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Jewish World Review
June 12, 2009
/ 20 Sivan 5769
Intriguing, frustrating new MiFi
A little more than five months ago, at the tail end of December 2008, the folks from
Novatel Wireless came by and demonstrated the MiFi 2200, a “personal” wireless
hotspot, one that promises to put the speed of the Internet in a transceiver the
size of a credit card, albeit with the thickness of several such cards.
The premise, as I wrote at the time (http://bit.ly/mrVSD), is an interesting one,
promising consistent Internet access without worrying whether or not you have a
Wi-Fi account at Starbucks or access at the public library.
Cordless, rechargeable, and super-portable, the MiFi, which Verizon Wireless is
reportedly offering in a GSM-based version and which Sprint Nextel has for its CDMA
network, is now seeing the light of day. I’ve finally had one to play with.
The device is advertised as offering connection speeds up to 54 megabits per second
(Mbps), but the reality seems to be rather different. In two separate tests
involving the Speedtest.net online site, I found download speeds at roughly 1.3
Mbps. Uploads were less consistent: 0.51 Mbps in one try, but less than half that,
or 0.24 Mbps, the next. Granted, those are in a range “up to” 54 Mbps, but are
so slow as to cause one’s head to shake in wonder.
These speeds likely will vary, of course, by location and the signal strength of the
Sprint network in a given place. But sometimes, they just vary: when I first loaded
some Web pages one afternoon, things dragged. Then, speeds picked up rather nicely:
the Department of Defense home page, which I’d not loaded on this computer before,
snapped to pixilated attention.
It’s a puzzlement, and one which might make some users shy away from the new
device. And, to be honest, this isn’t for the commitment-phobic. It’ll cost
you$149.99 to buy the MiFi, relabeled the “Sprint Mobile Hotspot,” after which
you can send in a coupon for a $50 rebate. The firm also requires a two-year service
commitment, at either $60 per month for data-only service, or $149.99 monthly for
what the firm calls a “Simply Everything Plan + Mobile Broadband,” offering
unlimited talk time on a phone and the data. (I’d imagine you have to buy the
Either way, this isn’t bargain-basement wireless Internet, and, as I wrote before,
it’s likely to appeal most to those who have a business reason to write this off
on their taxes. However, the question of the moment is whether or not the MiFi would
draw raucous laughter or longing admiration from an IRS auditor based on its
performance and ease of use.
In terms of speed, as noted above, the performance can vary. Battery life, on this
rechargeable device, is rather impressive, however. At this writing, I’ve had it
up and running for about three hours without problem; it’s rated to provide four
hours of active use, and 40 hours of standby time. That would likely appeal to
riders on intercity trains and buses without Wi-Fi, for example.
And you can’t beat its tiny size: the thing is truly pocketable, or could be kept
in a purse or briefcase without much problem. If turned on, you’d be ready to roll
with a minimum of fuss.
Sprint also advertises that the MiFi 2200 can be shared by as many as five users,
making the monthly service cost a bit more manageable in many situations. It offers
64-bit WEP security, which means you can set a password to protect “your”
network. The Sprint version of the MiFi is also equipped with a GPS-enabling
feature, though, frankly, I’m not sure how I’d use that beyond the “novelty”
of being able to find gas stations or restaurants near my current location. But,
then, I can also do that with an iPhone, at least the restaurant part.
So that leaves us where we started, I guess: the MiFi 2200 is interesting, but it
requires a commitment to Sprint’s network, in whole or in part. Only you can
determine whether that commitment is worth it.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com