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What is MiFi? Mobile broadband routers explained

What is MiFi? Mobile broadband routers explained

MiFis or MiFi dongles are compact, wireless devices, usually a little smaller than a smartphone, that create a localised Wi-Fi signal that you can use on the go.

The main benefit of MiFis is that they enable multiple users to share a single mobile broadband connection, in a similar way to the wireless routers used by home broadband providers. Therefore, some people refer to a MiFi as a mobile broadband router.

As with mobile broadband dongles, MiFis are offered on monthly or yearly contracts as well as on pay-as-you-go tariffs.

How does MiFi mobile broadband work?

A MiFi taps into 3G, 4G or 5G mobile phone networks and uses this connection to create a mini wireless broadband cloud or hotspot. This can then be shared between mobile internet-enabled devices — such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and even games consoles — that are within range of its signal.

With the upcoming rollout of 5G networks across the UK, MiFi mobile broadband will look to use this new generation of mobile signal to access faster speeds than ever before.

How fast is MiFi broadband?

At the moment, most MiFi mobile broadband provides standard 3G or 4G connection speeds, depending upon network coverage, with 5G options just entering the market.

On 3G and 4G connections, there can be considerable slowdown when sharing your MiFi connection across multiple devices and users.

Which providers offer MiFi products?

MiFi mobile broadband products have lost some of their popularity since most smartphones these days are capable of generating their own mobile broadband ‘hotspot’. Therefore, fewer providers are offering MiFi products nowadays.

4G mobile routers

At the time of writing, EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 all offer MiFi units that are 4G capable, as well as 3G models.

5G mobile routers

5G mobile broadband looks to be an important alternative that could potentially challenge standard home broadband again. While it’s inevitable that all networks will look to provide some sort of 5G coverage, the first providers out of the gate for mobile broadband are Three, Vodafone, EE and O2.

How do you set up a MiFi router?

One of the biggest advantages of MiFis is that they require very little setup. You simply insert your SIM card and switch them on. Within a few seconds your computer, tablet or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device will pick up the MiFi signal and will be ready to connect.

There’s no software to install and you can be online in a matter of seconds, so it’s a lot quicker than many home broadband installations — especially ones that require an engineer visit to the home.

MiFi vs mobile broadband dongles

A mobile dongle is a good option for laptop users as you can connect to the internet just by plugging your dongle into your laptop. There’s no need to charge it and setup is still very easy.

However, you will only be able to connect one device at a time, and your dongle needs to be compatible with the device you want to use (i.e. it might need a USB connection, so you couldn’t use it to connect most tablets to the internet).

MiFi units, on the other hand, let multiple users connect to a signal simultaneously, making them handy for travelling families. MiFis are also a great, cost-effective option for students living in shared accommodation and not wanting to take out a long-term contract.

Can data be stored on a MiFi?

Both MiFis and mobile broadband dongles have storage capabilities, and they’re typically compatible with microSD cards if you want to increase the amount of storage available. Compare all mobile broadband deals at Uswitch now.

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