What is MiFi?

Category: Gadgets , Wireless

I'm starting to see some buzz for MiFi, which looks like a mobile WiFi product. Can you explain how this works?

Novatel Mifi hotspot

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.

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Most recent comments on "What is MiFi?"

Posted by:

14 Aug 2009

Tethering looks a far better option, unless technology in the MiFi makes a better quality of connection than you would get from a cellphone.

Who wants extra devices and extra accounts?

Posted by:

14 Aug 2009

Do you have an article on how to tether a mobile phone to a laptop with a USB cable? That sounds like something that I would use!! I don't think I'd need the MiFi since I'm just a single user wanting occasional access when I'm on the road.

Posted by:

15 Aug 2009

Users can find good deals on the MiFi hardware by not purchasing directly from wireless carriers. BuyMiFi.com updates daily with the best deals available.

Posted by:

17 Aug 2009

I'm with Derek and digital. I have verizon and data service for my pda, and I would like to be able to grab the internet a half dozen times a year when on the road. I'd love to know how the tether option works.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In a nutshell, you connect your cell phone to your laptop with a USB cable, then use it as a dialup modem to connect to the Internet. The specifics are different, depending on your phone and your mobile provider. Some providers charge a fee to use tethering, and you may also be charged extra for exceeding a certain amount of data bandwidth. I recommend you start by asking your mobile provider about tethering options for your phone.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2009

For my last vacation, I called up my cell phone provider (Sprint for anyone who is wondering) and set up a tether option for that week.

I of course used my laptop for the tethering option, but then for my iTouch and for the rest of the family who wanted wifi internet access, I reverse broadcast my laptops signal as a secured wifi spot so others could connect and use my tethered internet too.

We did this at the airport that didn't give free wifi. And just as Bob says, it was horribly painful, but possible, to share a cell phone's internet connection.

Luckily, once we got to our hotel, we found out we received free landline internet, so I used my laptop to broadcast the landline signal and everyone was overly happy that they didn't have to fight over using the one laptop for internet, and everyone's wifi devices all worked whenever and at the same time. For the week change for my cell phone tethering option was about $25. much better than the $15 a day. Just a little more work in setting up and taking down.

Instructions on how I turned my laptop into a wifi access point were found on cnets insider secrets. http://cnettv.cnet.com/make-your-laptop-hot-spot/9742-1_53-28619.html

Posted by:

21 Aug 2009

This is not for me. I would consider making the investment in a wifi phone quicker.

I am still trying to find broadband tel @ an affordable price - I have been through 2 services in the past mo majicjack (don't get me started) and callcentric (big hassle and billing probs).

Posted by:

27 Aug 2009

ONLY $15 a day? You're kidding though? With monthly contracts as low as $12 a month for 8 meg? Who on earth is gonna pay $15 dollars for one day access????

Posted by:

Joshua Burke
27 Aug 2009

Tethering vs. MiFi is really an either/or proposition. If you prefer tethering then it will be the best option for you. I have been tethering for quite some time and liked it until I got really into mobile connectivity. Suddenly, I wanted to share my connection with my iTouch, my laptop and use my phone simultaneously. The MiFi allowed me to stop somewhere and talk on my phone (difficult to do while tethered via USB and a battery hog when tethered via bluetooth), look up contact info on my iTouch (or make free VoIP calls ...ahem...) and use my laptop simultaneously All with one connection that I can turn on instantly.

From a cost perspective a smart phone with a data plan is definitely the way to go. From a flexibility standpoint though the MiFi gets high marks. I'm an IT pro so doing stuff like pushing my tethered mobile connection out through my laptop as wifi is certainly feasible for me.

I've found my mobile nirvana in a combination of Blackberry Storm, Verizon MiFi (both with data) and an iTouch. It allows me to move freely and get'r done with high efficiency.

if you are a casual user it may not make sense, just pick your fav and go with it. I'm a power user and a business user and I use the mem card slot all the time to share docs with people I meet with. It's really slick to say, connect to my wireless signal and download X docs. Clients love it.

Also, consider this. I am a wifi hotspot. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting somewhere working and people wonder how I'm connecting and I pull my mifi out of my pocket and they are simply blown away. Nor can I tell you how many times I have been asked to share my connectivity for a few quick emails at airports and in shared taxis.

It's a game changing option. If you like one, use it because the best solutions are the ones that make sense to you. If you are ready for a new level of mobile experience and flexibility then give the mifi a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2009

I've had mobile broadband for nearly 3 years now, and I love it. My wife and I are full time RVing and she has to have her TV and I have to have the Internet. I've been with Verizon the whole time and therefore I've grandfathered in with no limit even though it says 5GB. I've been over 7GB with no extra charges, but I do not make a habit of it. Anyway when MiFi came out, I double and triple checked Verizon that my plan would not change before getting MiFi. My wife now has a netbook and wanted to get Internet access which is why we went for the MiFi. We've been extremely happy with the MiFi. Granted its not super fast but it works for me. My GPS updates have been large, and it took about 4.5 hours to download a 2.1GB file.. but it worked! Imagine trying that on dial up!

Posted by:

30 Aug 2009

I have used my mobile phone as a modem before. It seemed when I used the phone as a modem, the pages loaded a lot faster than it did on the phone itself. I currently pay for a broadband card, and I don't have any issues with it. I recently purchased Mobile Broadband Wireless Router that supports my broadband card and it works great. It has a cat 5 connection and wireless (B&G). We use it as our primary internet connection, and it is great that we can take it with us on the road too.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The reason for faster page loading is probably the speed of the device, and it's ability to render the pages on your phone's web browser.

Posted by:

01 Sep 2009

I just ordered such a device to share my Verizon Mobile Broadband connection with my wife. We live in a remote area and have been using a satellite Internet connection. The Verizon connection is MUCH less frustrating. We can not get a Sprint signal here, and the AT&T signal is very weak.

If I place my broadband modem in a window upstairs in the house, and connect it to my laptop (or to this new device when it arrives) via a long USB cable, I can get enough signal to make Internet use bareable. (We moved here to rural Vermont from the Chicago suburbs a few months ago, and left behind a fast DSL connection.)

Posted by:

21 Jun 2010

I cannot tell you how great the MiFi is. I have Verizon, which is the best of all the other providers. My husband & I were truck drivers for 13 years and Verizon was the only provider we could get a signal all across the United States.
We are grandfathered into the unlimited plan and it is perfect for our situation as we cannot get cable/dsl here. I leave it plugged in most of the time so I do not use the battery. Sometimes I need to turn it of and back on after it has been on for a few days.
Granted it is not super fast, but it is way better than the Hughes Net satellite we had.
We play online poker with 4 computers @ the same time. Plus I can use my laptop @ the lake, on the road, when & where I want. It is the best alternative if you cannot get hi speed cable/dsl.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2010

does the MiFi work with the playstation 3? Can I play online with it?

Posted by:

joe medley
12 Dec 2010

is there a way to get a better signal strength from the tower ? Iget good connection in the house but the signal from the tower isnt good ?

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