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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I was debating whether or not the built-in Ascent ATT hotspot was worth it, and gave it a few months of testing after I was unable to find reviews noting the things that were of importance to me for my uses. So I wanted to post this for others to have at their disposal.

I do a lot of travel for my hobbies, and I'm often in places where having even marginally better wifi is a very big deal to me to be able to download more maps, check the weather, and better trip plan for ever-changing situations when I'm camping/rafting/kayaking/hiking/etc. So to me, the wifi is worth it for that purpose, if it works.

As it turns out for me it works really well. When I am in the middle of nowhere is it great? No, but I often still have a signal with my Ascent hotpsot when my phone does not, and for me that's a gamechanger. A weak signal can still often get me an updated map or weather radar update (slowly....). No signal, well, is no signal.

It's also really handy on the highway for music streaming/audiobooks. But it's easy to download stuff ahead of time, so I wouldn't personally pay for it just for that use.

The caveats:
  • The signal is obviously location/tower dependent. Experience will of course vary...
  • I have a 2021 limited. I do not know if it has a different hotspot chip than other models/years

The testing -
I tested it over 3 months, six trips, four states (various areas of Ohio, PA, NY, WV), lots of backcountry areas, and of course daily driving for work and errands.

Pros-
-It really is far better than my iPhones ability to pull a signal. Far, far, better. I figured there was a good chance that claim was BS, but it turned out to be true. I consistently pull better download and upload speeds and pings with the car wifi over the phone wifi. It's also a much more consistent signal, not just a higher speed. This is a big deal with work calls, which have become much easier in the car.

-Pricing isn't bad if you sign up for a one-year plan. The pricing is set up so that for me it was very difficult to stay within the 2gb max on the lower tier plan; shocker...

Cons-

- The 2gb plan is set up perfectly to ensure it won't be enough data. And the Unlimited monthly data plan is, to me, overly priced. Then you look at the one-year unlimited plan pricing and it's clear what they want you to do. They want the years payment upfront. So after a few months of paying for one month, I paid for the year.

My question now becomes: can we update the wifi chip like you can in a computer? I would love to throw a new 5G chip in there next spring when the next generation of them have come out.

I hope this helps, and feel free to ask away with questions!

Update 6-4-21: Taking a trip today out to Alleghany National Forest for the week with my buddies. I'll update this with some more tests from there next week. If I forget to post, feel free to call me out!

Photo - This is a speed test while driving in an area where I have little to no signal in NE Ohio. No, I did not hit the buttons myself while driving haha. Speeds and pings will obviously vary, I've done far better than this, and far worse, but the point is that even when my cell is useless, the cars built-in wifi usually works.


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You didn't say what service your iPhone is on. ATT too?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
You didn't say what service your iPhone is on. ATT too?
Good catch! My phone is on TMobile, but I just switched. I was on ATT. And I should add that in my area of NE Ohio ATT is not exactly stellar, which is one of the reasons I switched. In case anyone is curious, I am not a huge fan of TMobile so far; Verizon here I come...
 

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2021 Subaru Ascent, 2015 Kia K900
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Good catch! My phone is on TMobile, but I just switched. I was on ATT. And I should add that in my area of NE Ohio ATT is not exactly stellar, which is one of the reasons I switched. In case anyone is curious, I am not a huge fan of TMobile so far; Verizon here I come...
I had AT&T when I lived in NY. After moving to TN, AT&T simply couldn't fix the billing issue I had: they continued to bill me for the myriad of NY taxes and in over seven months couldn't correct the problem. I ditched them for T-Mobile. They offer discounts for military. My son served and I offered him a deal: open the account and I'll pay for it. I pay $20 per line for unlimited everything, that includes taxes. Service is good, as good as AT&T here
 

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I couldn't even connect to the internet with the hotspot active, nevermind running a speed test. And that was in our driveway. We had att before and it was ok service, Verizon has been much better on our phones anyway. I wish the hotpsot wasn't built in and could be changed/upgraded.
 

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I couldn't even connect to the internet with the hotspot active, nevermind running a speed test. And that was in our driveway. We had att before and it was ok service, Verizon has been much better on our phones anyway. I wish the hotpsot wasn't built in and could be changed/upgraded.
I wonder if the built in hotspot is eSIM. Or if there's an actual ATT SIM card installed? It'd be interesting to see if the onboard hotspot could be modified?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I wonder if the built in hotspot is eSIM. Or if there's an actual ATT SIM card installed? It'd be interesting to see if the onboard hotspot could be modified?
Me too! It would be really sweet if we could upgrade it one way or another... I would love to be able to get 5g into the car somehow. I bet phone carriers will come out with better versions of mobile hotspots for cars in the coming years if not though. Sure, they have hot spots and we can use our phone now, but something that would allow us to take advantage of the vehicle similar to how the built-in hotspots do.
 

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I wonder if the built in hotspot is eSIM. Or if there's an actual ATT SIM card installed? It'd be interesting to see if the onboard hotspot could be modified?
It's embedded "permanently" so the system is locked to ATT. That's the network that Subaru is using for StarLink services.
 

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If we were doing some heavy traveling we would most likely get a prepaid Verizon hotspot. For us that would be the most obvious solution.
 

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I finally decided to activate mine ('19 Touring) a month or so into remote work/school at the start of the Pandemic.

It really worked very well (I'm also NE-Ohio, and my use typically spans between downtown CLE and its near-eastern commuter suburbs), enabling my daughter to complete homework assignments and take Zoom meetings for her extracurriculars - as well as allowing for the same for me in terms of remote work. From past experience (nowhere nearly as extensive, though), using our iPhones (also ATT) as hot-spots would not have fared nearly as well. My hobby also takes me out to considerably more rural areas, and so far, it's been great, even when I've seen "no bars" on my phone.

Her largely solo-boat rowing season ended this year with a regatta in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, and we were able to take an extended weekend (Friday through Monday) on the road. At one point, we had two Zoom meetings in the car at the same time (Waze as well as my radar-detector's GPS was also taking little chunks off bandwidth).

I've also streamed a fair amount of movies and other content (sometimes one on my laptop while another was going on my phone) while waiting for my daughter at her practices.

I'm happy enough with it that I'll activate it immediately in my new Ascent, as my lease on the '19 comes due in November.
 

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We've just completed a cross country round trip (Huntsville, AL to Dublin, CA) in our 2020 Limited using the AT&T hotspot. I can say that we're totally satisfied in the reception and connectivity. We only encountered temporary loss along Hwy 50 in Nevada and eastern Colorado. We did a lot of researching on RV's, forest service maps, YouTube (co-pilot only), and streaming podcasts. True, we have unlimited data and tied the account with our cell phone service.
 
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