If your school’s wireless network isn’t reaching as far as it should, there’s an easy solution: get a hot spot to fill in the gap. Rather than funneling a wired Internet connection through the school’s WiFi network, a hot spot takes in a mobile wireless data signal and retransmits it, creating its own WiFi mini-network.
The current generation of mobile hot spots offereed by the data networks are small, light and can fill a classroom with online action. In a real sense, they create a small group 4G connection that in many cases will be as fast or faster than the school’s network.
How fast? It all depends on the mobile data network you choose and how close you are to a transmission tower, but many 4G LTE networks deliver consistent 15- to 30Mbps Web connections. That puts most school WiFi networks to shame.
Because they are pocketable, these devices can connect a small group of users at school, on a bus or even a field trip. The typical hot spot can run on its internal battery for several hours and support between 5 and 15 users at once.
The good news is that many of these hot spots are available for free or at a low cost. The bad news is that you’ll have to make a two year commitment for its data charges, which can range from $10 to $50 per month. Either way, hot spots are becoming must-haves for schools in need of reliable connections.
At less than 6-ounces, the black Unite hot spot can grab an AT&T 4G LTE mobile data signal and retransmit it as a dual-band 802.11a, b, g, n signal. But, rather than limiting connections to a maximum of five clients – as is the case with many of its competitors – the Unite device can work with up to 15 users at once, making it perfect for small to mid-size group work.
Its 4,000 milli-amp hour battery can run for a full school day, if needed, and the hot spot’s 2.4-inch touch-display shows how much battery life remains as well as the amount of data used. The hot spot costs 99 cents with a two-year contract or $150 on its own.
Made by Netgear, Sprint’s Zing Hot Spot can connect to up to 10 users at once and dole out 4G data via WiFi, creating an instant collaborative environment. While Sprint’s 4G LTE network is a work in progress, the system has back-up connections with 3G networks.
It weighs less than 4-ounces and Zing’s 2.4-inch touch-screen shows how much battery life remains as well as signal strength and which network you’re connected to. The 2,500 milli-amp hour battery pack can keep a group online for nearly the full school day.
It costs $50 with a two-year contract or $250 without one.
Made by Samsung, the TMobile Hot Spot Pro easily fits into a pocket and weighs 5.2-ounces, yet can deliver the Web and hold up to 1GB of files. It can use TMobile’s emerging 4G LTE network but can fall back on the network’s 3G connection.
Its 3,100 milli-amp hour battery can power the device for a school day of data moving in and out. A big bonus is that it cannot only be charged from a notebook via its USB port, but it can power the notebook, in an energy emergency.
The Hot Spot Pro can support up to 10 users at a time and shows how many clients are connected on the hot spot’s screen. It’s a freebee if you agree to a two-year commitment or can be had for between $7 and $37 a month, depending on the data plan.
At under 3-ounces and about the size of a stack of credit cards, the Verizon JetPack squeezes in a lot of data punch for its size and weight. It can grab Verizon’s 4G LTE signal and retransmit it over a 802.11n WiFi signal. Up to eight users can use its data stream at a time.
The system’s 2,100 milli-amp hour battery can power the JetPack for nearly a full school day. Its 0.9-inch screen is smaller than the others and isn’t touch-sensitive but shows the basics, including network activity, battery level and signal strength. It is free or $150 without a two-year contract.