The Difference Between a Hotspot and a Cellular Router

Comparison of Pepwave router and a mobile hotspot

Not every Wi-Fi capable device is created equal. There are quite a few differences between a good quality mobile router and a mobile hotspot. This gap is widened when you consider an enterprise-grade cellular router compared to a common hotspot device. Depending on your usage habits, understanding the difference can greatly impact your data speeds, especially if you are a frequent traveler.

What is a mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is any device that can convert mobile broadband signals into a Wi-Fi connection for other nearby devices. The most common usage of this is with a smartphone or tablet, usually through an add-on plan with someone’s existing cell phone plan. These plans are very useful for people that need a small amount of data and don’t particularly require the best data speeds. Portable and usually lightweight, mobile hotspots can be carried practically anywhere and deployed in a few clicks to provide Wi-Fi for any nearby devices.

The Verizon Jetpack MiFi, one of the most popular hotspot devices.

What is a Peplink cellular router?

Peplink is one of the most trusted enterprise-grade cellular communications manufacturers in the world. They provide equipment for large corporations, first response teams, remote businesses, and everyone in between. They offer specialized equipment for many different niches- including some cellular routers that are perfect for mobile connectivity. Like mobile hotspots, Peplink routers convert cellular signals to a Wi-Fi signal. Unlike mobile hotspots which operate on battery power, Peplink routers must be plugged into a power source, making them less portable to remote locations away from a home or vehicle.

The Peplink Transit Mini, our best seller for mobile consumer cellular internet.

Which provides faster Wi-Fi?

The Peplink cellular router provides significantly higher signal quality than any mobile hotspot. This comes down to the power of each device. The much more heavy-duty Peplink router is able to provide a further Wi-Fi range with a stronger signal, at the cost of having to be connected to an outlet.

A Peplink router can also be coupled with an external antenna to maximize signal strength. While a mobile hotspot is perfect for low data usage close to the cellular network, a Peplink router with an external antenna is the best option for someone looking to maximize the distance they can travel from a cell tower while maintaining the best possible data speeds. We have previously written about some other ways to maximize cellular signal while traveling that you may also find helpful.

Pepwave cellular router bundle with external antenna
The Peplink Transit Mini and Mobile Mark external antenna bundle, our recommended option for RVers

Which carriers can be used for each device?

Mobile hotspots are usually purchased through a cellular provider such as Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T. While some allow for multiple SIMs or swapping carriers, very few do. Usually, the provider you received the hotspot from will be the only one that will work with the device.

Peplink routers, on the other hand, can be paired with any provider. Just get a SIM card from the provider of your choice, slip it in, and you will be good to go. This includes international providers for those that travel around the world. The only restrictions are southeast Asia and Australia- besides that, get a SIM and get connected.

Peplink routers also offer multiple SIM slots. This can be a great benefit for travelers that venture towards the edge of the cellular network. Just get two SIM cards from two providers and switch them out depending on which signal is stronger! Of course, this requires two separate data plans, but for remote or mobile businesses that must stay connected, this is a tremendous value. We recommend a designated high gigabyte primary data plan such as what Expedition Communications Cellular offers, and a fallback low gigabyte data plan from a different carrier. This way you get the best of both networks while avoiding a large monthly bill.

Some routers, like the Peplink Transit Duo, have multiple cellular modems and offer simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi.

Can the Peplink router access Band 71?

The main Peplink router we provide to our traveling customers has the unique ability to access the new Band 71. Band 71, or the 600MHz frequency, is the lowest cellular frequency and can thus travel the furthest from cell towers. This has greatly increased coverage across many remote areas and has been a godsend to travelers looking for reliable speeds from isolated locations. Most hotspots do not have access to Band 71, as well as most other cellular routers.

A new development in the cellular landscape, there is a lot of information available on Band 71. Unfortunately, a lot of it is a bit misleading and some of it is completely false. We previously covered common questions about Band 71, how to access it, and the difference between the Extended 4G LTE and 5G connections to help our readers make more informed decisions.

How do hotspots and Peplink routers compare on price?

Simply put, they don’t. Hotspots are significantly cheaper and can even be free if you are using a device you already own as the hotspot. Some plans only rent the hotspot and have the cost of it built into the monthly fee for cellular data. Overall, you shouldn’t be paying more than $300 for any mobile hotspot.

Peplink routers, on the other hand, can be thousands of dollars. The main one that we provide for our residential customers costs $419 and features access to Band 71, multiple SIM slots, and the ability to pair with any carrier. Because it can be paired with any carrier, the shelf life of our Peplink devices is often far longer than any hotspot. This helps to reduce the value gap a bit, but the Peplink device is still more expensive.

Pepwave Max HD4 side view
The Peplink MAX HD4 MBX, one of the most robust routers offered by Peplink. Peplink devices go from the low $400s to over $10,000.

Should I get a mobile hotspot or a Peplink router?

Both options are perfect for different groups of people. If you don’t travel much and have a strong cellular connection where you are, then a mobile hotspot will be perfect for you. Depending on your plan you likely won’t have a terribly high amount of data, but you should be able to find plenty of plans for occasional use. With a mobile hotspot you’ll save money while being able to do everything you need to!

On the other hand, a Peplink cellular router will be the right choice if you are trying to recreate a home-based internet system. As we mentioned in this article about maximizing cellular data connection while traveling, cellular internet is simply not as fast nor as reliable as any home fiber connection. When traveling around the nation or at a home without a fiber connection, you will want to squeeze the most use out of the cellular network. This can be accomplished with a high gigabyte data plan coupled with equipment that allows for the strongest possible signal. Of course, this comes at a higher equipment cost and a higher per-month cost, but if you are trying to recreate a fiber connection it is the closest possible option.

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