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Does a hotspot work when a mobile device has no service?

Cellular service is necessary for establishing a hotspot connection. IT must know what to do when remote users are dealing with both Wi-Fi and service issues.

Remote and hybrid users can rely on hotspots for an internet connection when their home network isn't functioning. But what about when cellular service isn't available?

Mobile hotspot technology has evolved significantly over the years to provide greater reliability and better security features, so users can now enjoy reliable internet access wherever they are. With this increased functionality comes greater flexibility and convenience when connecting to the internet while away from one's home or office. As such, hotspots are becoming invaluable for those looking to stay connected while on the go.

However, users might not always have service on the device they need to use for a hotspot connection. IT administrators should understand whether hotspots can work without service and how to troubleshoot when those issues occur.

How do mobile hotspots work?

When turned on, hotspots create a wireless LAN, acting as a wireless access point with a unique name and password. The device hosting the hotspot communicates with the cellular network carrier to establish an internet connection and then shares that connection with the other devices connected to the hotspot.

Hardware such as routers and modems, mobile devices such as iPhones and Androids, and desktop OSes such as macOS and Windows often have built-in hotspot hardware and software. This hardware and software can broadcast a wireless signal that is picked up by other nearby devices, creating an internet hotspot where those devices can access the internet without connecting directly to Ethernet or locally shared or secured Wi-Fi service set identifiers.

Hotspots are extremely useful in providing secure remote Wi-Fi access when secured networks aren't available. They're also a great way to enable remote work and stay connected while on the go. For businesses, they provide a secure connection for employees to access corporate data without worrying about that data being compromised.

With this technology, anyone can access the internet securely and conveniently in places where traditional Wi-Fi connections might not be available or where an organization needs its data separated from an employee's home wireless network. In some scenarios, this can even eliminate a VPN on a personal network, routing all traffic through corporate-owned data plans and hotspots.

Can a hotspot work with no service?

Without service, the user cannot use any of the features offered by the hotspot, including internet access, Wi-Fi calling and messaging.

For activities such as local file share, a hotspot can work when a device doesn't have service. It won't be beneficial outside of that, however, because a hotspot relies on the cellular carrier to establish an internet connection. Without an active service plan or data connection, the device hosting the hotspot won't be able to establish an internet connection or share that cellular connection with other devices over Wi-Fi.

Without service, the user cannot use any of the features offered by the hotspot, including internet access, Wi-Fi calling and messaging. Therefore, users must ensure their device has an active service plan with hotspot services. Most mobile carriers provide hotspots as part of their cellular packages but are usually limited to specific data caps.

Basic steps for troubleshooting hotspot connections

If a remote user is experiencing issues with their wireless service, there are a few troubleshooting steps that IT administrators can recommend to reestablish the connection.

Check the Wi-Fi settings

Ensure the user's device is connected to the correct Wi-Fi hotspot and the password is entered correctly. On most mobile and desktop Oses, the device will set a default password for the hotspot, but the user can change that manually. The steps to check the password of a device's hotspot depend on the device OS.

On Android devices, navigate to Settings > Network & internet > Hotspot & tethering (Figure 1). Some Android versions will differ in the location of this setting.

The Network & internet tab in Android settings, with a red box around 'Hotspot & tethering.'
Figure 1. Users can find hotspot settings under Network & internet.

On iOS devices, go to Settings > Personal Hotspot > Wi-Fi Password (Figure 2).

The Personal Hotspot tab in iOS, with a red box around the 'Wi-Fi Password' option.
Figure 2. The Wi-Fi password and other hotspot settings are available under Personal Hotspot in iOS.

On macOS devices, go to Settings > General > Sharing and verify that Internet Sharing is toggled on (Figure 3).

The Sharing tab in macOS, with a red box around the 'Internet Sharing' option.
Figure 3. Under Sharing, turn on the Internet Sharing setting and make sure that the password and other configurations are correct.

On Windows devices, go to Settings > Network & internet > Mobile hotspot (Figure 4).

The Network and internet tab in Windows, with a red box and arrow highlighting the 'Mobile hotspot' option.
Figure 4. In Windows, hotspot settings are available under Network & internet.

Restart the device

Sometimes simply restarting the device can help to resolve issues with the wireless connection and hotspot services. Have the user turn off their device, wait a few seconds and then turn it back on.

Reset network settings

In extreme cases, resetting the network settings on the user's device can resolve issues with the wireless connection. To do this, select the device's settings and select Reset Network Settings.

Note that resetting network settings will remove all network settings, requiring the user to reenter network passwords on personal networks. To reset networking settings on iOS devices, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Reset > Reset Network Settings. On Android devices, go to Settings > System > Reset.

Check hotspot data allowance

Many carrier plans come with hotspot services but sometimes have specific data usage caps. The organization or user can check with their carrier to verify if they've exceeded their hotspot data allowance. Some carriers will block hotspot data after an overage, and some will throttle data to slower 4G or 3G speeds.

Contact the service provider

If none of the above steps work, the user may need to contact their service provider for further assistance. They can check for any known issues or outages in the area and help to troubleshoot the problem remotely.

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