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Wireless Hotspot Portable Device Comparison July 7, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Reviews.

Let’s face it, we live in an age where everyone carries a digital device with them, be it a smartphone, laptop or portable gaming console and gamers are probably the most likely to carry these devices.  Not every digital device is equipped with a cellular modem which can offer wireless internet access based on their reception, so a lot of people rely on wireless hotspots provided by businesses to get their personal devices online while they shop, eat or work.  The most common wireless hotspot I’ve seen in businesses must be the AT&T hotspot.  These are WiFi-equipped hotspots which are provided by AT&T and you can usually find them in a wide array of popular businesses ranging from your local neighborhood McDonald’s to Starbucks, Barnes & Noble Bookstores or AT&T stores.

AT&T hotspots offer free connections to AT&T wireless customers for WiFi equipped cell phones or other portable devices.  If you’re an AT&T customer, access is easy.  If you have a cell phone on the AT&T wireless service, your cell phone will automatically connect to the AT&T WiFi hotspot if your device’s WiFi antenna is turned on.  No login page comes up and there’s no password to input, your phone is seamlessly connected as soon as WiFi is enabled.  For anyone who happens to use an AT&T iPhone, the process of getting online could not be simpler, and if you happen to be at a Starbucks, you can unlock some exclusive content and music through the official Starbucks app while your device is connected to the hotspot.

Because I own a Nintendo 3DS I like to keep tabs on the local businesses in my area that offer an AT&T mobile hotspot.  A cool bonus of the AT&T hotspot is that it does offer exclusive features to anyone connected to the hotspot with a 3DS in the form of access to the Nintendo Zone.  Nintendo Zone is a special feature in the 3DS (and possibly DSi) operating system which can be accessed through specially marked Nintendo Zone hotspots.  When your 3DS is connected to the Nintendo Zone, you can access special features you normally wouldn’t have access to like exclusive quizzes, Nintendo videos, or exclusive Pokémon content.  I have no idea if all the AT&T hotspots offer Nintendo Zone access right not, but it looks like that may be the case.  I don’t know if this is through some kind of deal Nintendo has made with AT&T or the retailers.  In fact, I remember all the rest stops on my road trip through Massachusetts were all set up for wireless and they all offered my 3DS Nintendo Zone access.

Last night, Twitch and I were hanging out at Barnes & Noble and checking out the stock of books.  Before I rang up my book purchase, I told Twitch to wait for me in the Café.  After I rang up my purchase I met back up with Twitch in the Café as he tried to connect his PS Vita to the hotspot to surf the web.  Twitch was having problems.  While he was able to manually connect his WiFi-only Vita to the hotspot, he was unable to get it online or access the Playstation Network with it.  I offered him a few troubleshooting tips to help him connect (like to open a webpage in the device’s browser and see if it brings up some kind of login prompt), but he said that didn’t work.  Apparently, the hotspot just wasn’t able to allow his Vita online, or Twitch was unable to figure out how to get it online.  Because I didn’t operate the Vita myself or see what Twitch was doing, I can’t be sure of who was at fault, Twitch, the hotspot or the Vita, but I know that Twitch is quite technically capable and if he wasn’t able to figure out how to get his device online through the hotspot it must have been because the hotspot wouldn’t allow it.  I would be interested to see if someone who has a Vita armed with a 3G data plan from AT&T would have the same problem.

Traditionally, I don’t allow my iPhone to access wireless networks I don’t operate or aren’t operated by people I trust, so I decided to try a different approach.  I happened to bring my Nintendo 3DS with me as well, so I decided to check the hotspot for myself.  I pulled out my 3DS and opened it up to see a full internet connection to the Cafe’s hotspot, as well as the notification that I had access to Nintendo Zone.  After browsing the videos, Twitch and I took a quiz together and I was satisfied the hotspot worked.  I have no idea why Twitch wasn’t able to access it with his Vita.

Your mileage on a hotspot may vary.  Just remember a hotspot’s bandwidth is shared among all the connected customers.  The more users doing tasks on it the more other user’s internet speeds will be impacted.  On Friday night, I had noticed a bit slower performance on Nintendo Zone than I had previously experienced at a different venue, but at no time did the network drop out my connection completely.  I have noticed in some heavy-traffic areas that can happen.  I don’t know what is next for Nintendo’s plans for the Nintendo Zone or how much longer AT&T will offer access through their hotspots, but I can imagine if Nintendo ever decided to make a Pokémon MMO for the 3DS, having this hotspot infrastructure already in place would be a great benefit to users who would want to play the MMO on the go.


1. Nintendo 3DS Nintendo Zone StreetPass Update Live | GameXcess.net - Gaming News, Videos and Editorials! - August 8, 2013

[…] You will need to update your 3DS to its latest firmware to take full advantage of the Nintendo Zone StreetPass functionality.  If you would like to know more about Nintendo Zone, check out our article on the subject. […]

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