MiFi is a line of compact wireless routers produced by Novatel Wireless that act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. MiFi stands for 'My Wi-Fi'. The MiFi can be connected to a mobile phone (cellular) carrier and provide internet access for up to 5 devices. The MiFi works at a distance up to 10 m (30 ft) and will provide internet or network access to any WiFi enabled peripheral device.
The first MiFi device was introduced in the U.S. in May 2009 by Novatel Wireless, and Novatel owns a registered trademark on the "MiFi" brand name in the U.S. The Novatel MiFi is also marketed as such in the Netherlands, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. However, in the United Kingdom, mobile operator 3 owns the "MiFi" trademark and markets a similar device from Huawei under the name.
MiFi (and MiFi-like) devices
Novatel MiFi 2200
- Limited to 5 Wi-Fi clients such as laptops, cameras, gaming devices and multimedia players; with the exception of manually editing the devices config file to allow more clients.
- May be connected to a computer via a MicroUSB connection, though doing so disables the Wi-Fi networking, converting the device into a traditional single-client modem. (However, CNET has introduced a tweak to charge the device over USB while maintaining its functionality.)
- Includes GPS unit, which is usable on some networks (Virgin) and not on others (Verizon).
- Uses 3G data network (CDMA 1xEVDO RevA).
Novatel MiFi 23xx seriesSame functionality as 2200, plus:
- Accepts SD card for in-device shared media storage.
- Uses 3G data network (MiFi 2352: HSUPA/HSDPA 900/1900/2100 MHz, MiFi 2372: HSUPA/HSDPA 850/1900/2100 MHz; both support GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz).
Novatel MiFi 33xx seriesSame functionality as 23xx series, plus:
- Linux-based MiFi OS with widgets:
- Messages: perform SMS-based messaging actions such as reading, writing, sending and receiving SMS messages
- Data Usage: track MiFi data usage in home and roaming networks
- GeoSearch: leverage the GPS functionality of the MiFi to display a map of the local area, search the local area, display the search results on the map
- Weather: fetch weather data for the current and defined locations
- MiFi DLNA Server: start, stop and configure the MiFi DLNA server
4G MiFi devices
The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show 2011 saw the introduction of two new 4G capable MiFi devices from Novatel:
- Verizon Wireless featured the 4510L model, which will connect to Verizon's new LTE 4G network, expected to support 5–12 Mbps download and 2–5 Mbit/s upload.
- Sprint featured the MiFi 4082, a WiMAX version.
- MiFiOS with widget support
- MicroSD card slot
- GPS receiver
- 4 hour battery life
- Front panel status display using E Ink technology. The front panel display shows battery, signal strength and number of connected devices. The difficulty of viewing such information was seen as a major shortcoming of earlier MiFi devices.
- Huawei E5830 (Series), E585, E586 with HSPA+ and Chinese market E5805 using CDMA2000 and ET536 using TD-SCDMA.
- NetComm MyZone 3G24W
- Option GlobeSurfer III
- Sierra Wireless Overdrive (Note: 4G capable; available only in U.S. through Sprint)
- D-Link DIR-457/MyPocket
Review: MiFi 4510L mobile hotspot for Verizon Wireless
We’ve covered a number of mobile hotspots in the past and they are basically all the same. Some of the better ones have displays or microSD card readers, but at the end of the day they don’t tend to vary much from one another. Typically things come down to two factors: carrier and price. It would be great to add speed and battery life to that list, but speed generally relies on carrier/reception and there isn’t much variation in battery life from one device to the next (especially if you are connecting multiple devices as once).
So if 3G mobile hotspots are more or less all the same, then the release of a 4G LTE model is certainly worth noting. After all a 4G phone is nice to have, but a laptop can benefit even more from the connection: it can better take advantage of the speeds and doesn’t have to worry about the battery-devastating properties of current LTE chips.
At $99 (with a 2-year agreement) the MiFi 4510L is in many ways a more attractive product than Verizon’s other 4G mobile broadband offerings. Most of those are USB modems, which means that they can only work with one USB-capable device at a time (the 4510L can work with up to five WiFi-enabled devices at once). And then there is the Samsung SCH-LC11, which has gotten good reviews but has some issues.
On the hardware side the 4510L is a bit thicker than some of the products we’ve seen in the past but it’s still completely pocketable. Thanks to a matte black back, glossy front, and metallic band around the top it’s a bit more attractive than the typical hotspot as well. There is no microSD card reader, but Novatel Wireless made up for that with two very cool hardware features. The first of these is an electronic paper display on the top that shows vital information like signal strength, battery life, and connected devices. The second perk is an external antenna connector, which is useful if you’d like to boost reception and/or use this as a home device. An antenna is not included.
Setup and connecting to the 451oL are both as easy as they are with a typical hotspot. To your computer the hotspot looks just like a router so you can get data from it as soon as it’s on and has a 4G or 3G connection is established. The MiFi uses 802.11 b/g/n so no bottleneck is created locally.
Speeds are, as with other Verizon LTE devices, excellent. Here are some samples from tests in downtown Manhattan…
Other tests taken in Manhattan were basically in line with these speeds, which is to say they were also quite good. There is a lot of variation based on reception so download speeds can vary from around 7Mbps to up to the 15Mbps seen above. So the speeds are great, well within the range of being used a full-time home connection if the data caps weren’t so severe and the overage pricing insanely high.
There is no question that the 4510L gets the job done. It’s a good device and it’s reasonably priced at $99… but it’s not the only 4G LTE mobile hotspot on Verizon. The Samsung SCH-LC11 is the same price, has a slimmer design, and (from what we hear) has a longer battery life than the 4510L. Because the the Mifi doesn’t use MiFi OS and it doesn’t even have GPS working the normal advantages of going with a Novatel product aren’t present, which makes Samsung’s upstart product a viable option. The MiFi also has the annoying quirk of not being able to transmit a signal while charging over USB, though this isn’t an issue when charging from an outlet.
Overall, if you are looking for a 4G mobile hotspot right now, this is the one to get. The Samsung SCH-LC11 has some advantages over it, but the consensus is that the MiFi is the way to go thanks to better features (like the electronic paper display). Plus, the people that tested them head-to-head found the MiFi to be more reliable. I had an excellent experience with this (aside from Verizon’s LTE outage) and my only hesitation would be its combination of excellent download speeds and Verizon’s bandwidth caps, but if you are careful with these you’ll be fine.