PROS / H2O Wireless uses AT&T's LTE network, which means it is the fastest and most reliable option you can find without having to pay a couple hundred dollars for a mobile hotspot.
CONS / The company advertises huge data allocations but only gives you LTE speeds for half of them before throttling you to 128 kbps for the rest of the month.
VERDICT / With AT&T's network at its fingertips, H2O Wireless is a great option for people who don’t want to spend a lot on their hotspot device.
Among the nation's mobile internet providers, H2O Wireless is in the enviable position of offering broadband service on a top-tier network, without the added detractions of contracts and annoying fees. As a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), H2O leases access to AT&T's coverage – its customers connect to the exact same towers AT&T uses. The difference is pricing. H2O's mobile internet plans are fewer, and there’s only a single option each for a mobile hotspot or USB dongle.
Coverage & Quality
H2O Wireless is one of two AT&T MVNOs that offer mobile broadband service, and it’s by far the more data-friendly. Of course, all four major networks – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – sell mobile hotspots and data-only plans, but most MVNOs lease their network coverage from either Sprint or T-Mobile. Both networks have their strengths, but AT&T easily outclasses them.
This makes H2O the best no-contract mobile broadband provider, by coverage, in the country. You can expect download speeds topping 15 Mbps, more than fast enough to stream Netflix movies in 1080p HD or play the latest multiplayer games with minimal lag.
Pricing & Fees
Branded H2O Bolt, H2O Wireless' mobile broadband plans are available in four allocations. If you're after cheap and brief wireless internet, you can pay $25 for 2GB of data, though it only lasts 10 days. There are, fortunately, three 30-day options: 5GB for $50, 7GB for $70 and 10GB for $90. If you find yourself needing more than 10GB of data, you can pay to recharge the allocation, but that can quickly get very expensive; if you’re looking for huge data tiers, you're better off considering a carrier like Verizon or AT&T.
It’s worth noting that H2O advertises its plans at twice their allocation – 4GB, 10GB, 14GB and 20GB, respectively. However, only the first half of the data allocation is delivered at high-speed, 4G LTE speeds. Once you hit the halfway mark, your speeds are throttled to a mere 128 kbps, far too slow to handle even basic music streaming, much less video or movies. Should you somehow manage to use up the full amount at 128 kbps, your data access gets cut off until the start of the next month.
Befittingly, H2O doesn't charge any odd fees to its customers. Since its plans are capped, once you hit your data allocation there are no overage fees. There's no activation fee when you first buy its Bolt Unite hotspot, and the restocking fee is just $9 should you plan on returning it. Further, since H2O Wireless isn't a contract carrier, there are no early termination fees if you decide its service isn't for you.
There are two portable internet devices available from H2O: a mobile hotspot that can connect up to 10 devices at the same time and a USB dongle that only works on your laptop but can operate internationally. The USB stick is branded H2O Broadband, and it's extremely pricey: Its $50 monthly plan only gives you 1GB of data, while its international plan costs $30 for a pathetic 10MB. It's an option, but not a reasonable one.
On the other hand, H2O's Bolt Unite hotspot uses the plans we detailed above. It's essentially a standalone Wi-Fi router that creates a network for your phone, tablet, laptop or any other Wi-Fi enabled device. It costs $60 to buy, but that's a one-time payment.
Help & Support
H2O Wireless's support team is solid, if not overly helpful. The constant changes to its plans proved to be a sticky point over the phone, and we were left on hold twice for 30 minutes each time before giving up and turning to social media. Thankfully, its Twitter support team is helpful and attentive. We recommend contacting H2O on Twitter if possible; from our experience, you have a far easier time getting your questions answered there.
If you're searching for cheap mobile internet, a contract-free provider can be an excellent money-saving measure. At just $60 up front for the hotspot and $50 a month for 5GB of data, H2O Wireless' plans are easy to understand, easy to set up and offer brilliant service on AT&T's 4G LTE network. There are cheaper plans available, and Verizon's coverage is still the best around, but if you're looking for great service without Big Red's complexity, H2O Wireless is a solid pick.