'MiFi units', 'Mi-Fis' 'MiFis' or 'MiFi dongles' are compact, wireless devices that enable multiple users to share a single mobile broadband connection while they are on the go.
MiFis work by creating a localized signal, rather like the wireless routers used by home broadband providers. For this reason, some people refer to the technology that MiFis use as 'wireless mobile broadband'.
As with mobile broadband dongles, MiFis are on offer on monthly contracts and pay as you go. However, unlike dongles, which started to become ubiquitous in 2007, MiFis are comparatively new and have yet to become a truly mass market product.
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What is MiFi mobile broadband? How does a MiFi work?
A MiFi taps into 3G or 4G mobile phone networks and uses this connection to create a mini wireless broadband cloud. This can then be shared between mobile internet-enabled devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, netbooks and even games consoles, that are within range of its signal.
How many people can connect at once?
The broadband signal created by the current generation of MiFi products can be shared between up to five users. In order to pick up the signal, however, they must be within around ten metres of the device. Future generations of MiFis are likely to offer longer range as well as the chance to connect more and more users.
How fast is MiFi mobile broadband?
MiFi mobile broadband provides standard 3G/3.5G connection speeds of up to 21Mbps, depending on location. The arrival of 4G in the UK via the likes of EE means that users can access speeds well in excess of this. According to EE, its 4G dongle and MiFis deliver speeds up to 80Mbps.
As with any type of connection, users will typically experience some slowdown when the signal is being shared.
Which providers offer MiFi products?
Three was the first company to introduce MiFis, with Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and latterly EE following suit and releasing their own models.
At the time of writing, EE, Vodafone and O2 all offer MiFi units that are 4G capable, as well as 3G models.
One of the great things about MiFis is that they are so easy to set up. All that is required is to turn on the unit and wait for your computer to detect the signal.
This typically takes a matter of seconds. Once this is done you can get online at broadband speeds instantaneously. Unlike some dongles, there is no software to install.
MiFi vs mobile broadband dongles
A dongle will only allow you to get online with one device at a time. By contrast, MiFi units let up to five people use the signal simultaneously, making them handy for families. MiFis are also a great, cost-effective option for students living in shared accommodation.
MiFis also offer the advantage over dongles that they do not need to be plugged in to the device that they are connecting to the internet. This means that they can be placed in the optimum position to ensure a good signal, thus allowing users to overcome some of the problems associated with using a dongle.
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Can data be stored on a MiFi?
Just as dongles double as mass storage units, MiFis also offer the chance to store files on them. Typically they are compatible with microSD cards, which can be inserted into the MiFi to boost storage space.
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