Do I need a cell phone w/ contract to get online with my laptop?

by Eric

I have read a lot of how-to articles online and have asked a lot of people in person and so far I get either various answers from the people or incomplete/vague info online that specifically doesn't answer my question below. Basically my question is #1) do I need a cell phone and existing contract with a phone company to get a wireless internet connection on my laptop when traveling to connect anywhere I am (when I'm not near a "hotspot")?

What I heard from some people is that now you can buy a USB modem that hooks up to the USB port on your laptop and then you just have to purchase a "wireless internet card" for $30 for two weeks of use (there is also a 4 week $50 card) WITHOUT having to sign up for the additional $50 month wireless plan with my home phone company (I don't have a cell phone). I have Verizon phone service and they want me to sign a 2 year contract for an additional $50 month so I can get wireless internet on my laptop while traveling (that service would cost me another $1,200 for the 2 year contract on top of my existing phone plan).

I would only need the wireless hookup to my laptop twice a year (1 week each time)when I go on vacation and have a desktop computer already for the rest of the year. Thanks for any help.

Comments for Do I need a cell phone w/ contract to get online with my laptop?

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Sep 27, 2022
Hotspots NEW
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

That's a great point! Most prepaid providers include hotspot capability in their regular plans now, so that's a great option to get connectivity to your laptop without needing a contract.

The reality is that postpaid is old and pathetic, with no real meaning anymore as the lines between prepaid and postpaid have largely blurred.

The only advantage I can think of is that some postpaid carriers will give you a discounted or free phone by applying bill credits for 12 to 24 months (or more). This is great if you don't want to pay out of pocket for the full price of a phone. This will, however, lock you into that carrier until you payoff the phone. Otherwise, you'll eat the cost by losing any remaining bill credits. Note that you'll usually have to still pay upfront for the phone, and wait for the bill credits to get your money back.

Some prepaid providers do offer financing options, however, bill credits is definitely better assuming you're not grossly overpaying for your cell phone plan.

In other words, don't let the free phone cloud your judgement. You need to look at the "total cost of ownership" of the phone and plan. If you're paying 4 times the cost for your plan to get a deal on a phone, you may be better off getting a lower cost prepaid plan (with the same or better features) and paying more for your phone.

Sep 27, 2022
Contact phone not needed NEW
by: Anonymous

You can use a prepaid hotspot and it depends on how much data you use. Several non contract companies have them available for sale in major box stores and offer the prepaid cards for them. Another option is using a prepaid phone that has added mobile hotspot data some of them offer up to 10GB of data some basic ones have up to 5GB.

Oct 09, 2011
remote internet access
by: Eric

Oh I hadn't thought about charging the laptop while camping.....some sites have electrical outlets and the more primitive sites do not. I will need to get a car charger unit also for the laptop as you mentioned. OK I believe tomorrow I will take the plunge in this "new" technology and buy the modem, car charger and 2 week internet service prepaid card and try out this new laptop in a remote location before I head to the hills. Your doing a great service for the community and your knowledge and help is greatly appreciated. Many Thanks- Eric

Oct 07, 2011
MiFi Tethering
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Great! Sorry, just another note to clarify that you can actually plug in your MiFi modem to a USB port on your computer to connect to the Internet, however, the WiFi part of it will be disabled, which means that only the computer to which it's plugged into can get Internet access.

I don't know why it works this way. I know there's a hack that was published to enable tethering while still having the WiFi enabled for the Verizon MiFi, however, I have not tried this. I suspect a similar technique should work on any MiFi device.

If you'll have your car nearby, you can get a $25 inverter at Walmart or Target that you can plug into your cigarette lighter to charge your laptop (the car must be on) matter how you look at it, unfortunately batteries are still at play....heh. Also, if you're going to be in the middle of nowhere, hopefully you'll still have cellular coverage. Check the coverage map before you go so you're not surprised, and note that the map is usually different for prepaid vs. postpaid.

Oct 07, 2011
Modem hook-ups on the road
by: Eric

Again many thanks for all your help. It sounds like I will need the USB type modem so I can be anywhere with my laptop and still get online when there is no electrical outlets or HUBS in the area. This relatively new technology sounds great......camping out in the middle of nowhere sitting by the campfire roasting marshmellows in a lounge chair with my laptop nearby....well the last part is what I have to convince the significant other of ...Har Har ! Eric

Oct 07, 2011
USB Modems vs. MiFi Modems
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

There are two general categories of modems: USB and MiFi. USB modems can work on any computer that has a USB port with an operating system that is supported with the modem's drivers. A MiFi modem doesn't use USB, but rather, you connect to it with ANY WiFi enabled device.

In terms of the price difference within each category, I don't know that the quality is really that much different. Some have swivel hinges that provide more flexibility for plugging into laptops with different angles. Some are smaller. Some have a better build-quality (i.e. materials, finish). I also expect that some may have better antennas than others. Obviously this last point is the most critical for performance. However, I haven't seen much of any discussion around major quality differences on this front.

Also, keep in mind that the price you pay can depend on how much the carrier is subsidizing the device, whether it's end of line, or simply because one manufacturer is more aggressive on pricing to the carrier than another, or provided volume discounts. In other words, the price largely doesn't reflect quality (in my opinion), and MiFi devices aren't always more expensive than USB, though they current tend to be on prepaid. MiFi devices also have more flexibility for the user as you can easily connect multiple devices. That said, you then have to worry about keeping it charged or plugged into the wall, which can be a pain. I hope this helps.

Oct 07, 2011
Prepaid Wireless Computer Cards
by: Eric

I appreciate all your help. For the beginner like me trying to decide if this new system will work for my scenario (1st laptop; no cell phone; no internet "HUB" where I will be traveling; only need this capability for 2 weeks a year), it was confusing especially since so many people selling computers or services are just as confused as I am OR were deliberately not disclosing all they knew so they could get more $$$.

When you're ignorant like me, you don't know what the "right" questions are to ask, so you rely on the salespeople to COMPLETELY inform you so you can make the correct decision. When I found out that I didn't need a cell phone service contract like the head manager led me to believe at Staples, that store lost a $600 sale because I felt business went to Walmart instead.

Walmart also almost lost the sale because the first person I talked with gave me bad info also, but after I talked with another salesperson, I decided to purchase the laptop since I would be able to buy just a 1 month service plan WITHOUT having a cell phone.

Now for my last thought: As far as I can tell, the main difference between the two different modems (low end versus high end, and not taking into account all the various brands or makes), is that the low end modem can only get you an internet connection to just one device /laptop but the high end model can connect to various other internet capable devices other than a laptop computer.....does that sound right?

Oct 07, 2011
It's About Wireless Compensation
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Thank you for the follow up note; I'm happy that it helped!

Yeah, the experience you had involves not only the lack of awareness probably due to poor training, but also due to the way employees on commissions are compensated. Basically, they get paid more (often a lot more) to sell a contract plan, so even if they are knowledgeable about prepaid wireless, the unscrupulous sales people will try to sell you contract mobile broadband, or tell you that you need a contract cell phone first. It's all BS.

It's unfortunate that people will often behave in their own best interest instead of that of the customer. Wireless providers can fix this by better aligning compensation between postpaid and prepaid wireless. Some carriers are better at doing this than others, however, there still isn't parity due to the overall lifetime value difference between the customer types (which is shrinking by the way). To combat this, customers just need to come in armed with the knowledge like you did!

Oct 07, 2011
Prepaid Wireless Internet
by: Anonymous

Many thanks for your help ! I have been given a LOT of false information when I asked this question recently. I even had asked a Verizon employee over the phone and she wasn't even aware of the "30 day internet" service her company provides. I went to two stores (Staples & Walmart) and also was given bad info. I was looking to buy my first laptop and so shopped the two stores mentioned and the manager of Staples tried to sell me a 2 year contract with Verizon so I walked out.

I went to Walmart and asked 2 employees in their electronics dept. about the prepaid internet cards they have for sale, and one employee told me I needed a cell phone and wireless plan BEFORE I could use the prepaid cards they sell and the other guy stated I didn't. Wallmart sells two types....ATT and Verizon, both are $50. for 1 month service. Looking at the coverage areas they provide (shown on the modem you have to buy ALSO need to make this new system work), it appears Verizon has a lot more coverage in the US so I will get their 1 month plan and try it out on my vacation while traveling through 3 states.

Apparently a good 1/3 of the people working in this field still don't understand it or are aware it even exists!!! I found out that to make your laptop work with one of these prepaid "computer" internet cards (not to be mistaken with the prepaid "phone" card), you still have to buy a special modem that hooks up to your laptop and the ones being sold at Staples & Wallmart cost around $130. but someone else told me there is a modem that costs about 1/2 that price so I got to shop some more to find out the differences between the $60 model and the $130 model.

Still I think now for those of us who only need this service once in a blue moon, I think I will try it out. Thanks again for the help.....Eric

Oct 03, 2011
No Contract Plan Needed!
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

This is a question that has come up more often recently as more people have been seriously considering the benefits of prepaid. There also seems to be a greater desire/need to have access to mobile broadband on a less regular (and certainly not daily) basis.

The answer to your question is, no, you do NOT have to have a contract cell phone plan in order to have mobile broadband service, whether on contract or prepaid broadband. I'm actually shocked that a Verizon employee would tell you that you need to have a phone plan on contract. They're either pathetically un-knowledgeable, or a straight out crook. I think the former is less sad than the latter!

Anyway, think of mobile broadband as completely distinct from voice service. They are not intrinsically connected, and operate completely independently. It's possible that both services can live on the same account to make billing easier (i.e. one bill instead of two), and some wireless carriers offer discounts for bundling services together; however, fundamentally, they're not tied together at a functionality level.

No matter where you have your wireless voice service, whether on contract or prepaid, you can go into a carrier that offers mobile broadband and get that service. For usage like you're talking about, a monthly contract plan certainly wouldn't be a good option. You can check out the no contract prepaid broadband offers available here:

Prepaid Wireless Broadband Plans

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