Smartphone Hotspot: Getting Internet Access When Mediacom is Not Working

Summary

When it’s working, Mediacom offers some of the fastest Internet service in the Iowa City area. Unfortunately, the service is occasionally down or too slow to be of use. So, for people who can’t be without Internet, temporary alternative options may need to be considered. Test your speed as described below, and if you’re experiencing slow speeds or outages, consider using your smartphone as a Wi-Fi Internet hotspot (described below).

Test Your Internet Speed

It’s important to periodically test your Internet speed. It’s not uncommon for people to be getting much slower speeds than what they are paying for. This may be a temporary problem that can be fixed by a modem reset (described below), or it might be that your service provider is over charging and under delivering. To test your speed, go to the SpeedTest.net website and click the Begin Test button. There may be ads on the page with similarly designed buttons labeled “Start Now.” Ignore those. The speed test will tell you what your download and upload speeds are.

For comparison, here’s a general guide to download speeds, with Mediacom pricing as of early 2015:

  • 3 Mbps is a slower connection that isn’t as common any more. Given today’s media-dense content, It’s generally not adequate for two or more computers. Some people choose this option if available because the cost is about $25 a month.
  • 5 Mbps is a bit better.
  • 10 Mbps is a service offered by CenturyLink. The cost is $35 per month.
  • 15 Mbps is more common for homes and businesses where several computers and devices might be sharing the same connection. This is typically the speed that most people are paying for. The cost might be $30 to $35 a month.
  • 20 Mbps is more desirable and will result in faster Internet related operations. The cost might be $40 to 50 per month.
  • 50 Mbps is best for multiple computers, especially when those computers are downloading media. This is also useful for surveillance systems needing to upload video to the cloud. The cost might be $45 per month.
  • 100 Mbps is helpful for anyone requiring high-speed for multiple devices. It speeds up software downloads for technicians who are setting up multiple computers. The cost might be $55 per month.
  • 150 Mbps is the high end of what’s available for most users. The cost might be $80 per month.

The pricing listed above is introductory pricing from Mediacom, so long-term costs per month may be higher.

Troubleshooting

If you’re experiencing no Internet, or very slow Internet, before going any further, make sure that you’ve performed the basic troubleshooting step of disconnecting your cable modem. This involves removing all of the cords (power, Ethernet, and coaxial cable) for about 5 to 10 minutes. This extended period of time is to ensure that when the equipment is detected again by Mediacom’s servers, it will get a fresh connection to the Internet. This works especially well with slow Internet speeds. Let’s say you’re paying for 50 Mbps, but getting 3 Mbps. This procedure might get you back up to 50 Mbps again. When you connect the cable modem again, test your Internet speed.

Using Your Smartphone as a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Most smartphones have the ability to provide Wi-Fi Internet access. You can ask your mobile phone provider for more details about the cost. Typically the Hotspot feature is enabled and configured in your smartphone settings. For iPhone, it’s called Personal Hotspot and found at the top under settings. When connecting to your smartphone Wi-Fi, you’ll want to make sure you’ve disconnected from your cable modem (Ethernet and/or Wi-Fi connection).

This part is a little confusing, but basically the problem is that your home Wi-Fi router is probably set as the default preferred Internet connection. So, unless you turn it off, your computer will try to connect to that instead of your smartphone. If there’s an Ethernet cord going to your home router, then disconnect that. Only then will your computer prefer the smartphone Wi-Fi hotspot. Otherwise, even if your computer is connected to the smartphone it may continue trying to use the home router, and although it’s connected to the home router, it won’t get an Internet connection.

Keep in mind that your usage will be considered as part of your overall data package (see tips below on reducing data usage). However, as a short-term solution, using your smartphone as an Internet Wi-Fi hotspot should work adequately as an alternate way to access the Internet. When you do this, you’ll turn on the hotspot feature, and note down the name and password for your hotspot. You’ll need Wi-Fi capability on your computer. Laptop computers typically have this built-in. Desktop computers may need a USB Wi-Fi adapter.

Hotspot Pricing

Every mobile service provider is different, but let’s take AT&T as an example. If you pay $100 for the 10GB per month shared data. You’ll get 15GB (due to a special promotion) that you can share among your devices. Devices may be $10 to $40 per month per line (or per device). Verizon has a limit of 2.5 GB of data shared per device even if you’re on their 10 GB plan (as of early 2015). AT&T shares the 10GB across devices without a per-unit limit. There’s no additional cost with AT&T to have your smartphone hotspot feature enabled. The data is used either by your smartphone or through your smartphone to your computer. Limit your data usage (as described below) to avoid paying additional fees.

Limit Your Data Usage

Smartphones are already optimized with data efficiency in mind. For example, your phone may be configured to only download large software updates when you’re connected to Wi-Fi Internet (and not using your phone’s data plan). Laptop and desktop computers typically don’t consider your connection method. So, you’ll want to be careful about not downloading the latest Windows updates or other software updates while using your mobile device. Don’t download movies, music, or large photos. Keep your usage limited to tasks like email and browsing the web.

Choosing Cable or DSL Internet

Due to outages and intermittent slow speed issues, some customers have switched from Mediacom Cable Modem Internet service to DSL service from CenturyLink (the local landline phone service provider). This is generally a more reliable connection, and provides what’s perceived to be better customer service. Because landline phone service is used for alarm systems, medical equipment, and 911 calls, it’s considered to be a higher tier of urgency. Services provided by cable television companies are considered to be less urgent (watching MTV isn’t as important as a 911 call). While CenturyLink advertises Internet speeds up to 1000 Mbps (for some markets), their typical available service speeds for most cities and neighborhoods are about 10 Mbps or slower.

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