There are situations where you will be in serious need of a wireless hotspot only to find out that you can’t get any around. In this scenario, you can make use of a Mi-Fi modem. This type of Modem is used to convert 3G mobile broadband signals for use by Wi-Fi enabled devices.  Interestingly, one Mi-Fi device can power as many as 5 Wi-Fi enabled devices. So if you have a Netbook, Nintendo and iPod touch and your friend came with his high end mobile phone and the Sony PSP, then both of you can enjoy wireless broadband services at the same time.

mifi_diagram

All around the UK, most mobile broadband service providers have Mi-Fi devices that come with pocket friendly rates.  You have the option of going the pay-as-you-go route or you can pick plans where you will be able to pay a fixed rate monthly for a pre-determined data allowance. Many Mi-Fi devices are bought for use in case of emergencies, or back-up, so it is often best to go with a pay as you go plan. This will ensure that you do not have to pay for what you do not need.

Size of Mi-Fi devices

Mi-Fi devices come in various sizes and shapes but they are normally the size of a credit card, but 1cm in thickness. You don’t need to worry about portability as most devices can slot into your pocket easily. Similarly, most of them come with reasonable storage capacity and a Micro-SD slot. This solves the need for you to carry a card reader with you as you move about.

Setting up a Mi-Fi device

For this part of the article, we are going to use the Huawei E585 3G wireless modem as issued by Three around the UK. Most modems are modelled in the same manner so there won’t be much difference in the setup process.

  • You have to start off by charging the Mi-Fi modem to get it ready for use. It will take 8hours typically for it to be fully charged. You can either charge it by connecting it directly to your electric source using an adapter or by attaching it to the USB port on your computer.
  • After it is fully charged, insert the SIM into the allocated slot. The slot can be found behind the battery, so you have to remove that first.
  • At this time, you can then turn on the modem. Give it sometime to pick up signal. This could take as much as 2minutes depending on location. A look at the screen will show you several icons from which you can gauge signal strength, battery power etc. Everything there is very self-explanatory and you can always call on the user guide if you are not sure about anything. If after 2minutes you are still not getting signals then you may have to move the Mi-Fi device around a bit. This is because network coverage varies a bit, even in an enclosed space.
  • At this point, your Mi-Fi is ready for use. You can then connect your devices as you would on a normal Wi-Fi broadband connection. You will have to use the Login and Password as provided by your carrier, so you have to take note of those.

Mi-Fi Speed

A typical Mi-Fi Speed will allow you stream content online, complete downloads and load webpages easily just as you would on a typical 3G connection on a smart phone. The speed however cannot be compared to what can be achievable with your normal broadband network. Signal strength depends on what the coverage is like in your area for your chosen provider.  Bear in mind that you shouldn’t make the decision on a particular provider just because they have stable 3G network in your area. Like we’ve already said, Mi-Fi devices are mostly used as a back-up. Therefore it is better if you get a provider that has extensive 3G coverage around the country. 4G is also arriving so bare that in mind hen choosing providers and devices.

Power Capacity of Mi-Fi devices

When running on battery most Mi-Fi devices do not last very long. Using the Huawei modem that we talked about as a yardstick, you can expect to get a maximum of 4hours of continuous usage while running on battery. So it is advised that you turn off the device when you are not using it so as to avoid wasting battery juice. Also, when you know you are going out into areas where you will have the need to use your device, endeavour to charge both your Mi-Fi and USB enabled device fully.

How much data is enough for a Mi-Fi device?

This depends on the user. For example, most network providers in the UK will provide 1 GB of data with every device purchased and that should be enough to get anyone 10hours of web browsing, do a thousand emails, watch 30 four minute videos and download 5 videos of the same length. If you rely heavily on your Mi-Fi device, then you may want to look for a provider that offers more data. However, 1GB should be enough to use on something that is more or less a backup device.

In Summary

The experience you will get from using your Mi-fi will depend a lot on the coverage available from your provider, but Mi-Fi is a really nice way to get wireless internet when there is none around you, and the device you are intending to connect does not have 3G connectivity built into it. Its ability to provide connectivity option for as many as 5 devices is also a big plus to it. So, instead of buying a 3G enabled iPad, it may be best to get a cheap Wi-Fi only iPad and pick a Mi-Fi modem to go with it.

Make sure you fully understand the chargesfor using your Mi-Fi device in the UK. Some providers have hidden charges for using the device abroad too. It is in your best interests to read and know what these charges are before you get a shock.

Phil Turner looked at various options including a MiFi when he was having his office broadband updated. He found a few great deals online thanks to price comparison sites like uSwitch.com