hotspots can hold up to multiple devices drawing data from them. They are able to keep up their high speeds even when two to four devices are connected to the same hotspot. Fortunately, they also have a soft cap at 40 GB, meaning your speed will slow down when you exceed it but you can use as much as you want. 

MVNO Hotspot Plans

There are a lot of MVNO hotspot plans as well as ones from major carriers. These generally are available as add-ons to any of the plans offered by MVNOs be they limited or unlimited plans. MVNOs like Cricket, Mint, Boost, and Visible are all great options for cheaper plans that include hotspot data. At Mint, for instance, every plan comes with a 5 GB mobile hotspot for free with extra add-ons available for an additional cost. 

Pros of MVNOs

The big pro of an MVNO is that they can offer cheaper plans than major carriers. Alongside that, MVNOs are able to operate in a different sphere. AT&T is competing mainly with Verizon and T Mobile for its customers while MVNOs are competing with other MVNOs. In terms of service, there are not too many differences between getting your cellular plan through an MVNO and getting it through one of the major providers. 

MVNO plans are so cheap because they don’t have to run their own network. They can focus on providing high-quality and affordable plans with all of their perks and incredible multi-line discounts since they are an MVNO and not a major service provider. 

Alongside that, MVNOs are not a new kind of service provider. They have provided great service to lots of people for decades, making them a reliable source of affordable phone plans. 

Cons of MVNOs

The major con of using an MVNO is the deprioritized service. When a major company is under stress from high data usage, the MVNOs are the first customers to experience a slowdown in internet speeds. Of course, this does not affect Wi-Fi speeds, just the speed of your cellular data. 

Your Questions: Our Answers

Mobile Hotspot FAQ

The following are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about mobile hotspots! Prior to setting yours up it is important to figure out what you have to do to ensure that you are using it efficiently and not overusing your data based on how much you are allotted each month! 

How do I connect a mobile hotspot to a laptop?

Once you set up your mobile hotspot it should appear to our laptop like any Wi-Fi network. It will probably come up in your computer’s Wi-Fi dashboard as the name of your phone, but you can also use a wired connection between your phone and your laptop if that is easier. 

Can I connect a phone to a mobile hotspot?

Of course! Your smartphone can connect to a mobile hotspot the same way that a laptop or other device would. Just open up your Wi-Fi and search for that device, which should come up with all the other Wi-Fi networks. 

Does a hotspot use data?

Oh, it does, and quite a lot of it. Mobile hotspots serve as a point of contact for other devices which is less efficient than the way smartphones normally get their data. It is possible, however, to get a data-only plan from a separate location and, in essence, have a hotspot that is good for a certain amount of data each month that is not connected to your phone’s data plan. 

Does it cost money to turn your phone into a hotspot?

No, making your phone into a hotspot does not cost any money. It does, however, eat into your data allocation (naturally, when you use data) if you were to turn your phone into a hotspot but didn’t connect any devices to it then it wouldn’t be using any data. 

How much does it cost to use a mobile hotspot?

That will all depend on how much data you use. Your phone plan will determine how much data you can use each month on your hotspot, and your monthly phone bill covers the amount of hotspot data you receive. Many phone companies have add-on packages that come with additional hotspot data, so if you know you are using a lot you can add those in. It is always less expensive to order more data at the start of the month than to have to add it in the middle of the month. 

What’s the best time to use a mobile hotspot?

One of the biggest draws to having a plan with a mobile hotspot is that it can be used anywhere that you have cell service. Tying it down to one location turns it into something for which it was not designed. The ability to keep a fairly strong signal in a moving car, or in the bus, or when out camping is a fantastic boon to having that mobile hotspot as a part of your phone plan, but using a hotspot for home internet is a needlessly complicated solution to saving some extra money each month. 

For people who are often on the move, be it with traveling, work, or something else, cutting off your home’s internet might be worthwhile. If you notice that you aren’t ever really using your devices at home and instead are working a lot in areas where there are Wi-Fi connections then you might not have to keep paying that monthly bill. In fact, do you need a mobile hotspot in that situation? If you are on a phone plan with unlimited data then you can comfortably stream from home! Your cell phone can become your primary device for searching the web while you are at home if that is the case. 

Can I use a hotspot for home internet?

The answer is, well, using a hotspot for home internet comes with some pretty significant disadvantages. One of these is in the data limit. One of the biggest factors in your mobile hotspot is your internet data limit. Traditional home internet plans offer basically unlimited data (some have a cap at, like 1 TB), meaning you can stream all you want whenever you want.

Alongside a data limit, data speeds are also significantly lowered for mobile hotspots. Home internet has the potential to be many hundreds of MBps, which is enough to support, say, multiple people playing video games and streaming. Most of the fastest hotspots only deliver 30-60 MBps, a tiny fraction of their older brother. This is enough to support a single user using a medium amount of data but not much more than that. 

The average household’s data usage is just so much higher than where mobile hotspots are comfortable which makes the replacement just not feasible for most families. Where a hotspot really shines is someone who lives alone or with one other person and where everyone in the household is a low-data user. If you are someone who spends a lot of time out of the house or doesn’t go on the internet much at all, then dropping out of your home internet could be a good move for you.

Is a Mobile Hotspot Right for You?

The ability to create a bubble of Wi-Fi wherever you want is the best part about mobile hotspots, and if you are able to use that to your advantage then a hotspot might just be right for you! Be sure to check out our other guides for more detailed information regarding your current phone plan and how you can find the perfect one to suit your needs.

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.