See the end of this post for the March 2015 update. I got it working again for now.
Earlier this year, I upgraded to an Alcatel OneTouch Fierce smartphone from the $20 cheapo phone I was using and was pretty happy to be back in the Android camp with all the available apps and the usable ‘Net and mail features I’d been doing without, not to mention the 4G service that Sprint had never delivered in this area but charged me for anyway. About a month ago, I noticed the hotspot feature on the Alcatel and, for $5 / month, figured it was a great deal. Now, I could share my 4G signal with my laptop, log in more securely in public and even have a backup broadband service for my PC when my ISP’s service occasionally flakes out.
All was going good for about a month until this weekend when the hotspot suddenly stopped working. My PC and laptop would still show a good connection to the hotspot but I couldn’t load any pages in the browser. Chrome would spend about 15 seconds trying to establish a connection and then report that the page took too long to load. Firefox was the same. I tried with three different machines and three different operating systems (Windows XP / 7 and 8) and all did the same.
What I Tried
As I said, I tried different machines and operating systems and no luck so that told me it was probably something with either the phone or the service.
I was able to load pages through the phone’s web browser while the hotspot was active and when it was turned off so that seems to eliminate the 4G service as the culprit.
After searching on Google for awhile, I ran across an article recommending trying to ping the router’s default IP address of 192.168.1.1. In this case, the phone is acting as a router so if there’s a good connection, my system should be able to ping it successfully.
The screenshot above is what a ping session should look like when everything is going well. The system sends data to the address, whatever’s at that address replies and everything’s good. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened with my phone. The ping requests timed out which told me that the phone’s router function was not providing the needed connection.
The next thing I checked with the hotspot app itself, figuring there might be a software problem. I installed the FoxFi hotspot app from the Google Play store and tried to connect with that – same result. The computer reported a connection but the pages wouldn’t load. I don’t remember if I tried pinging it as well.
Finally, I decided to do a factory reset on the phone to try to eliminate any remaining software and driver issues. Fortunately, all my contacts are stored on the SIM since, while focusing on backing up all my other data, I forgot to back up my contacts. After doing the reset and setting up the phone again, I tried the hotspot and … got the same result.
My service is through MetroPCS so this morning, I went down to the store and told them about the problem and everything I’d done to fix it. After verifying it in fact didn’t work, the tech there offered to order a replacement phone for $20 since I’ve had the phone more than a month. When I asked, he said he hadn’t heard of anyone else having the problem. $20 to try and fix a $5 / month feature? No thanks. I told him to just remove the hotspot feature from my account.
So, for now, I’m without the hotspot. It’s disappointing to say the least. Despite my best Google-fu, I had no luck finding any other reports of the problem and most of the search results ended up being instructions on how to setup your phone as a hotspot. So, mostly I’m posting this for anyone else who has had this problem to let you know that you’re not alone. Maybe if you follow the steps I followed above, you’ll have better luck. If you’ve tried something else that’s worked, please let me know in the comments.
Update – March 2015
After some feedback from readers, I decided to try the hotspot again, this time without the password and … IT WORKS! A password really isn’t necessary since the other settings enable the user to limit the number of connections allowed and individual connections can be booted if someone gets on without permission. Be careful about sending sensitive information over it, however. I’ll see how long it keeps working and update again if necessary.