Hotspot vs. Modem: A Detailed Comparison

About Hotspot vs. Modem, Terms like hotspots, modems, and routers often get thrown around today due to the abundance of portable internet-connected devices.

 These mobile internet devices have raised the hotspot vs. modem debate as people look for high download speeds on the go. 

But while most people are aware that hotspots and modems are broadband internet access options, they might not know the differences and functions of each device.

 We will compare the two to see the roles of each one and the types under each category. Take a look!

Table of Contents

What Is a Hotspot?

A hotspot is any wireless network source that provides Wi-Fi internet signals for multiple devices to connect.

So these hotspot devices function as internet service providers for desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and any other smart device with a wireless internet connection.

A phone connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot

A phone connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot

Hotspot Types

Wi-Fi Router

The most typical wireless hotspot is the Wi-Fi router. This device can handle multiple devices, and you can find it in public places and homes to provide full wireless coverage to large areas.

A Wi-Fi router

A Wi-Fi router

Mobile Hotspot

A mobile hotspot is a wireless network you can create using your phone to connect your laptop or any other smart device when the wireless router is off or away from home. The setup extends your phone carrier’s data plan to the connected devices.

Two people sharing an internet connection using a mobile hotspot

Two people sharing an internet connection using a mobile hotspot

Wi-Fi Hotspot

This type operates like the personal hotspot created by your mobile phone because it runs on a cellular network. But instead of using your phone, it comes as a separate device with a longer battery life.

A Wi-Fi hotspot (pocket Wi-Fi)

A Wi-Fi hotspot (pocket Wi-Fi)

What Is a Modem?

A modem (modulator-demodulator) is a portable internet device that converts data signals from one format to another to enable transmission over phone lines, wireless networks, fiber optic cables, etc., and vice versa. Usually, it connects your device or router to the ISP’s public network.

Modem Types

Cable Modem

Cable modems feature ethernet ports to connect computers, smart TVs, and other devices via a wired connection. They deliver super-fast internet via cable connections to your ISP, making them ideal for streaming and heavy downloads.

A cable modem

A cable modem

Wireless Modem-Router

Also known as a modem-router combo, these devices combine the functions of the two devices, connecting to your ISP via cable and delivering fast speeds via Wi-Fi signals to your home. Most also have ethernet ports, making them better than cable modems.

A wireless modem router

A wireless modem router

USB Modem

USB modems are tiny, portable devices that can connect your laptop to the internet from anywhere, provided a strong carrier signal is available in the area.

Some function like Wi-Fi hotspots because they can share a wireless connection to other devices. However, you must plug the device into your laptop to work.

A 3G USB modem

A 3G USB modem

Hotspot vs. Modem: Connectivity

Let’s begin with hotspots. Wi-Fi routers can handle multiple devices, but Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots have limited connectivity.

So the last two are not ideal for wireless home internet because you might have multiple devices requiring internet access, including IoT appliances.

A modern Wi-Fi router

A modern Wi-Fi router

The number of devices each hotspot can handle usually varies depending on the firmware and manufacturer.

But a modem, especially the modem-router combo, can handle multiple devices, including another router (via ethernet cable). So it can extend wireless network connections to other rooms.

Hotspot vs. Modem: Bandwidth

Since cable and wireless modem routers connect to the ISP via wired connections, they deliver the fastest speeds, with some even hitting gigabit speeds.

However, such devices are not portable. So the next best alternative is the USB modem. It delivers fast speeds of up to 100Mbps for the 4G type. But the device requires plugging into a laptop.

A USB 3G modem plugged into a computer

A USB 3G modem was plugged into a computer.

So you’ll be better off using a Wi-Fi hotspot if you travel a lot and need to connect multiple devices wirelessly on the go.

These devices can hit speeds of 20-30Mbps, giving you decent streaming performance.

Hotspot vs. Modem: Power

Let’s eliminate the Wi-Fi router, cable modem, and wireless modem router in this comparison because these get their power from wall outlets.

With the USB modem, you must plug the device into a computer’s USB port to draw power.

So you’ll always have to keep your laptop on if on the road, which is inconvenient. This option might work if you occasionally connect to the internet to send emails or video call friends/colleagues.

But if traveling as a group, you need a wireless hotspot to keep everyone online. Mobile hotspots can work but will drain your device’s battery. You can recharge the phone, but doing so regularly will reduce its battery life.

So the best option for such a scenario is to use a separate mobile hotspot device. These units usually have a long battery life and can handle multiple devices.

A Wi-Fi hotspot device

A Wi-Fi hotspot device

Hotspot vs. Modem: Price

Another critical factor to consider is the cost of the internet plan provided by each device.

Ultimately, fixed internet is the cheapest option. So cable and wireless modem router combos have the best internet access pricing deals.

Plus, they deliver the fastest network speeds. But you can only use these options for fixed home internet.

A cable modem

A cable modem

Only USB modems, mobile hotspots, and Wi-Fi hotspots can keep you connected on the go. And unless you have an unlimited 4G data plan, you need to keep your internet usage in check to avoid overage fees.

Mobile hotspots will be the most expensive because cellular phone plans are costlier than USB modem and Wi-Fi hotspot (Mi-Fi) data plans.

And Wi-Fi hotspots usually don’t have removable SIM cards, meaning you might not be able to switch networks to avoid expensive roaming charges.

So USB modems with removable SIM cards might be the best option if you travel across borders.

Additionally, they enable network switching if you find a cheaper mobile network carrier.

Hotspot vs. Modem: Setup

USB modems are probably the easiest to set up because they are plug-and-play devices.

Plus, most are compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs. Wireless USB modems might require some setting up of the wireless network when new, but that’s it.

You’ll only have to plug the device into your computer’s USB port afterward.

A USB modem with an antenna plugged into a laptop

A USB modem with an antenna plugged into a laptop

Phone and separate mobile hotspot devices require some initial configuration, as well. But they’ll be easy to use afterward.

However, routers, wireless modem routers, and cable modems usually require more configuration to connect to your ISP.

Hotspot vs. Modem: Portability

We will consider the USB modem, mobile hotspot, and Wi-Fi hotspot for portable use.

Mobile hotspots are the most portable because we carry our smartphones everywhere. So there’ll be no addition to your hardware package when you travel.

However, mobile hotspots gobble up expensive phone data plans and drain the battery quickly.

So the USB modem and Wi-Fi hotspot are the two contenders left in this category. The former is more portable because it is tinier and lighter.

Hotspots are slightly larger and heavier, primarily due to their internal batteries.

A 4G Wi-Fi hotspot device

A 4G Wi-Fi hotspot device

Wrap Up

As you can see, hotspots and modems compete on multiple levels, making it tough to choose the best one overall.

You have to consider your unique requirements to pick the best device.

For instance, Wi-Fi hotspots are better for people traveling in groups, but a USB modem might work if you travel alone and work remotely.

That’s all for this article. Thanks for your time.

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