4G Mobile Hotspot Face-Off: AT&T, Verizon LTE Hotspots Fight to a Draw

Web Administration Interface

Winner: Elevate 4G

AT&T Elevate 4G (by Sierra Wireless) mobile hotspot
If you want to make things more complicated, you can delve into the devices’ Web-based admin settings, which you can reach by typing a short carrier-provided URL into your browser.

The Elevate 4G’s admin page includes literally dozens of settings you can tweak. Some are highly useful, such as the ability to change the SSID or password. You can also monitor your monthly data usage at the admin page, a handy feature. Other settings, including port forwarding and MAC filtering, we can't imagine ourselves using on a hotspot; if you can, however, you'll find that they're easy to tweak.

The MiFi 4620L Jetpack’s admin-settings portal is a little less feature-rich, but easy to use. You can change your password, set security and privacy levels, and find all of the same information you see on the display of the device. You can also adjust the device to shut down automatically after anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour of inactivity, or tell it never to auto-disconnect. You can set the display to shut down after a period of 5 seconds to 2 minutes--instructing it never to shut down isn’t an option.

International Roaming

Winner: Draw

The dominant wireless technology combination in Europe and Asia is HSPA+ for 3G and LTE for 4G service. Both the Elevate 4G and the MiFi 4620L Jetpack contain the radios to connect with these networks, making both of them “world” devices.

The Jetpack contains not only the LTE and CDMA 1xEvDO radios needed to connect in the United States, but also the HSPA+ and EDGE radios necessary to connect in other countries.

Data roaming on these mobile hotspots works just like an international calling plan for smartphones, and it’s not cheap, so make sure to check the carrier's roaming rates before you start streaming movies in Switzerland.

Data Speed

Winner: MiFi 4620L Jetpack

Both hotspots regularly connect at speeds of greater than 5 megabits per second, and that’s enough speed for 99.9 percent of the people who will use them. In our tests the AT&T hotspot pumped out higher speeds than Verizon’s MiFi 4620L Jetpack did, but Verizon’s service was always over the 5-mbps line, and it’s available to far more people than AT&T’s young LTE service is right now.

The data speeds we measured on the Jetpack here in San Francisco (using Speedtest.net) were in line with the speeds that Verizon tells users to expect from its 4G LTE network (5 to 12 mbps for downloads and 2 to 5 mbps for uploads). Our speeds over a week of usage hovered around 6 to 7 mbps for downloads and 3 mbps for uploads.

Testing the Elevate 4G in the heart of San Francisco on a laptop, our download speeds averaged about 21 mbps while upload speeds were about 14 mbps. The AT&T LTE network here is brand-new, though, and the speeds may decrease as more AT&T customers begin using it for data.

Price, Value, Options

Winner: MiFi 4620L Jetpack

We give the nod to Verizon here because it sells its hotspot for a little less money (after rebate) and offers a little more choice in the way of data plans.

For the Elevate 4G, you'll pay $70 with a two-year contract for the hotspot itself. Data costs $50 per month for 5GB. AT&T won't soak you if you exceed your cap--you'll pay $10 per gigabyte.

Verizon is selling the MiFi 4620L Jetpack for $50 after a $50 mail-in rebate, with a new two-year customer agreement. (Can we stop with the mail-in rebate thing? If you want to charge $50, do it. If you want to charge $100, fine, just don’t make us mail in the stupid piece of paper and then wait a year to be paid for it. What’s the point? Gah.)

In data plans, Verizon offers a little more choice than AT&T does. You can pay $50 a month for 5GB of data, but if you need more you can pay $80 for 10GB. Verizon’s overage rate is the same as AT&T’s: $10 for every additional gigabyte.

Verizon also offers prepaid plans for mobile hotspots, but in that arrangement you pay more money for less data, and you have to pay the full price of the device with no subsidy. For more, see the carrier's full plan details.

Conclusions

If the MiFi 4620L Jetpack shipped with the larger battery that Verizon plans to sell as an accessory, naming a winner here would be a snap. To gain mainstream acceptance, mobile hotspots need to be able to last for a full workday away from the charger. Out of the box, however, neither the Elevate 4G nor the MiFi 4620L Jetpack comes close to achieving this goal.

We found both hotspots to be easy to set up and use, and we appreciated the fast speeds that come with the LTE service. But neither product could throw a knockout punch, nor did one win over the other on points. The Elevate 4G and the MiFi 4620L Jetpack fought to a draw in size and design, battery life, ease of use, and international roaming.

We thought the Elevate 4G had a marginally more useful display and Web administration interface, while the MiFi had slightly better pricing and options, as well as the ability to connect at high speeds in more places.

Split decision.

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