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August 24, 2010

A gadget that "just works" – the MiFi

Writing about web page http://www.three.co.uk/Mobile_Broadband/MiFi

3 MiFiI’ve just been on holiday – a week in Centerparcs. The village has WiFi in all the central areas, and some of the more expensive lodges have it, but not our lodge. Co-incidentally I was offered the option of trialling a MiFi by Three Mobile Buzz. Now normally I wouldn’t be bothered at the lack of WiFi. I have an iPhone which has all the connectivity I need, and the other members of the family aren’t so addicted to being online as I am. Except that a few of them have recently discovered Farmville and didn’t want to leave their farms unattended for a week. Anyway, when you are holiday with kids, you have to spend the evenings in and having internet access gives you another entertainment option.

The MiFi is basically a WiFi hotspot with a mobile data connection. Turn it on and it connects, via the Three mobile network in this case, to the internet and advertises the connection via WiFi. It allows up to 5 simultaneous WiFi connections so you can share your connectivity with friends. The hotspot is fully configurable for encryption and passwords, but the defaults are reasonable and mean that you can be up and running with it very quickly.

Anyway, I got the MiFi a few days before we set off. The first thing I did, obviously, was try it out at home. I seem to have a decent Three signal at home, the MiFi connected via HSDPA (aka “3.5 G”) and my usual broadband speed checker rated it at 4Mbps. Since my home ADSL line only runs at 5-6Mbps, that’s pretty good. Obviously this is signal strength dependent, though. I also tried out the battery life before we went. From fully charged to completely empty took 6 hours with light usage. Use it heavily and it lasts nearer 5 hours.

So, with everyone eagerly anticipating access to Facebook and Farmville through the week, we arrived at Centerparcs and discovered that my iPhone, on O2, just about managed a voice connection, at least some of the time, but couldn’t manage a data connection at all. Other phones on Orange where just as bad. As I turned on the MiFi in our lodge I was preparing people for the worst, but it turns out that Three’s signal was pretty good. The MiFi got a decent 3G signal in most of the lodge and could manage 3.5G in one corner. Throughput varied between 1Mbps and 3Mbps. Sighs of relief all around…!

And it worked flawlessly all week. Everyone was happy – the Farmvillers and the iPhoners with no native data connection. One nice feature of the current MiFi, compared to the previous version, is that it does work while being charged. There were a couple of days when I had it running all day, permanently powered, and it didn’t skip a beat. A gadget that just works. Perfect…

A quick note about costs. You can get the MiFi on a rolling monthly contract, £15/month for 5GB/month with the device costing £40, or £17/month for 18 months again with 5GB/month and the device for free. You can also get it on PAYG for £50, with 1GB of data costing £10. The MiFi is also available on Vodafone.

Overall, I love the MiFi device. It just works. Simple. And, depending on mobile signal strength, it provides a decent throughput. Certainly enough, potentially anyway, to use as your only broadband connection. The only problem with that would be cost. If you use lots of data it could get expensive, although there’s a 15GB for £22/month package with should do for most people. That said, my “unlimited” ADSL costs me just £7.50/month, and I have pushed over 70GB through that in the last couple of months with no complaints form the ISP.

Summary – If you need broadband on the move, the MiFi is hard to fault. Just get one…


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