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IT Insider Online

Mobile hot spot: How to choose the right one

© Hemera / Thinkstock © Hemera / Thinkstock
By Bruce Miller 
From IT Insider Online 

Having to buy wireless coverage for each device you own can be a hassle. What's smarter and more efficient is to get one connection to the wireless carrier's network that can work for all devices (employees' too) and be at the ready when you're away from the office.

What's the best way to do this? Let's review your options.

Option No. 1: Get a Palm-sized Mobile Hot Spot Device

Before you select a mobile hot spot, consider the following: How many devices need to connect? Is there a need for speed? What's the potential interference? What about hardware flexibility, quick setup, usage limits, length of use, coverage, and cell-site handoff ability (to move between cell towers, without losing a signal)?

Many of the palm-sized mobile hot spots only allow a few Wi-Fi connections at a time. The MiFi, for example, only allows five connections, while the CLEAR Spot handles eight connections. Some devices roam, and some don't. Some devices are capable of two speeds. Other devices are capable of only one speed. A single-speed device will use only what the device supports, while the dual-speed ones will use the fastest speed available from the cell site. But if the device supports only high speed (what some carriers frequently call "4G") and there are no high-speed cell sites available, then there is no connection.

One limitation of the palm-sized hot spot devices is the lack of an Ethernet port. Sometimes an Ethernet port for a wired connection is a lifesaver because of interference to the Wi-Fi and because of the occasional hardware incompatibility between Wi-Fi devices.

Option No. 2: Go DIY With Your Mobile Hot Spot

If you want a mobile hot spot that is more robust for longer-term mobile use, then creating your own hot spot device is often the way to go. Wireless data devices come in various shapes, such as USB sticks, ExpressCards and PCMCIA cards (rare these days). These devices plug into an EV-DO 3G or 4G router. The routers usually don't have internal batteries, so they need external power sources -- either 120 VAC or 12 VDC.

A data device with a specialized router with Ethernet ports handles long-term use much better. The CradlePoint MBR1200 is my choice for a specialized router because of the large number of devices it can support. Before buying a router for a mobile data device, double-check that the device will work with, and fit into, the router.

Another interesting option for creating a mobile hot spot with a standalone data device (without a specialized router) is the WiFiAn ( ). This small device plugs into a laptop's USB port and shares its Internet connection through a built-in router and access point. The little device works well, even with a VPN into a foreign country, which can in turn provide a hot spot with a foreign IP number.

Smart Use of Mobile Hot Spots Matters

It's important that employees use bandwidth wisely when accessing the Internet through mobile hot spots. Make sure they avoid video whenever possible. Video requires so much bandwidth that it would be easy to reach a monthly cap, resulting in either throttled service, no service, or added expense. Use compression software with a browser if your speed is slow. (The Opera browser has a turbo option for slow connections.) Turn off graphics in a browser (if you don't need them) to increase delivery speed of content and preserve bandwidth usage.

Mobile Hot Spot Security

From a security viewpoint, mobile hot spots are a good choice. In general, they provide more security than a public Wi-Fi option. More and more, for my personal use, I prefer my own devices, sometimes at a slower speed, for just this reason. Turning encryption on prevents leaching that can drain a monthly bandwidth allocation.

When handing out the devices, solid guidelines and policies that explain the consequences of misuse should be provided to employees. Also, if a device goes missing, have your carrier shut it down immediately. This will preserve your bandwidth for your company's use and, more important, it will ensure that your device isn't used for illegal activity. 

Bruce Miller
is an IT manager for the American Society of Journalists and Authors, an association of more than 1,400 professional independent nonfiction writers.

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