Sometimes technology doesn’t work the way you want. I was recently housesitting for a month and the “high speed” internet was spotty. The DSL connection was coming through at 174k using the SpeakEasy Speed Test. That speed is fine for answering email, but it’s slow for the online applications I use. Fortunately, the local Radio Shack had the Virgin Mobile’s MiFi in stock.
If you haven’t heard of a MiFi, don’t worry. It’s a compact wireless router that allows you to create a mobile hotspot with internet connectivity for up to 5 devices. Various cell providers have offered MiFi’s mobile broadband hotspots for several years such as Sprint and Verizon.
The early plans were expensive for my usage, as you needed a contract. Recently, Virgin Mobile changed that by offering attractive no contract plans. For $40, I had unlimited usage for 30 days. This payment option makes it great for traveling or conferences. There is also a shorter $10 plan, which does have data caps.
The device is surprisingly small and light. The picture below is a comparison of the device to one of my membership cards. The main difference is the thickness as I would need 8 zipcards to match the MiFi.
Despite being small, it can hold a charge for 4 hours. It comes with an AC adapter and a USB cable. The USB cable is a mystery though as in the Quick Start guide, there is a shaded message that reads:
IMPORTANT: Do not plug your MiFi device into your computer’s USB port using the USB cable. This will prevent the MiFi device from connecting to the Internet. The USB cable will disable your Wi-Fi connection when connected to your computer. The USB cable is provided for use with a USB car cigarette lighter adapter to charge the MiFi device.
Normally, I would accept that statement as true except I saw an answer on one of the bulletin boards stating the device will work. In my tests, I could not get the device to broadcast when plugged into a USB port on my HP notebook. I expected this subject might be covered in the PDF manual, but there is no reference.
The setup was easy, but could benefit by having illustrations and bolding more keywords. The first step says to make sure the battery is fully charged before using the device for the first time. However, they don’t tell you the battery is already charged or how to read the indicator lights. There is a 78-page PDF manual you can download that provides more information.
Another appealing aspect was that you had many of the typical settings of a wireless router. As example, I could do MAC address filtering, port forwarding, renaming SSID, passwords, and the like. However, some conveniences were lacking such as setting a static DNS server. With my notebook, this wasn’t an issue as I could change the TCP/IP property settings and put in my OpenDNS IPs.
Connectivity and Speed
The connectivity and speed of the device met my expectations. There are a lot of factors that affect how easily you can connect to the internet and at what speed. In my month of use, I clocked download speeds from 510 Kbps to 1252 Kbps. The VirginMobile BROADBAND2GO site says the average speed is 600 – 1400 Kbps. Most of the time, the connection was using EVDO 3G, but on one occasion I did see the slower 1xRTT connection. Again, this varies on where you’re located.
There were several times when the connection dropped unexpectantly. It’s not the most graceful disconnect as it throws you back to the VirginMobile Setup page. I also hit a spell where I was continually dropping in an area that had been working. Had I stayed around longer, I would’ve tried to isolate the problem.
The broadband coverage varies so you should make sure the service is available in the areas you plan to use it. Unlike cell phones, the device does not roam and stays on Sprint’s network. (They provide the network to VirginMobile.) To date, I’ve always been able to get a signal.
Overall, I was very impressed with the device and glad I made the purchase. Granted there are smartphones that have tethering, but you need a cell plan that has a generous data allotment.
- No contract
- Small form factor
- Easy set up
- 4 hour battery life
- Device gets hot when plugged in
- Can't charge device from notebook USB port
- No battery life indicator on device
- No signal indicator on device
Model: VirginMobile MiFi2200 34A
Cost: $150 plus data usage
Last Updated (Tuesday, 19 April 2011 15:49)