Using the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot

October 10, 2011
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Several months ago, I purchased the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot to use when traveling. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to use the device and service on a few trips so I thought I’d provide a quick overview of the results of using it in real-life.

First, the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot is a ZTE data-only device (it might look like a phone, but it’s not). It connects to T-Mobile’s data network at up to HSPA+ speeds and then acts as a Wi-fi hotspot for up to 5 devices (I’m not going to get into whether T-mobile should be calling its HSPA+ device 4G or not).

Overall, I’ve been happy with it, for my purposes. Here a few high points:

  • Easy to set-up and use, no software or hardware dongles required
  • Battery life is good
  • When the speed is good, it’s really good (you forget you’re on wireless)
  • Pre-paid, no-contract options
  • It’s small and travels well

The only downside I would cite is that it can be slow at times (sometimes speed drops for no apparent reason). The cost and data-caps might also be a concern for some, but it hasn’t been a major issue for me. Coverage, so far has not been an issue for me either. I’ve been able to get a signal everywhere I’ve wanted one. But it is T-Mobile, so check their maps to see if it looks like they serve the areas you need.

I wanted a no-contact option because I wasn’t sure how often I’d use it and I didn’t want to get into a long-term monthly bill for something I wasn’t using. This meant I had to pay more up front for the hardware, $130 ($119 at Amazon Disclaimer: affiliate link) instead of $60 with a contract. It also meant the buying experience was, um “challenging” – to be kind. Because the incentives are different, T-Mobile runs the prepaid/no-contract and subsidized/on-contract businesses separately. The T-mobile stores don’t carry and don’t support the no-contract devices or service. I ended up getting the device at Bestbuy and that was comical because if I didn’t have a smartphone with the Bestbuy website up, showing the SKU and that the store I was physically in sold the product and had it in stock, the “expert staff” would have sent me away saying they don’t even sell that product. I had to explain to them that I could click “Buy Now for in-store pick-up” and walk over and pick up the device, so it’s in the store somewhere. I finally found a manager who actually looked and found the item “in the back” (and they had many of them of course).

Bestbuy also sells the prepaid cards to activate data service; or you can purchase online, using the device itself. T-Mobile offers a $30 recharge providing 1GB data or a $50 recharge with 3GB – both options are active for one month and allow up to five simultaneous wi-fi connections.

When we stay in a hotel that charges $20 per day for wi-fi, it often makes more sense to just buy a month of the T-Mobile service, which we can then use with all our devices at the same time and the performance is often just as good – and we could, if we wanted, use it in more places (like at the airport when waiting for flights etc.)

I also wanted a device that was independent of the type of device and operating system. I didn’t want a USB modem or something that required software drivers. We’ve connected with laptops, iPads, and other devices at the same time and had no trouble connecting to the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot. The only problem we’ve had so far was once the device got weird and wouldn’t turn on and I had to pull the battery for a few minutes to correct that problem, but otherwise it has been pretty painless.

I now take it with us every time we travel, along with a recharge card that we only activate if we really need it. It’s nice not to worry whether we’ll find a hotspot or free wi-fi or whether the hotel Internet is going to work etc.

If you’re looking for a no-contract option for mobile data when traveling, the T-Mobile 4G HotSpot is certainly a reasonable choice that I’m pretty happy with.

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7 Responses to Using the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot

  1. Mike
    October 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I just purchased one of these, and so far, so good. I was pleasantly surprised to get 6 Mbps upload which is 3 times faster than my dsl! The prices may have changed, but in our area they are $10 for a week and 200Mb, $30 for a month and 1G, $50 for a month and 3g. I bought mine at Amazon- I missed the $99 sale and paid $119. No hassle.
    Thanks for your review.

  2. October 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Thanks Mike. You’re right about the prices. I updated the post to reflect that.

    The weekly price is only available online, I believe (not via a recharge card).

  3. Jon
    December 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    On the prepaid version, is there any initial activation fee?

    Also, if you don’t use it for a while (say like 6 months or a year) is there any activation fee to jump back on?

  4. Ken
    December 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I just purchased one of these and am having a heck of a time getting the thing activated. I follow the instructions and when I enter the www.t-mobile.com it goes to the website and not the activation page like the start guide says. Any help at all would be great thanks.

  5. January 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    @Ken, make sure you’re not connected to the Internet via ethernet separate from the hotspot. I think there is a local address you can go to that will force the browser to go to the Hotspot interface, but I don’t have it handy.

  6. January 21, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    @Jon There was no activation fee, but there is also no subsidy on the hardware ($199). There is no re-activation fee that I can find (after six months etc), but we all know how telcos are great at springing that kind of stuff on us. I guess I’ll find out next time I try to buy a month of credit. 🙂

  7. Patrick
    February 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I’m running into the same issue that Ken was. I have followed the steps and when I try to activate on www.t-mobile.com it takes me to the webpage and not an Activation page. please help.

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