Benefits of MiFi
MiFi is definitely a great solution when you are traveling and have more than one notebook PC and/or other Wi-Fi enabled devices in your family (from which you need or want to have Internet access). Obviously, if you only have one notebook PC, MiFi may be an overkill and, instead, you could just use a single wide area wireless access card.
But, if you find you travel more than four to five times a month, and are racking up more than $30 per month in Wi-Fi access charges at hotels, then getting wide area wireless could be more cost effective. And if you have others traveling with you (family or, perhaps, business associates), then MiFi is definitely a cost-effective solution.
Someday, MiFi functionality may be provided through your cell phone so that it would operate as a wide area wireless modem back to the cellular network and include software to allow the cell phone to operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your notebook PCs.
In the short-term, however, MiFi makes a lot of sense for many of us who travel a lot and need Internet access to more than one notebook PC. Wi-Fi is great at home and in the office to provide mobile access around the premises, but MiFi makes a lot of sense while traveling with multiple Internet access devices.
Another benefit of MiFi is convenience. Once it is set up, it operates just like a Wi-Fi AP for up to five Internet access devices. The one restriction of five concurrent Internet access devices seems reasonable: the wireless providers realize that the backend (the wireless wide area modem) has limited bandwidth compared to a home network. A home network today typically provides 6M bps download and 2M bps upload, whereas the cellular modem operates more like 600K bps: 1.4M bps download and 500 to 800K bps upload shared among all of the concurrent users.
As for limitations, I found that downloading a video from YouTube required me to let the buffer fill up instead of trying to watch it in real time immediately after selecting the video. You wouldn't need to do that on a home network with higher bandwidth access. And I found it would randomly drop my VPN connection to the Frost & Sullivan network.
Today, MiFi is offered by both Verizon Wireless and Sprint and manufactured by Novatel Wireless. The Sprint version includes GPS, which could be handy if your cell phone doesn't have it. I suspect that we'll see a similar offering from AT&T Mobility before too long. A High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) version is currently being sold in Europe.
In my mind, MiFi may well be a candidate for Product of the Year.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is the VP and Chief Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.
For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.