While mobile broadband itself is now firmly established in the tech firmament, mobile Wi-Fi (often called MiFi) is still a mystery to many. However, anyone that’s used it will know that over the next few years it is set to become the leading way to get connected to the mobile internet.
For the uninitiated, mobile Wi-Fi does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes your mobile internet signal (via your standard mobile broadband SIM) and lets you share it between several devices. It is simple to use, in exactly the same way your Wi-Fi works at home, at work or in a café, hotel etc.
This approach offers several advantages over the typical mobile broadband USB modem (dongle) many of us are used to. And critically the manufacturers have tackled several issues that may have kept mobile Wi-Fi as a fringe technology, rather than the number one way to get mobile broadband that the MiFi is soon set to become.
First, there are purely practical considerations. MiFi devices are already at a low price point, so expect them to come down even more in the next year. They tend to be about twice the price of dongles, but with dongles being so cheap it’s an insignificant price to pay – especially for the extra functionality. And, if you’re willing to sign up for a contract, you’ll often get the MiFi device free.
Second, they’re incredibly portable. If you imagine two dongles side-by side, that’s about the size of a mobile Wi-Fi unit – smaller and lighter than most mobile phones. Plus, as they’re wireless, you can get connected with it sitting in your pocket or bag. While dongles are small, it’s amazing how annoying they can be sticking out the side of your laptop on a packed train or bus!
Then there’s the extra information you have at your finger tips. Most MiFis have a small LED screen on the front giving you lots of crucial information such as how much data you’ve used, signal strength etc. Having this so easily accessible is a real bonus.
And finally, of course, is the fact that you can share your signal amongst several devices. This has many practical purposes already, but with 4G mobile broadband starting to roll out across the globe it will become more and more relevant.
The obvious uses are sharing your mobile broadband with friends or colleagues while on a trip, but there are other practical reasons too. We all know public Wi-Fi can be hit or miss, where you can get it – a MiFi can put you in control in hotels, on holiday – anywhere you can get a 3G or 4G signal.
And it is also the perfect back-up when fixed-line back up goes down. If you run a business, or simply can’t go an hour without being online, having a MiFi unit as a safety blanket is essential – especially for those devices in the home or office that can only connect to the internet through Wi-Fi and not through a wired connection.