How Do WiFi Hotspots Work? A Guide to Mobile and External Hotspots

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Long gone are the days when you had to physically be at home to use the Internet. Now, you can surf the web nearly anywhere. And for many, access to reliable Internet while on the go isn't just a convenience-it's a necessity. But while you can check your email or peruse social media on your phone with free public WiFi, some tasks aren't well-suited to public networks. If you're working remotely from a coffee shop, for example, you may find that the network's spotty Internet connection isn't reliable enough to get your work done efficiently. Hotspots provide a solution, enabling you to access high-speed Internet wherever you need. 

But there are different types of hotspots, and it's important to understand the differences between them if you're choosing to go that route. Here, we'll explain the differences between the two main types of hotspots (standalone devices and mobile WiFi hotspots) so you can find the solution that best suits your needs.

What Is a WiFi Hotspot? 

A mobile hotspot, put simply, is a network that allows for wireless connectivity to the Internet. It's called a "mobile" hotspot because it's not tied to any one location: Instead, it moves with you, wherever you go.

There are two types of mobile hotspots you can use to access the Internet. The first one involves using a smartphone as a wireless router. This method allows you to share your cellphone's Internet connection with another connected device, like a laptop or tablet. In order to use your phone as a hotspot, you have to make sure that your device allows for a mobile hotspot connection (luckily, most smartphones do). Your phone plan will also need to include the hotspot feature. Then, when you use the Internet on a connected device, any data used is taken directly from your phone plan. If you're an Optimum Mobile customer, you can use your phone as a hotspot anywhere you have coverage.

If you don't want to (or can't) use your phone as a hotspot, there are standalone hotspot devices that you can purchase through a mobile carrier, though they can be pricey. These devices act as routers, allowing users to create a local WiFi connection by leveraging cellular data networks in the area. Standalone devices vary in their capabilities, but many allow you to connect multiple devices (such as computers, tablets, laptops, and other WiFi-enabled gadgets) simultaneously. 

Drawbacks of Standalone Hotspot Devices

Standalone hotspot devices can be useful, but there are potential downfalls to them, too-the cost being a major one. Below, we'll dive further into these potential pain points and explain why mobile WiFi hotspots are generally the better option. 


The initial cost of purchasing a standalone hotspot device can be a drawback for some users. How much are hotspots, you ask? The average cost for a basic standalone device, without a contract, ranges from $50 to $300. Additionally, there are ongoing costs associated with data plans, which you'll need in order to secure a WiFi connection. These plans can range in cost depending on the carrier and the amount of data included in the plan.

For those who don't need to connect multiple devices to a WiFi hotspot, opting for a phone plan that enables a mobile hotspot can be a more cost-efficient option. At Optimum Mobile, we have affordable unlimited plans that include a mobile hotspot, so you can use your phone to connect other devices to the Internet when you’re out and about.

Limited data availability and speed

Most standalone mobile hotspot plans come with data caps after a certain amount of data has been used. Once the data limit is reached, the Internet speed may be significantly reduced, making it inconvenient for data-intensive activities. Also, if multiple devices are using one hotspot, the connection can get pretty slow. 

Battery consumption

A common concern about using a standalone hotspot is battery consumption. Users want to know: Do hotspots drain the battery? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Standalone hotspot batteries can drain quickly, especially if multiple devices are connected or if the hotspot is being used for an extended period without access to a power source. On the other hand, smartphones have power-saving features, which can help extend battery life.

Network stability 

A stable connection is crucial for users who rely on their hotspot device to stay connected to the Internet, whether for work, communication, or entertainment purposes. However, standalone devices require a cellphone signal to connect to the Internet. In areas with heavy mobile data usage, networks may become congested, leading to slower Internet speeds and reduced performance for all connected devices. If your standalone device isn't performing, you may need to use your cellphone as a mobile hotspot anyway-defeating the purpose of buying a separate piece of hardware. 

Security risks

Standalone hotspot devices can be susceptible to security risks, particularly when using open networks without encryption. Without proper security measures, data transmitted over the hotspot may be vulnerable to interception by malicious individuals, potentially compromising sensitive information. On your phone, however, you can password-protect your WiFi hotspot for better security.

Consider Optimum Mobile and Optimum WiFi Hotspots

If you only need a WiFi hotspot to connect one or two devices or if you're on a budget, using your phone as a router may be a good option. Many phone plans come with data you can use just for hotspots and tethering, and the good news is that it's easy to set up a hotspot on your phone. 

If you're already an Optimum Mobile customer, you can get a high-speed Internet connection on the go without additional cost, as easily as when you're connected at home. All our plans have Mobile Hotspot included, each with different hotspot allowances: 

  • Unlimited plan: You can use 5GB as a hotspot at 5G speed. If you reach the data cap, your speed will decrease to 2G.
  • Unlimited Max plan: You can use 15GB as a hotspot at 5G speed. If you reach the data cap, your speed will decrease to 3G.
  • 1GB and 3GB plans: Data is pulled from your monthly plan. In this case, data speeds will be at 600kbps.

Aside from using your cellular data plan, Optimum customers also have access to Optimum WiFi hotspots-public Internet access points available only to Optimum Internet customers. Optimum has over two million of these WiFi hotspots all over the Tri-State area. You can find hotspots in places around town like restaurants, stores, NJ Transit stations, and city parks. Plus, when you're traveling, you'll have access to CableWiFi partner hotspots nationwide.

Benefits of Optimum Mobile and Optimum WiFi Hotspots Over Mobile Hotspot Devices 

If you have a cellphone with a data plan, using your phone as a hotspot can be more convenient than purchasing a standalone device. Keep reading to learn why.


Standalone mobile hotspots can be an unnecessary cost, especially if you just need to connect one or two additional devices to the network. It's usually more affordable to use your cellphone as a router. You can save even more when you combine Optimum Internet and Mobile

Unlimited, high-speed data

Optimum Mobile offers two types of unlimited plans with high-speed data, so you can take advantage of high-speed Internet, even when you are not at home. The Unlimited plan offers 20 GB premium data with 5G access included, plus a 5 GB mobile hotspot. If you need more data, you can choose the Unlimited Max plan, featuring 50 GB premium data with 5G access included, plus a 15 GB mobile hotspot. 

Reliable and secure connection

Another advantage of using Optimum's network is that you have increased protection from online threats like viruses, phishing, and malware, a type of malicious programming that enables bad actors to spy on your computer activity and access your personal information. Optimum's intelligent network has built-in security and gives you a warning before visiting dangerous sites to help keep you and your personal information safe, wherever (and whenever) you're connected.

Have a question about Optimum Internet service? Explore our Frequently Asked Questions page or contact us for answers. 


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