All the Apple iPhone models, including the iPhone 4S, are capable of accessing the Internet using 3G wireless data connectivity via a wireless data service provider, such as AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, or Sprint PCS. In addition, the iPad and iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G models are capable making this type of Internet connection.
However, all iPhone and iPad models are also capable of accessing the web via a much faster Wi-Fi Internet connection. In addition to their 3G wireless data networks, the majority of the wireless data service providers have launched or are currently rolling out 4G or 4G LTE wireless data networks across America.
4G, 4G LTE (which stands for long term evolution), and LTE-Advanced are the next generations of wireless data communication. While these terms are used somewhat interchangeably, a true 4G network (or 4G LTE-Advanced network) is technologically capable of offering faster Internet connection speeds than a 4G LTE network.
Currently, a 4G LTE network offers Internet speeds up to 10 times faster than wireless 3G networks. While the Apple iPad 3 will most likely be 4G LTEcompatible, all preexisting iPhone and iPad models are not. But if you want to access the web using any Wi-Fi compatible device at 4G LTE connection speeds, including any iPhone or iPad, you can utilize an optional 4G mobile hotspot.
A 4G mobile hotspot requires a battery-powered device that's about the same size as an average cell phone. It can connect to a wireless data service provider's 4G (or 4G LTE) wireless data network, and simultaneously create a Wi-Fi hotspot that multiple devices can connect to simultaneously in order to access the web at broadband-like speeds.
Because the 4G mobile hotspot devices are battery-powered and portable, anyone who utilizes one of them can connect any model Apple iPhone and/or iPad to a 4G Internet connection from almost anywhere, including a moving car.
In addition to acquiring a 4G mobile hotspot device from a wireless data service provider, a monthly service fee is required, as is a two-year service contract (in most cases). The cost of the monthly service plan will be anywhere from $30.00 to $80.00 per month, depending on the monthly wireless data allocation that's included with the plan.
The benefit of using a 4G mobile hotspot with an iPhone or iPad is that far greater connection speeds are possible than what can be achieved from a 3G network. Or if your iPad is Wi-Fionly, you can connect to a 4G mobile hotspot from anywhere by creating your own Wi-Fi hotspot when and where it's needed. Thus, the mobile hotspot can travel with you, so you never have to worry about leaving the hotspot's signal radius, which is a concern if you're connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot within a café, hotel, office, home, or airport, for example.
4G mobile hotspots are available from many of the major wireless data service providers in the United States. Most are offering the 4G mobile hotspot devices for free when a two-year service agreement is signed. However, some charge up to $150.00 for the device itself, plus the monthly service fee. To achieve the fastest Internet connection speeds possible, be sure you shop for a 4G mobile hotspot device and service plan, not a 3G mobile hotspot device and plan, which is less expensive and quickly becoming outdated.
Just as when choosing a wireless data service provider for your phone or tablet, you'll want to shop around for the best deal when selecting a 4G (or 4G LTE) mobile hotspot device and service plan. Also, because 4G and 4G LTE wireless data networks are relatively new, many wireless data service providers are still expanding their networks; so 4G (or 4G LTE) coverage might be available only in specific cities or regions. Before subscribing to a wireless data network, make sure that coverage is offered where you'll be using it.
Sprint PCS, for example, plans to launch 4G LTE service by mid-2012 in a handful of U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, and San Antonio.
T-Mobile was one of the first wireless data service providers in the United States to offer 4G LTE service in many major U.S. cities. The company offers the T-Mobile 4G mobile hotspot (which measures 3.93 inches by 2.11 inches by 0.54 inches and eights 2.64 ounces) for free, but requires a 2-year service commitment. The monthly data plan costs extra, and is priced starting at $39.99 per month (for a 2GB monthly data allotment). The unit's rechargeable battery lasts for up to 4 hours of continuous use.
T-Mobile's newer Sonic 4G mobile hotspot device sells for $99.99 (with a 2-year service agreement), but offers up to 150 hours of continuous use per charge. It measures 4.02 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.61 inches, and weighs 3.88 ounces.
Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless also offer 4G LTE mobile hotspot devices and service plans of their own, which will work with any Apple iPhone or iPad model. This includes being able to use Apple's FaceTime app or Skype, for example, for video conferencing. Skype can also be used for making and receiving voice-over-IP phone calls from an iPhone or even an iPad. The service works exceptionally with using a 4G Internet connection, but is compatible with a 3G connection as well.
If you purchase Verizon's Jetpack 4G LTE mobile hotspot device outright ($269.00), you can access the company's 4G LTE wireless data network for a monthly fee, but use the service on a month-to-month basis, with no 2-year commitment. With a 2-year service agreement, the device is free. This mobile hotspot device measures 3.74 inches by 2.36 inches by .53 inches, and it weighs 3 ounces. Its battery lasts for up to 5 hours of continuous use.
The monthly 4G LTE wireless data service plan from Verizon Wireless, for use with the Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE mobile hotspot, is priced at $50.00 for a 5GB monthly data allocation, or $80.00 for a 10GB monthly data allocation. Beyond the monthly data allocation, the fee is $10.00 per gigabyte of data usage.
From AT&T Wireless, the mobile hotspot Elevate 4G is available for $69.99 (with a 2-year service agreement). The company offers a wireless data service plan that's compatible with this device for $50.00 per month for up to 5GB of wireless data usage and $10.00 for each additional gigabyte used.
With any 4G mobile hotspot device, in areas where 4G LTE connectivity is not available, slower 3G connectivity is automatically offered, which does not benefit iPhone users or iPad 3G + Wi-Fi users who currently have a 3G wireless data plan. It does, however, benefit iPad and iPad 2 Wi-Fi Only model users who, using this technology, will be able to create a Wi-Fi hotspot anytime and anywhere one is needed to access the web.
If you find yourself in your car a lot, creating a Wi-Fi hotspot within your vehicle will allow for four or five Wi-Fienabled devices to connect to the Internet simultaneously at 4G LTE speeds. Besides using a stand-alone mobile hotspot device, some 4G-compatible smartphones offer a tethering feature, so the phone itself can create a Wi-Fi hotspot within its immediate area that other devices, such as an iPad, can connect to.
Although the iPhone 4 and 4S have tethering capabilities for 3G wireless data connectivity, this feature is not available within the United States because it is not supported by the iPhone's wireless data service providers. However, if you have a 4G smartphone with tethering functionality, your iPhone or iPad could access the Wi-Fi hotspot created by the 4G smartphone to connect to the web at 4G LTE speeds for no additional costs.
As more of the wireless data service providers in the United States roll out their 4G wireless networks, the monthly price to create a mobile hotspot will no doubt decrease, while 4G coverage areas will expand dramatically. However, if you're willing to pay the price, a 4G mobile hotspot that is compatible with the iPhone and/or iPad can be created and used in most major U.S. cities.