Is a 4G hot spot still needed in today's world?

Maybe my experiences are different from those who travel more often, but I’ve been finding that the need for a Wi-Fi personal hot spot that connects to a 3G or 4G wireless network has diminished as more locations are providing their own Wi-Fi with a backhaul to a faster connection. Hotels, coffee shops, even airports seem to offer faster networking options than those provided by some of these devices.

Granted, a lot of these places come with a price tag for the access, with some at outrageous prices. If you aren’t being reimbursed by your company for that access, finding less expensive Internet access can be tricky. Even the “free” ones cost in terms of having to watch an ad, or they limit your speed to basic functions such as downloading email or basic web surfing (don’t even think about streaming Netflix or uploading video).

So the hot spots are still out there – and one of the latest I’ve tried is the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 7730L (by Novatel Wireless). This device ($50, plus two-year data and service plan) is the first Jetpack-branded device that includes a color touch screen, along with QuickCharge Technology and MiFi Share (share files securely stored on a separate Type C USB stick).

The QuickCharge options gets the device’s battery life to 50% in about 45 minutes – a full charge will still take about three hours. Novatel says that fully charged, you can go up to 24 hours before needing to recharge, but this depends on how much you’re using the device.

The device also has a universal charging function – let’s say you’re not using the Jetpack for a bunch of Internet access – you can use the extra battery life to provide a charge for smartphones or other devices (ones that support USB-C).

On the Wi-Fi side – the network provides access both via 2.4GHz and 5GHz, which is better than older hot spots that rely strictly on the 2.4GHz band – you can also broadcast a primary and guest Wi-Fi network if you want. Other features include a real-time data usage and billing cycle on the display (so you know when to stop streaming Netflix in order to not go over your data allotment) and advanced security features (including IPv4 NAT, IPv6 Firewall, WPA/WPA2 support, MAC address filtering).

The 4G network access was LTE via Verizon Wireless. Since I live and work in Massachusetts, it’s generally thought of as a very strong area for Verizon (our offices in Framingham have a cell tower on the roof of the building).

I tested the device in two locations – first at my home in central Massachusetts, as well as the Framingham offices (both near a window and inside the building).

At my home, I could get very good download speeds – about 45 Mbps on average. Upload speeds were a bit limited – only between 6 and 7 Mbps here. This compares with the 50 to 60 Mbps upload speeds I get through my Wi-Fi and FiOS connection.

In the Framingham office, speeds were a bit better, but only if I was in an office close to a window. From my cubicle (in the middle of the office about two floors below the roof), I had similar slow download and upload rates. Once I moved to the office with the window, I averaged between 19 and 21 Mbps of download speed and about 12 Mbps upload speed.

Of course, judging the device and network based on these Internet speed tests aren’t very fair. Wireless is extremely dependent on distance from the cell tower, weather conditions and how far indoors you are, and can change on a regular basis. As they say, your mileage will vary. I was impressed with the network’s download speeds overall, less so with the upload speeds. The best speeds will occur when you’re out in the open and not obstructed by building walls, in a well populated area like a city that likely has more capacity – just like when you’re making a cell phone call.

In the end, you’ll need or want this device if you’re a frequent traveler who needs any type of Internet access, and can’t (or won’t) pay for high Wi-Fi access charges (if Wi-Fi even exists when you need it). In that case, any type of network access, even if it’s slower than you’d like, is appreciated.

One other quick downside on this device in my tests – the touch-screen is not as responsive as I expected, based on experiences with other touch-enabled devices. Accessing menus and going “back” and “home” resulted in several finger-pushes onto the screen, enough to get you frustrated and thinking that something is wrong.

Grade: 3.5 stars (out of five)

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