Security Keys vs Portable Hotspots: Mobile Internet Devices Explained

Gone are the days when most of us connected via phone lines. The days when Ethernet cables were needed to achieve high speeds are also over. We go online wirelessly and the range of our routers does not limit us. Mobile internet devices can take us online anywhere with a solid connection to a cell tower.

Do you connect everything via a portable wireless hotspot or your smartphone? Should I invest in a USB key or a WWAN card? Each has its advantages and disadvantages. We’ll take a look.

Portable mobile hotspots

Portable mobile hotspots access the same cellular network as your smartphone. You can add them as another device on your shared data plan, or you can get one on its data-only plan. Data plan prices tend to be similar to how much you spend on phones.

These mobile Internet devices typically have between 10 and 20 hours of battery life. Some models serve as portable batteries that can charge your phone or offer shared storage via a microSD card slot. Many have screens that show how much data you’ve used on your monthly allowance. The specifics change depending on the model you buy.

With the rollout of 5G, portable hotspots can work better as your home’s primary internet connection. This is because 5G has lower latency, which allows devices to communicate with each other faster. This is the key for games and virtual reality.

Some hotspots, such as 2019’s HTC 5G Hub, can support up to 20 devices and provide enough battery life to cover a day’s worth of use. But since 5G networks have been slow to roll out, most regions will still rely on 4G LTE.

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One of the disadvantages of a portable hotspot is carrying it around in addition to your phone, tablet, or laptop. The cost of a data plan can also add up. If you just add one to your shared data plan, you might be able to just connect your smartphone instead.

Benefits of Portable Mobile Hotspots

  • Reasonably long battery life
  • Support more devices
  • The right unit could serve as the primary source of Wi-Fi for your home
  • Additional features such as an informative display, shared storage, Ethernet port or backup battery power
  • If used exclusively for work, it can help track internet usage

Disadvantages of Portable Mobile Hotspots

  • Cost
  • Having to carry another device

USB flash drives

Like portable hotspots, dongles tend to come straight from a carrier. Many look like flash drives, while others look like small modems that you plug into your computer via a USB cable. Sticking one on your laptop has the effect of giving your computer a cellular radio. It is now able to jump online via Wi-Fi or cellular data, just like your smartphone. He can also share this connection with other devices.

A big difference between a dongle and a mobile hotspot is that a dongle doesn’t take up as much space. They also don’t drain your battery like tethering with a smartphone does. That said, you have to keep the dongle plugged in for it to work, which means giving up a USB port. This probably isn’t a big deal on most laptops, but there are plenty of sleeker models that skimp on port count. Some have even removed full-size USB ports altogether.


Dongles are not limited to USB ports or even PCs. Some plug into a car’s OBDII port, giving passengers Wi-Fi on the go.

A dongle does not take you out of a data plan. You still need them, and they won’t be cheaper than buying one for a portable hotspot. Another downside: dongles often require special software. Installation can be slow or boring. If you’re a Linux user like me, that might mean you have to jump through some extra hoops, or maybe you’re just out of luck.

Advantages of the USB flash drive

  • Low initial cost
  • Less battery drain
  • It takes up less space than a portable hotspot

Disadvantages of USB Dongle

  • Usually requires a USB port
  • May require special software

Mobile connection sharing

Don’t want to buy another device? The smartphone you probably have in your pocket may be all the internet you need. Sounds good, but before you get too excited, the downsides are substantial. Here is the situation.

Smartphones can provide internet access to other devices by turning into hotspots. Tell your phone to start sharing its data and give the temporary network a name. Your laptop or tablet can connect the same way as Wi-Fi. You can also connect your phone to a computer using a cable. Whichever method you choose, it’s called tethering. Wherever you have your phone, you have the Internet.

You can even connect a 4G phone to a 5G phone’s hotspot to get fast speeds on both if for some reason you find yourself in that situation.

Doesn’t that mean that everyone who buys a dedicated hotspot is being duped? No. Smartphones aren’t designed to act as hotspots, so they don’t stream as far or handle as many devices as dedicated units. In addition, tethering drains the battery enormously. If you’re using your phone to provide internet for a few hours, expect to need a charger before the end of the day. It gets even worse considering the short battery life we ​​know from modern smartphones. Also, don’t be surprised if your handset gets a little warm to the touch.


Related: Why do phones have such short battery life?

Mobile tethering pros

  • Convenience
  • It does not need a separate invoice
  • Only one device to carry

Disadvantages of mobile tethering

  • Puts a strain on your smartphone
  • Often comes with a smaller monthly limit
  • Not intended to support multiple devices at once
  • Phone calls happen making it difficult to share the internet with others

WWAN

Wireless Wide Area Networks, or WWANs, are something you’re more likely to interact with when you’re working than in your spare time. These are wide area networks that use a cellular network to keep company computers connected. These can be employee laptops, kiosks, point-of-sale machines, or vehicles.

A WWAN card allows your PC to connect to a wide area network using a cellular connection. This allows you to connect to a corporate network wherever you are within range of your corporate WWAN. Generally, a traditional operator provides and manages the infrastructure.

WWAN is offered directly to businesses, not to general consumers. For this reason, it is difficult to make a comparison with the options listed above. Don’t think of this as your personal solution to logging in. But keep in mind that if you want to access a wireless WAN, you’ll need specific hardware, like a WWAN card, to do so. Some laptops come with this feature built-in.

Dongle vs Hotspot: Which is better?

You may not be surprised to learn that there is no best answer. For light and occasional use, tethering with a smartphone is perfect. Do you often work away from home and need to connect multiple devices? A portable wireless access point can be useful. Only have a limited space to work? A USB dongle can fit in your pocket.

Or, if you’re not particularly interested in another monthly bill, you can stick with Wi-Fi hotspots instead.

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