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Summary:

Swinging by the Novetel Wireless booth this afternoon, I got a great hands-on with the MiFi. The device is far smaller and more lightweight than you’d think; to give you an idea, I took some pics that compare it to my first-gen iPhone. Think of it […]

mifi-thin

Swinging by the Novetel Wireless booth this afternoon, I got a great hands-on with the MiFi. The device is far smaller and more lightweight than you’d think; to give you an idea, I took some pics that compare it to my first-gen iPhone. Think of it comparable in size to five credit cards stacked upon each other. It’s so small, I think they goofed on the name: Instead of MiFi, I’d go with the MiNiFi. The device includes both a 3G and a WiFi radio. You simply turn it on, it connects to a 3G network and then broadcasts that signal over WiFi for up to five devices. Aside from the initial configuration, the most difficult interaction you’ll have with the MiFi is pressing the power button. There’s nothing else to do but use it.

The 1150mAh battery lasts for around four hours and you can swap it out for a spare. There’s also a mini-USB port that can be used to recharge the battery if you want to connect it to a computer. That same port is used for configuration: Connect the device and hit a web portal to set up your WiFi network.

But the MiFi isn’t a “dumb,” single-purpose device; it has some smarts, too. Novatel says that the device can actually run applications on the embedded Linux platform inside. That brings a vast number of possible ways to extend the MiFi beyond a simple 3G hotspot. One example: A security application could be installed so that all computers sharing the signal would be protected. Here’s another: With the right software, the device can pull your email and store it, perfect for when you’re about to hop a plane. When you get to your destination, fire up your computer and connect to the device’s hotspot, the cached mail is instantly on the computer. No need to plug in a card, dial for a connection, wait for mail, etc. Carriers and developers alike could create apps and services that seamlessly run inside the connected device.

The MiFi still doesn’t have a firm release date or price, but we should see it this quarter with a goal price of around $200. Bear in mind that the device could be subsidized, since it’s going to need a 3G plan from a carrier. Those 5GB caps might be an issue with the MiFi, since more devices can use the data plan at the same time. My hope would be for a special plan price that lifts the 5GB cap when using this device, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

 
  1. Rick Huizinga Thursday, April 2, 2009

    Now, if only the iPod Touch had a built-in microphone…

    Here’s why: you could use this device to provide WiFi access to your iPod touch where ever you go, and use the Skype app (with a SkypeIn #) on the iPod Touch as your phone. We just have to wait for iPhone OS 3.0 for background notifications so the Skype app could receive an incoming call when not running.

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  2. I am thinking that this is a great modem in place of my USB one. Why have to tether the modem to anything? Just turn on the MiFi and instant 3G for 5 devices.

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  3. “My hope would be for a special plan price that lifts the 5GB cap when using this device, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.”

    It is indeed wishful thinking. Wireless carriers do not have a bottomless supply of spectrum to give every one of its customers — or even a small fraction of its customers — unlimited bandwidth. In fact, things are headed in the opposite direction. Expect to see “per unit” (KB/MB/GB) pricing from carriers as the only option in the near future. It’s the only realistic option.

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  4. Hmm… this sounds like I can be a walking WiFi tower, just stick it in your back pocket and away I go. :) WiFi for my Wind, Sony P, and SC3. The only reason I use BT DUN with my Storm whenever I can is because I turn off WiFi on my devices and use the BT to tether, because it gives me more battery life.

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  5. Hmmm, not quite sure why I’d “suck” the email into my MiFi device instead of into my laptop (where I could then read it during the flight… or just use WiFi during the flight on more and more carriers).

    Am I the only one who wondered what 3G standards/networks this device would support?

    @JK — not sure I’d want another battery-powered device that needs to be (kept) charged when I could just plug a USB dongle into my laptop. Or even better, just use plain WiFi (I dropped my Sprint EVDO a year ago and haven’t really regretted it).

    5 GB is a joke. Especially for a device that you might want to use to offer a shared internet connection for others (e.g., in a conference/hotel room).

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    1. Oliver, there are two currently planned models: a GSM version for HSUPA support and a CDMA version for EV-DO Rev. A.

      I hear you on the “it’s another device to charge” thought. The flipside though: if your computer uses less power for a Wi-Fi connection instead of a 3G connection (via USB or otherwise), you’d get a little longer run-time on your computer using a device like this for connectivity. Maybe not enough to justify the cost, but it’s something to think about.

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  6. This thing would be great for road trips and such. Inexpensive devices like netbooks and ipod touchs can take advantage of the internet sharing ability to provide connectivity for a group.

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  7. I recall an app that lets you convert a 3G winmo phone into a wifi hotspot, now that’s a killer app! battery life is still an issue but the same pb applies to laptops anyway

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