Cable Cutters: Can 4G Hotspots Replace Cable Broadband?

I spent a couple of weeks connecting my home network with various 3G and 4G hotspots to find out whether they're up to the task.

I used to pay $60 per month for a bundle of TV service and broadband service from Comcast. I decided I didn’t want the TV part anymore, so I canceled it, leaving just the broadband. My new monthly bill: $60 per month.

Ever since then, I've yearned to cut that broadband cable, severing my association with Comcast altogether. I’ll admit that my cable broadband is fast and reliable, but it’s not a moveable feast--I get to enjoy those virtues only at home. Meanwhile I’m under contract with Sprint for another data plan, for service that I can take with me when I leave the house.

I’d love to ditch the home broadband and move to a mobile hotspot (preferably the one inside my phone) that connects all my devices no matter where I am. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, with the advent of 4G it might finally be time to cut the cable.

How I Tested

To see whether I could live without cable broadband, I spent the last two weeks using only a mobile hotspot to connect my home computer and other devices to the Internet. I used two 4G hotspots--Sprint’s Overdrive and the hotspot in my Sprint EVO 4G phone--and one 3G hotspot, the popular Novatel MiFi from Verizon.

I worked under the assumption that for a broadband device or service to truly replace the cable, it would have to connect multiple devices in the home. Mobile hotspots receive a cellular signal, and then create a Wi-Fi network to connect the devices nearby.

I ran a series of applications ranging from bandwidth-light to bandwidth-heavy to compare the performance of the cable service with that of the mobile-hotspot challengers. I read and sent e-mail messages, loaded graphics-heavy Web pages, downloaded MP3 files, watched high-definition video, video-chatted, and played online games.

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