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Now more than ever, being online has become an essential part of being alive. And when you are out and about and don’t have access to secure public Wi-Fi connections, it is time to create your personal online world.  This can be done using mobile hotspots. A mobile hotspot provides mobile internet by converting an LTE or 5G signal into a Wi-Fi signal that can be used by other devices, such as laptops and tablets.

In other words, a mobile hotspot is a technology that acts as a localized Wi-Fi network. You can use a hotspot connection to surf the web, stream TV shows, and listen to music online.

A portable hotspot can be purchased separately, but today, many smartphones come with mobile hotspots built-in. However, regardless of what type of mobile hotspot you are using, it is important to know the coverage reach of these mediums. Can you still access the hotspot from the kitchen if the device you are using as a Wi-Fi hotspot is in the bedroom? Does it reach upstairs if you are downstairs? How about outside?

In this article, we’ll shed some light on the coverage reach of Wi-Fi hotspots and the factors that affect that reach. 

How Does Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Work?

In order to determine the reach of a mobile hotspot, you need to first understand what it is and how it works. 

A mobile hotspot is a device that provides a wireless connection to other devices while on the go. The connection is not the same as a hotspot, which is a free wireless network that can be accessed in public areas like hotels, malls, and coffee shops. 

Most mobile hotspots function by taking an LTE or 5G signal, sometimes from your phone, and converting it to a Wi-Fi connection. It can then be “connected” to a computer or other device, much like it would if it were connected to a home or public Wi-Fi network. 

Physical mobile hotspots fit in your pocket and typically have one-day battery life. The devices can be used in public, such as at the beach or in parks, while traveling abroad, or anywhere 5G/LTE is available. Any Wi-Fi-enabled device can be connected to them, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and game consoles. 

Even though hotspots are pretty standard on smartphones, accessing them might be more expensive based on your carrier and device. Your mobile hotspot's speed and longevity will also be affected by your data plan and the amount of data you have. 

During our discussion about getting an internet connection no matter where you are, you probably thought of how your smartphone can accomplish the same thing. You'll be happy to learn that modern smartphones typically have a built-in hotspot! The hotspot on your smartphone works by hijacking its Wi-Fi adapter. Rather than using it to send data, it sets it up to receive data. This way, you can connect to it just like a router with another Wi-Fi device. 

The convenience of smartphone hotspots is unmatched. Owning a smartphone with Wi-Fi hotspot functionality requires no additional hardware or software. With your cellphone, you can connect your Wi-Fi-hungry devices to the web while on the move.

To connect to a Wi-Fi network, a smartphone must have a Wi-Fi transmitter and receiver that communicates with a Wi-Fi access point (AP). AP’s can range from smartphones to modems/routers or other devices that broadcast a Wi-Fi signal.

AP’s broadcast the signal to create Wi-Fi hotspots, which are areas where the signal can reach.

Wi-Fi (or WLAN) devices communicate with each other through the IEEE 802.11 protocol, which is available in a variety of versions. The range of the Wi-Fi signal is affected by the version of the device that the device supports.

How Far Does a Mobile Phone Wi-Fi Hotspot Reach?

Essentially, in ideal conditions, a mobile phone Wi-Fi hotspot has an effective range between 65 feet to over 300 feet. In practice, however, this is not the case. Multiple factors influence a smartphone's hotspot coverage range, such as the Wi-Fi protocol used, the environment you're in, and the signal strength. The coverage of a smartphone Wi-Fi hotspot is therefore often much lower than its theoretical range.

Smartphone Wi-Fi Range by Protocol

Devices on wireless local area networks are governed by the rules and standards of the Wi-Fi protocol. Wi-Fi uses the IEEE 802.11 protocol, but there are many versions. Each version has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of signal interference and data speed.

Protocol

Frequency

Max Link Speed

Indoor Range

Outdoor Range

802.11

2.4

1Mbps – 2Mbps

60 ft / 20 m

330 ft / 100 m

802.11a

3.7/5

6Mbps -54Mbps

115 ft / 35 m

390 ft / 120 m

802.11b

2.4

1Mbps – 11Mbps

115 ft / 35 m

460 ft / 140 m

802.11b

2.4

6Mbps – 54 Mbps

125 ft / 38 m

460 ft / 140 m

802.11n

2.4/5

72Mbps – 600Mbps

230 ft / 70 m

820 ft / 250 m

 

Please note that these are theoretical numbers. Due to factors like the environment and the connected device, it is impossible to ensure that a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot will reach the ranges above. However, the strength and reach of a smartphone's signal are heavily dependent on the strength and power of the phone's wireless antenna.

Based on the table above, the distances of reach between the different wireless protocols vary. It is important to remember that the range of a smartphone's mobile Wi-Fi hotspot varies depending on the wireless protocol version it uses.

Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Range Indoors

When inside, a smartphone's Wi-Fi hotspot's range is greatly reduced. Below are the factors that impede the signal transmission:

Refraction

Refraction occurs when light or radio waves bend as they pass through a medium of a different density. A perfect example of this would be water or glass. 

For instance, if there is a massive fish tank between a Wi-Fi access point and the device to be connected, the signal's reach will be affected by how it is refracted by its water and glass.

Reflection

Wireless signals are electromagnetic waves, just like light. As light waves bounce off smooth and shiny materials like glass and metal, so do radio waves of wireless signals. The Wi-Fi signal can be weakened if there are a lot of reflective surfaces nearby that reflect it.

Absorption

If a dense object such as a wall stands between your smartphone and the device connecting to its Wi-Fi signal, and the density of the molecules is too high to allow space for RF waves passing through it, signal absorption occurs.

Thus, the material in the signal path absorbs some of it, while letting some of it pass through. Furthermore, different materials attenuate or decrease signals differently.

Frequency Interference

Wi-Fi hotspots aren't the only devices operating at the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency ranges. Other devices that transmit or receive a wireless signal, such as microwave ovens, baby monitors, and poorly-wired satellite dishes, can cause frequency interference as well.

Interference is the result of two wireless signals crossing paths on a similar frequency and overpowering one another. This can reduce the range of mobile hotspots. A mobile phone Wi-Fi hotspot's range can be affected by many factors indoors. Furthermore, some materials can negatively impact the signal in more than one way. A Wi-Fi signal, for instance, can be absorbed and refracted by glass.

Since the spatial and material characteristics of indoor environments affect hotspot distance, it is difficult to determine exactly how far a smartphone hotspot can reach. To make the most out of your smartphone's Wi-Fi AP (access point), you should position yourself as close as possible to it.

Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Reach Outdoors

Looking at the table above of different wireless protocols and their ranges, we can see the outdoor range is far superior to the indoor range. Despite being theoretical, these figures highlight a significant difference between the two. 

You will typically find fewer walls and concrete barriers outside, depending on where you are. Except when you're in the middle of the city. The signal there is also subject to obstructions from human bodies.

However, if you're outside in more open terrain, such as a field or a large backyard, a smartphone's Wi-Fi hotspot signal can travel farther.

Final Word

The use of mobile data has grown exponentially in recent years. More than 80 percent of the world's population now has a mobile device, with smartphones being the most popular option. 

Most modern smartphones come with a built-in hotspot feature, which you can likely set up and enable in your device's settings. Generally, many carriers and devices will offer the service as long as you have access to a minimum of 4G LTE, though 5G networks should result in better performance.

However, the presence of a 4G or 5G connection does not guarantee the use of a mobile hotspot. To ensure you have one, contact your carrier or check your device's settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to create a hotspot on an Apple device?

An iPhone or iPad can be turned into a mobile hotspot by following these steps:

You can also swipe down from the top right and activate the hotspot from the control center icon for hotspot.

How to create a hotspot on an Android device?

Many Android phones allow you to activate Wi-Fi by swiping down on the home screen and tapping the hotspot symbol. 

For some, you will need to first enter the hotspot settings on your phone. Your steps will vary depending on what model of phone you have, but will be similar to this: