Which pocket wifi offer should you get?
There used to be just ordinary pocket wifi, and LTE-capable pocket wifi. Now the ads are screaming 4G pocket wifi, too. It can be very confusing, especially if you’re not really a tech person. Just what are they exactly and which one should you pick?
If you have no idea what you’re doing, I hope this will at least give you some idea of what to look for. A few weeks ago, I was standing in line behind this 30-ish couple with their three elementary-age kids at a Smart center cashier. They were looking to buy a pocket wifi and had NO IDEA what they were buying. They were looking at the pocket wifi box and turning it every which way. Wife says, let’s buy this because it says it has more MBs, thinking that meant it was faster. Husband says, are you sure? what about this one, it looks nice. And on and on they argued about which one to get – yet they didn’t even have a clue about pocket wifis. I was sorely tempted to offer my help, except that I sensed that the wife was a know-it-all (feeling magaling) type. So I just minded my own business and left them alone.
First of all, it’s not about MBs.
1. Postpaid or Prepaid?
Your first decision is – postpaid or prepaid? And for your first purchase, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, I’m adamant that you get a prepaid pocket wifi or something with no lock-in period. Why? It’s less commitment and less lugi if you’re not satisfied with the service. If you try it out and are happy with the service, well and good. If you try it and you’re not happy with the service, you can stop right there and switch to another network. Just take your pocket wifi to Greenhills, and for a few hundred pesos, you can get your pocket wifi unlocked so it can use another network’s SIM. For the love of all that’s holy, do not lock yourself into a 12 or 24-month contract. So many people have been burned by that, still being forced to pay their monthly bill even when they are not happy with the internet that they’re getting. Avoid this. Just scroll through the comments on your telco’s Facebook page to get an idea of the kind of rage you might find yourself feeling in the future.
2. 4G or LTE?
When you buy a pocket wifi, it’s important that you get the model number. It’s going to be something like Huawei e5372 or Alcatel Y800 or ZTE MF93D, etc… It’s usually written on a sticker on the side of the box. If you have the time – do a bit of research on the model – what’s the user feedback? Does it overheat? Does it “hang”? Are there other technical glitches? Just google it and read the various local message boards.
More importantly – what is the max speed of the pocket wifi? For LTE, that’s easy. If it’s an LTE pocket wifi, it will say LTE on the box. LTE means it should be capable of up to 42 Mbps speed.
If the pocket wifi box doesn’t say LTE, it’s trickier. There are some older pocket wifis that can only go as fast as 7.2 Mbps, and there are other non-LTE pocket wifis that can go as fast as 21 Mbps. Take note – Mbps, not MBs. Those are two different things.
Mbps is Megabits per second – this is the measurement of data transfer speed.
MBs are megabytes – how much data you transfer; this is what telcos mean on promos where they say you get X MB or GB of data
A quick and simple analogy would be: Let’s imagine your connection to your telco’s mobile internet is a highway –
Mbps is like how fast your cars are running on that highway
MBs or GBs are like the amount of cars running on that highway
So if the telco says promo X gives you 1000MB of data (non-LTE) and they say that their network can provide speeds up to 21Mbps, and you are using a pocket wifi with max speed of 12Mbps – the analogy is:
Only a maximum of 1,000 cars (MBs) can run on that highway, at a maximum speed of 12kph (Mbps).
It doesn’t mean that your cars are guaranteed to run at 12kph. It’s usually slower. By a lot.
It’s a bit more complicated than that but the analogy makes it easier for most non-techie people to understand.
If budget is a concern, a 7.2 Mbps pocket wifi is okay if you can buy it significantly cheaper. Most mobile internet speed tests I’ve done usually only show an average speed of 0.5-5 Mbps, anyway, well below the 7.2Mbps max speed of the pocket wifi. That’s a Smart/Sun or Globe problem and not your pocket wifi’s fault.
Otherwise, get the pocket wifi with the higher Mbps (faster data transfer speed).
The LTE pocket wifi is, of course, the best choice – but it’s also the most expensive one at P4,888 for Smart Bro Prepaid, and P4,995 for Globe Tattoo Prepaid. And to fully maximize your gadget, you must use it in an area that has good LTE coverage.
If your area doesn’t have LTE coverage yet, you can still buy the LTE pocket wifi to be “future-proof”. This means, that when your area finally gets LTE coverage, you don’t have to buy a new pocket wifi – you can keep using your pocket wifi. Technically, you should be able to use your LTE pocket wifi even when you’re out of LTE coverage, it will just switch to using 4G or 3G instead. However, when we tested our LTE SIM and LTE gadget in a non-LTE covered area, I found the internet speed to be really slow. Slower than my regular 4G. So it’s up to you to decide which one you’ll get. My advice is to test, test, test as much as you can by borrowing other people’s pocket wifis, and ask other people (officemates, neighbors) who have pocket wifis what their experiences are.
If it were me, I would buy the 4G pocket wifi. I’ve been waiting since 2013 to get LTE coverage in our part of Manila – doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. It’s also cheaper, and it can already reach 21 Mbps. That’s 7x faster than my home DSL speed. Even if I don’t get blazing fast LTE speeds, I won’t be complaining if my 4G pocket wifi actually does reach 21 Mbps. Heck, even 12 Mbps is something I’d be happy about.
Also, by the time that LTE coverage becomes more widespread, LTE pocket wifi prices should be dropping as well, making it easier to buy a newer, better LTE pocket wifi when the time comes.
3. How many devices can be connected? Battery life?
Some older models can only connect a max of 5 devices. Newer models can connect up to 10. Consider this when choosing a pocket wifi – double-check how many devices can be connected at the same time, and how many devices you plan to use with it. I think it’s always better to get the one that can connect more devices, right?
Battery life is usually at 5-6 hours – no big difference between brands.
These are the non-LTE pocket wifis currently offered by the telcos for prepaid:
I find the ones sold by the telcos to be cheaper than the non-telco branded ones, but it’s your personal decision if you prefer to buy the usually more expensive non-telco provided pocket wifis. The reasons people go that route is because there are more choices, better specs, features & accessories, no restrictions (open line), and more models to choose from when buying outside the telcos.
Smart’s 4G Prepaid Pocket Wifi is P1,495.00 (they claim a max speed of 12 Mbps, but check the specs anyway, it could be higher; connects up to 10 devices)
Sun Cellular’s Prepaid Pocket Wifi is P1,395.00 (if I’m not mistaken, it has a max speed of only 7.2 Mbps; connects up to 10 devices)
Globe Tattoo’s Prepaid 4G Mobile Wifi is P1,495.00 (max speed of 12 Mbps; connects up to 10 devices)
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please feel free to leave a comment below, I love hearing from you!