Buying guide : How to buy a Pocket WiFi Router Hotspot device
Are you shopping for a Pocket WIFI Hotspot device, also called as travel WIFI router? Read this comprehensive buying guide to make an informed decision before you a buy a WiFi hotspot router for you.
What is a portable WIFI Hotspot device or Pocket Wifi Device
A pocket WiFi Hotspot device is a portable, small sized WiFi router that has the "WiFi hotspot" capability. You can connect this device to an internet source and make it a WiFi hotspot, which will allow many other devices to connect to it through WiFi and share the single internet connection to multiple devices. Most of the popular pocket WiFi devices are about the same length and width as a credit card, less than one inch thick and weighs less than 100 gms, which make it easy to carry wherever you go.
There are different types of pocket WiFi devices with different capabilities. Depending on your budget, you can go for a minimum functionality device or a really fancy device with a lot of options. If you just want to share internet with few devices, you can go for the real simple units that fit in to any budget.
Different types of Pocket WiFi devices
You can generally classify the portable WiFi hotspot devices into the following categories:
SIM based WiFi hotspot devices
In this case, you have to buy separate SIM card from an internet service provider and insert in to the WiFi router. After inserting the SIM, you will need to connect the router to your computer using a USB cable and configure it to use the SIM card to establish a connection with the service provider. Once it is configured and a connection is established, you may disconnect it from your computer and use it as a WiFi router. The Pocket WiFi router acts as a modem as well as WiFi Hotspot.
USB datacard/modem based WiFi hotspot devices
In case of USB Datacard based WiFi routers, you need to have a USB based datacard to connect to internet. You will need to plugin the USB datacard to the Pocket WiFi router and turn it on to make a connection to the internet. To configure the initial settings, you will need to connect the device to your computer using a USB cable and access an admin panel using your web browser. This type of WiFi hotspot devices do not have a built-in modem, rather, it depends on the USB datacard to connect to internet service provider. The only role of the WiFi routers is to act as a WiFi hotspot to share the internet through WiFi.
Read our review on LEO-USB-WIFI hotspot device, which is a USB datacard based WiFi hotspot device.
USB dongles/datacards with WiFi hotspot option
These days, there are several datacards that come with built-in WiFi hotspot option, which eliminates the need to buy another device to share your internet. In most cases, such datacards will serve the purpose. By using a single USB datacard (WiFi Dongle) for internet and for WiFi sharing, you can save some money.
If you take a close look at these, you would figure out that the SIM based hotspot devices and USB datacards with WiFi hotspot option are pretty much same type of devices, even though they look different in appearance. They have the same capabilities – connect to internet using a SIM and share internet over WiFi. However, in most cases, the USB datacards are locked to a particular service provider and you will not be able to replace the SIM to connect to another service provider. But incase of SIM based WiFi Hotspot devices, you can replace the SIM and connect to internet using any service provider.
Which is better – SIM based devices, USB datacard based devices or USB dongles with hotspot feature?
If you travel a lot, I suggest you buy the SIM based Pocket WiFi router, which offers the following advantages:
1. Small size makes it convenient to carry in your pocket.
2. Even though they are bigger in size compared to the simple USB datacards, the slightly bigger, mostly rectangular shape makes it easy to handle.
3. You can replace the SIM anytime and use any supported SIM from any provider. Most USB datacards are locked to specific service providers and you will not be able to connect to another service provider when you travel to other places or countries.
4. Most USB dongles require to be connected directly to the USB port of your computer, which make it difficult to handle and have the possibility of breaking it while moving. The Pocket WiFi Hotspot devices do not require to be connected to your computer. Rather, you can connect it any power source like A/c power, the USB port in your car, cigarette lighter source in your car and so on. When you are driving, you can simply plug it into the USB drive in the car and enjoy internet for everyone in the car. If you are sitting in a restaurant with your friends, you may plug it into a power source in the restaurant and have internet for everyone on your table.
However, there is an advantage for a hotspot devices that use USB datacards. Since most people use USB based dongles for personal internet connection, it is easier to borrow such a device and connect to your Hotspot device to share internet. Borrowing a SIM card and using with your device may not be that easy!
Factors to consider while buying a Pocket WiFi router
Locked or unlocked
Here is the most important factor – is the device locked to a specific service provider? If you are getting the device very cheap, there is a very high possibility that the router is locked to a service provider. If you buy a locked device, you will not be able to use it with any other service providers. If you are investing your money on a Pocket WiFi Router, I strong recommend you buy an unlocked device and keep the freedom to switch the provider when you want.
Tata Photon WiFi Hub is a typical example of locked pocket routers.
If you are buying a locked device, check the data plans offered by the internet service provider. Do they offer prepaid and postpaid plans? Do they charge a lot of money for the plans? Sometimes, they will offer the device at a very cheap price but you will be bound to their service contract to use their expensive data plans.
How many devices to connect at a time
Check how many devices can be connected to the router. Most devices allow 5 connections, which seem to be reasonable. However, if you have a bigger family or plan to use it for small office, you may want to go for devices that allow higher number of connections.
Compatibility with your service provider
Think about the service provider you are going to use most of the time. Not every internet service provider will coverage in all areas. And not every wireless router will be compatible with every service providers. Before you buy a portable WiFi hotspot device, check if it is compatiblewith your SIM, USB datacard and the service provider.
Many of the portable WiFi routers support multiple power sources including USB power (from car, computer and so on) and also direct A/c power. I suggest you buy a device that comes with USB as well as A/c power inputs so that you can connect it anywhere and use it without having to hook it into your computer.
Not every device has a rechargeable battery in it. It is important to choose a device that has a rechargeable battery so that the device is really a portable, travel adapter. With a built-in rechargeable battery, you can take the device anywhere with you and just turn it on to get access to internet without really searching for a power source. For example, consider you are on a long drive and use the device in the car. If your device does not have a battery, you will lose the internet connection when you stop the car somewhere for a short break. Before you choose a WiFi hotspot device, ensure it has a rechargeable battery.
Find a comprehensive list of Pocket WiFi Hotspot devices
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