Pocket tech: 4G wi-fi hotspots

A 4G wi-fi hotspot in your pocket lets you supply super-fast wireless internet access to all the wireless gadgets in your travel bag.

These days plenty of gadgets have built-in mobile broadband access for connecting to the internet while you're on the road, but with that comes another prepaid or monthly bill. Thankfully it's possible to save a few dollars by buying wi-fi-only gadgets and then running your own private wi-fi hotspot to connect them all to a mobile broadband network.

One option is to use your smartphone to generate a wi-fi hotspot so nearby devices such as notebooks, tablets and e-book readers can connect to the internet. An alternative is to buy a standalone wi-fi hotspot, which takes a SIM card and features a built-in rechargeable battery. This lets you preserve battery life on your phone.

Telstra and Optus both offer 4G-enabled wi-fi hotspots that work with their new high-speed LTE (long-term evolution) mobile broadband networks - offering a blistering 40Mbps and beyond. If you wander beyond the reach of the metro-centric LTE networks you'll fall back on to the previous-generation 3G variant, HSDPA. Both telcos are busily rolling out out their LTE networks, so check their coverage maps as in some areas you'll get it from one but not the other.

You'll find these BigPond and Optus devices on monthly plans, both supporting up to five connected devices. Meanwhile Telstra offers the prepaid Telstra 4G wi-fi hotspot and Optus will offer prepaid plans ''shortly''. If you don't care about the faster 4G speeds you'll find cheaper HSDPA-only wi-fi hotspots.

The verdict

Network loyalty might come into your decision but, in terms of value for money, Optus comes out in front. Keep in mind Telstra will knock off $20 a month if you bundle it on the same bill as several other Telstra services.

BigPond Mobile wi-fi 4G
from $39 a month (1GB)

Optus E589 Mini wi-fi Modem
from $50 a month (10GB)