The oft-heralded “Internet everywhere” that WiFi promised a few years back is still a pipe dream for most. Getting a WiFi connection in most places involves paying for hotspot access, along with the security and performance compromises that come with it. For those who travel a lot, having to maintain hotspot accounts with companies like T-Mobile or Boingo can become a mess of passwords, fees and annoyance. One could also get a 3G card for their laptop, but that’s usually an expensive and complicated process.
Having hotspot access in a hotel or airport is one thing, but what if you need to work anywhere and you don’t want to (or can’t) utilize 3G cards for your device? What if you want to share with a co-worker or friend? Verizon’s answer to those questions is the MiFi. We’ll just say this now and get it over with: When Icrontic covered CES 2010, it saved our asses.
Verizon has a strong 3G presence in Las Vegas, but we tested this device in what is probably an extreme usage scenario: five people concurrently using it to browse, check Twitter, get email (including attachments), upload video to YouTube and instant message. With more than two people, it gets pretty slow; with all five on, it barely works.
If you’re the only one using the MiFi, however, you should have no problems, provided you have a strong 3G signal. I uploaded a 118MB clip to YouTube and it took 28 minutes, or only slightly slower than most normal home broadband connections.
At no point during our testing were we unable to get a signal, but I do wish there were “bars” on the MiFi to indicate signal strength. It’s an ubiquitous symbol that people are used to, and there’s really no reason not to have it on a 3G device.
When we did have connectivity issues, however, we had no reason to think: “Hey, that steel pillar is in the way, I can just move it three feet to the left and get a bar.” There were also a few times I had to reboot the MiFi to resolve some speed problems but, considering how hard we were pushing the thing, I don’t consider that an issue.
Having a mobile WiFi hotspot is critical in certain situations, for sure—but is it worth the cost? You can probably find the MiFi 2200 for free with a bundled data plan, but those plans can be expensive: $39.99 for 250MB a month, or $59.99 for 5GB.
I think most of us can agree that 250MB is a pretty low bandwidth cap. It wouldn’t be hard to blow through that in a month and, with bandwidth running 10 cents a meg after 250MB, it’s a quick trip to StickerShock World™. With that in mind, we’re of the opinion that you need a 5GB cap if you need a device like this at all. But then it becomes a question of pure economics: this thing is a lifesaver if you need it but, like any essential device, you pay the price for the privilege.
Because of the cost, the MiFi will likely remain a niche product. Even at the lowest rate plan, this is not something for the mass market. If you can afford it, however, the MiFi will bring an enormous amount of convenience to your mobile lifestyle and increase your productivity by enabling you to be connected anywhere.
Added bonus: you get the stink-eye from other journalists who are dead in the water while you bust out your little MiFi and get to work…