What is MiFi

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Create Your Own Mobile WiFi Hotspot

The key advantages of cellular Internet access are coverage and mobility. You don’t need to be near a fixed WiFi access point, like your local library or Starbucks. MiFi lets get on the Net from any place your cellular signal reaches: a park bench, a beach, high in the mountains, etc. Also, you can be traveling while connected. If you are a rock star on a tour bus, you need cellular Internet access to Tweet and do Facebook with all your fans. But what if the whole band wants to get online at once?
Then you need the Novatel MiFi™ Intelligent Mobile Hotspot. A sleek, slim, silvery device about the size of three stacked credit cards, the MiFi connects to a cellular carrier’s high-speed data network and then connects to your laptop, netbook, or other WiFi-enabled device via WiFi. There are different models of MiFi devices for various 3G cellular data network types: CDMA 1xEVDO RevA; HSPA for Europe; and another for HSPA in North America. Of course, you need to subscribe to a cellular carrier’s data service and buy the compatible MiFi card from the carrier.
Don’t worry about the buzzwords — here are details on which mobile providers support the MiFi device:
• Sprint offers a starting MiFi package consisting of a MiFi card for $99.99 (after $50 mail-in rebate) and a subscription rate of $59.99 per month.
• Verizon offers several plans, including one that doesn’t require a service subscription. If you pay the MiFi device’s full retail price of $269.99 you can buy a “day pass” to Verizon’s data service only when you need it, for just $15 per day.
• AT&T, slow as ever to respond to the marketplace, has not announced a MiFi plan as of this writing. AT&T is probably trying to figure out how MiFi will affect its iPhone monopoly. However, a MiFi device compatible with AT&T’s HSPA network is ready whenever the carrier is. It’s rather slick, too, with a slot for a memory card that all users can share and built-in GPS. Novatel says the MiFi’s battery is good for 40 hours of standby time or up to 4 hours of active use.

MiFi is Cool, But is it Practical?
Up to five users can share a MiFi connection simultaneously, but that won’t be comfortable. On an EVDO connection, they’ll be splitting about 1 Mbps five ways while downloading, and 500 Kbps when uploading. Cellular connections are tedious compared to “hardwired” WiFi, and splitting a cellular connection among several users is pushing the lower limit of usefulness. Heck, I get frustrated trying to surf the web on my phone when I’m NOT sharing the signal.

There are monthly data transfer limits to consider, as well. Sprint and Verizon both cap data transfers at 5 GB per month, quite sufficient for the occasional mobile usage they envision at their price points. But you won’t be running a 24/7 peer-to-peer file-sharing node off a MiFi connection, or playing multiplayer HD games all week long.

Don’t forget that most mobile phones can be “tethered” to a laptop with a USB cable, providing cellular Internet access to the laptop. And of course there are mobile broadband adapters you can plug right into your laptop. So MiFi is cool, but is it worth its cost? Very few users need the ability to connect multiple users simultaneously on the go, which is the only unique feature of MiFi. The rock band on the tour bus, business travelers, and maybe households with no other Internet access options will find it useful. MiFi may find uses with meaningful, broad applicability; we’ll see.