If you are in the market for the Cheapest Phone With Hotspot models, then this post is for you. Using your phone as a hotspot gives you an internet connection anywhere, and one that’s far more secure than using free public Wi-Fi. But if you have an Android phone, you might not be getting the fastest speeds you can, which means that websites on your laptop or tablet, for example, load much slower than they could.
Testing out Sprint and Verizon’s 5G networks in Chicago, I was curious to see what would happen when sharing the speedy connections with a 4G-limited iPhone ($425 at Back Market) over Wi-Fi. While the S10 5G on Sprint pulled in fairly consistent speeds between 100 and 200Mbps throughout the day (and an S10 5G on Verizon getting between 400Mbps and 800Mbps) the iPhone was having a hard time getting past 30Mbps. A similar problem occurred when testing T-Mobile’s millimeter wave 5G network in New York last month.
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So what gives? After confirming with Samsung and the carriers that nobody was capping speeds, and checking out other devices including the OnePlus 7 Pro ($690 at Amazon) and LG V50 ThinQ ($420 at Amazon) 5G, it appears that the issue lies in an Android setting that has WiFi hotspots broadcast Wi-Fi over a slower 2.4Ghz frequency, instead of the much faster 5Ghz.
Switching to 5Ghz on the mobile hotspot, I saw speeds jump. After struggling earlier to break the 30Mbps barrier over WiFi, switching both Sprint and Verizon’s S10 5G hotspot setting allowed the iPhone XS Max ($1,100 at Boost Mobile) to get speeds above 300Mbps on each carrier’s respective 5G network.
Running a similar test with the OnePlus 7 Pro while connected to Verizon’s 4G LTE network in New York City, I saw download speeds improve from 33.1Mbps on 2.4Ghz to 86.1Mbps over 5Ghz. Interestingly, upload speeds seemed to be fine on both bands.
Why is there a difference?
As with cellular 5G, there are many different flavors of Wi-Fi and a few frequencies that can be used. The 2.4Ghz band is great for pushing the Wi-Fi signal to distances far from the router, though it does so at slower speeds and is more susceptible to interference from other devices like cordless phones, baby monitors and even microwaves.
The 5Ghz band (also known as 5G) is much faster and operates with less interference, though it’s range is far shorter.
Because nothing is ever simple, this is why your router at home may show 2G and 5G versions of your network, though these Wi-Fi networks are different than the 5G being deployed by wireless carriers. In short, when at home use your router’s 5Ghz connection when available for the fastest speeds, particularly on devices like 4K TVs or game consoles.
Given that, in many cases, your phone will be fairly close to the device your connecting to, the range limitations of 5Ghz shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Most modern devices are capable of connecting to WiFi on either band, though some older devices only recognize 2.4Ghz which is why it would make sense for it to be the default option.
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Here’s how you can make sure your phone’s hotspot broadcasts in 5Ghz. We give examples for three different manufacturers, but if you have a different Android phone that supports 5Ghz the steps should be pretty similar.
Step 1. Go to Settings
Step 2. Tap “Connections” and then “Mobile Hotspot and Tethering”
Step 3. Click on “Mobile Hotspot” and then tap on the three dots in the upper righthand corner.
Step 4. Tap on “Configure Mobile Hotspot.” This lets you change the network name and WiFi password for your hotspot, but scroll down and select “Show advanced options”
Step 5. Select “Use 5Ghz band when available.”
Step 1. Go to Settings
Step 2. Choose “Tethering”
Step 3. Tap “Wi-Fi hotspot” then click on by “Set up Wi-Fi hotspot”
Step 4. In the pop-up that appears, scroll down and click on “Show advanced options”
Step 5. Switch from the pre-selected “2.4Ghz Band” to “5Ghz Band”
Step 1. Go to Settings
Step 2. Choose “Wi-Fi & internet”
Step 3. Select “Hotspot & tethering” followed by “Wi-Fi hotspot”
Step 4. Under AP Band switch “2.4Ghz Band” to “5Ghz Band”
What about iOS? Apple doesn’t allow iPhone users to change which band WiFi is broadcast on through iOS‘ Personal Hotspot feature. For best speeds, you may want to plug your phone directly into a laptop, which regardless of Android or iPhone should not require tweaking any settings to get the full high-speed connection.