Using the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot

October 10, 2011

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 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 it takes me to the webpage and not an Activation page. please help.

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