Pioneered in the UK by Three, a MiFi (sometimes spelled Mi-Fi), is a pocket-sized mobile WiFi device that allows multiple users to connect to the internet wirelessly via a shared 3G or 4G mobile broadband connection.
Although the technology that MiFis employ isn't always familiar to mass-market consumers, they have quickly become a handy addition to the range of mobile broadband products and services on the market.
MiFi broadband customers can buy credit on a pay as you go and one-month basis or sign up for a longer monthly contract just as they would with mobile broadband dongle deals.
The main difference between the two is that while dongles only allow you to connect one device to the internet, a MiFi lets up to ten people share the same connection.
How does a MiFi mobile WiFi broadband device work?
MiFis work in a similar way to wireless hotspots in that they let you get online when you are in restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces in towns and cities.
Simply put, a MiFi connects with cellular networks and then creates a small, localised wireless broadband connection within a radius of around thirty feet (roughly 10 metres). This broadband connection can be used by your devices in the area.
Advantages of MiFi & MiFi devices
MiFis let you use the same connection to get online with any mobile WiFi enabled device. This means that not only can you use them with PCs and laptops, but with mobile phones, games consoles and music players too.
MiFi Cost savings
MiFi users do not have to rent a landline as they would have to if they were using a wireless home broadband connection. This instantly saves them over £10 per month.
Those with pay as you go and pay monthly deals are also free to buy credit only when they need it, meaning that they do not have to pay for internet access that they do not use.
This makes MiFis a great choice for families who need to connect multiple devices but don’t want to pay out for internet access that they may not use. It also means that MiFis are a cost-effective solution for students who are living in a shared house.
Mobile Wi-Fi portability
MiFis do not need to be connected to the device for which they are providing an internet service, so users are free to place their MiFi mobile broadband in the optimum position in their room for internet connectivity. This can help with some of the network coverage problems that mobile broadband dongle users experience.
Unlike dongles, MiFis do not require users to install any software on their Wi-Fi-enabled device. Consequently, owners can be surfing the web's highways and byways within a matter of minutes of getting home with their new device.
Disadvantages of MiFi mobile broadband
MiFi unit price
The cost of buying a MiFi with some providers is slightly higher than a buying a dongle. But that's a small price to pay given that you'll be able to connect to a huge range of devices, including iPads, iPods and music players that don't support dongles.
Sharers can soon run through their allowance
Allowing more than one person to use a connection makes it more likely that you will reach your monthly download limit much faster. This means that you may have to be more vigilant to ensure you do not exceed your usage allowance.
Which mobile broadband providers offer MiFi?
Although MiFis are relatively new to the market, they are becoming increasingly popular as more and more UK companies are starting to offer them with attractive mobile broadband packages.
MiFi: 3G or 4G?
At the time of writing, most UK mobile broadband providers only offer MiFis that use 3G networks. The exception is EE, whose product range includes a 4G MiFi. Because 4G is so much faster than 3G, EE's Mi-Fi might be the best option if a speedy mobile broadband connection speed is your priority.
Will I be able to use 4G networks if I put a 4G SIM in my existing MiFi?
Unfortunately not. Older MiFis use different technology and are not equipped to connect to 4G networks.
Future of MiFis
The mass market penetration achieved by MiFi technology in a short time suggests that MiFi mobile broadband could one day replace dongles as the most popular means of getting online while on the move.
The arrival of next-generation, 4G mobile networks in the UK allows mobile WiFi MiFi to provide users with much faster connections and make the devices an even more viable alternative to landline home broadband.
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