Many of us now rely on mobile broadband as a way to stay connected once we leave home or the office, giving us an uninterrupted connection to the internet. But where once your only option (if it wasn’t built in) was a mobile USB modem to get you online on the move, you now have a second option: the mobile Wi-Fi, or MiFi.
What is a MiFi?
If you’re familiar with mobile broadband, and have any kind of Wi-Fi at home or at work, you should be on familiar ground. Essentially the MiFi marries the two ideas, giving you mobile broadband Wi-Fi.
The devices themselves are just a little wider than a mobile broadband USB modem (sometimes called a dongle) and are just as light, meaning just as portable. Just like a dongle they also have a mobile broadband SIM inside and work on exactly the same mobile broadband deals as a dongle.
Unlike a dongle, you need to keep your MiFi charged up, but this is done simply via a USB cable and you should find they have a similar battery life to a laptop, so shouldn’t leave you in the lurch on a long journey.
How does a MiFi work?
Your MiFi unit will come with simple instructions to get set up and if you’re used to Wi-Fi, you’ll be up and running in no time. The first time you connect you should plug the device into your main home computer or laptop; the device should install its own software with little to no prompting.
Once done and charged, you should see that quite a lot of information is actually visible on the MiFi unit itself (depending on model). This will include the likes of signal strength, amount of data used and connection established (3G, 4G etc).
As long as your MiFi has a mobile broadband signal, connecting is as simple as with any Wi-Fi unit; simply find the MiFi in the list of local connections and put in the appropriate password to get online.
Pros and cons of MiFi
Of course, the main plus side of a MiFi is being able to connect several laptops and other internet devices to your mobile broadband at once. This can be particularly useful when travelling with friends or colleagues, or when on holiday in a location that doesn’t have fixed line broadband.
It also makes life easier not having a USB device sticking out of the side of your laptop, especially while travelling. And the information on the unit itself can be really useful, especially in terms of data used.
On the downside, the only real issue can be keeping that eye on the data you’ve used – if you don’t have a generous data limit, you could soon be into paying extra data fees if sharing your connection liberally. This rings especially true if you’re travelling abroad, when data prices can rally ramp up. But, in general, the MiFi is a great step forward in terms of mobile broadband.
Image credits: Cal Evans on Flickr