A dedicated portable device that converts a cellular signal into a Wi-Fi network (e.g. MiFi). Typically used for an individual or family.
A smartphone that can be converted into a personal hotspot ( also known as tethering). Note: These are not eligible devices for the Emergency Connectivity Fund.
All major mobile carriers offer various options with different devices and data plans. Be sure to fully review and understand the terms and conditions before committing to bulk purchasing hotspots and data plans.
Providers are working directly with school districts to connect students at home. The school district can coordinate purchases with specifications for their district (such as data limits per day, or content filtering) and deploy the hotspots as needed.
- Consider whether a provider offers fully managed solutions or additional cloud-based management. This makes it easier to administer and manage lots of hotspots. Providers like Kajeet offer education-friendly features such as:
- Group management, which allows school district administrators to manage individuals or groups of students based on grade levels or subjects.
- Content filtering based on Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) guidelines, or school policies (e.g., filter out social media or gaming URLs).
- Distributing data in a pool rather than to individual devices (e.g., 50 hotspots all share 300GB of data) to allow unused data from some students to be used by others.
- A network guarantee to provide the student with the best hotspot connectivity out of the four major carriers no matter where they live.
Easily Distributed and Quickly Configured
Hotspots don’t require installation – once turned on, it’s easy to connect your device to the network. They are small and can be distributed relatively quickly via mail or in-person to students. Since they can be purchased by the district and immediately used, there is no delay or challenge with families signing up for service or waiting for installation.
Connect Multiple Devices
Depending on the data package you buy, hotspots can usually connect three or more devices. That means that multiple family members can access the internet via a hotspot. This is useful if there is more than one student per family that needs to access the Internet for schoolwork.
Limited Hotspot Data Plans
Note that not all hotspot data plans are created equal, and plans that have limited monthly data packages can have an impact on the student’s ability to connect, depending on their level of usage. Typical data limits range from 1 GB to 50 GB, with unlimited plans offering the highest level of flexibility for users. Depending on the terms of your hotspot agreement, when users exceed their monthly data limit, they may either be unable to access the Internet until the start of the next billing cycle or can incur additional charges based on how much data they exceed over the monthly data limit.
Throughout the last year, several major network carriers have had low levels of supply availability, making it difficult to procure the number of devices needed to serve large numbers of students across the country.
Variable Connection Strength
Personal hotspots, or any device that relies on data and the LTE network, might see speeds slow down or top out based on use. Additionally, rural areas with spotty cell service coverage make it difficult to use hotspots. If your school district covers a wide region with rural, suburban, and urban areas, consider testing in each location to see where cellular connections are strong enough to support hotspots during your evaluation process.
Personal Hotspots can cost between $25-$300 for the device, while data plans range from $10-$50 per month. While this might be a necessary expense when low-cost wireline carriers do not have viable options, it tends to add up if there are many students in need of the plans and devices. Consider working with a provider on a managed solution to access bulk discounts to lower the cost.
Due to the lower bandwidths offered by most hotspots, using them to stream instructional videos or participate in live online discussions can be challenging. Teachers find themselves offering alternative lessons or modifying their curriculum to account for home-access needs – an added strain when they are often learning to use the technology as they go. As school districts adapt their distance learning programs for the future, it’s vital that students and teachers have reliable Internet access and are able to focus on learning rather than technology troubleshooting.