By: John Dodge
The MiFi 2200 "mobile hot spot" from Verizon is a nifty device. To summarize, MiFi is mobile broadband in the back end and Wi-Fi out the front, giving up to five users/devices access to the Internet from anywhere.
Here's how it works. The user simply switches on the MiFi to establish the mobile broadband connection to Verizon's 3G network. Smaller than an iPod Touch, MiFi then behaves like any other WiFi mobile hot spot, albeit probably performing more slowly than the Internet access you have in your office or home.
For companies with employees who work remotely in teams, the device means springing for a single mobile connection that can be shared by up to five users. Or, if you don't want cable and a wireless router at your lake house, you, the family members and guests can use MiFi and you'll still have the ultimate in Internet mobility everywhere else.
I connected three netbooks running over MiFi's Wi-Fi connection. The MiFi was located outside on a porch railing, serving up the Internet via Wi-Fi to my three netbooks about 60 feet away. This was to test distance. Mi-Fi works just fine inside, too.
Like the HP Mini 1151NR that Verizon offers with bundled mobile broadband (see review), MiFi uses the VZ Access Manager software to make the initial broadband connection. However, after that, MiFi makes the mobile broadband connection independently. The only reason to return to the Access Manager on the host would be to switch connections or change settings.
MiFi's Access Manager has been spruced up from the more Spartan look in the one with the HP netbook. It took me about 10 minutes to download it from MiFi to the host for setting up the initial mobile broadband connection. My host machine is a Lenovo S10 IdeaPad running the release candidate of Windows 7, which posed no problems in either the installation or the initial connection.
I had some difficulty establishing Wi-Fi connections initially because the manual failed to indicate that MiFi must be unplugged from the host for Wi-Fi to work. The requirement was mentioned in the single-page MiFi Connect Information, which also contained the SSID Wi-Fi password.
The initial battery charge took 2.5 hours. Verizon did not give me stats on how long a single charge lasts, but the MiFi I tested chugged along all morning without a hiccup. It needed a recharge early in the afternoon, so I estimate that you will get three to four hours of use without recharging.
Verizon promises mobile broadband download speeds of 600K to 1,400K bps, with slightly lower speeds for uploads. Presumably, the bandwidth gets split up across however many Wi-Fi devices are working. A YouTube video I downloaded stopped and started about three to five times over the MiFi, as the video played faster than it downloaded, but performance was faster than I expected. Videos on the mobile broadband bundled into the HP netbook downloaded far more slowly in my tests.
When I successively punched in CNN.com on the three netbooks' browsers, MiFi took upward of 2 minutes to produce the pages. Another splashy news site with lots of graphics, Boston.com, took only half as long in the same exercise.
The cost of MiFi service is the same as that of all of Verizon's mobile broadband offerings: $40 or $60 a month and a two-year service commitment. The MiFi unit has an up-front cost of $100. Early termination will set you back $175, and Verizon won't confirm that it offers enterprise customer discounts for volume buyers.
But my biggest fear about MiFi is the same as with all gadgets-losing it.