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Summary:

I have been using the MiFi for weeks now, and it still thrills me to do so. There is something liberating about pushing the MiFi power button, waiting a few seconds, and then getting any Wi-Fi enabled device onto the web. No wires, no fuss, simple […]

Verizon MiFiI have been using the MiFi for weeks now, and it still thrills me to do so. There is something liberating about pushing the MiFi power button, waiting a few seconds, and then getting any Wi-Fi enabled device onto the web. No wires, no fuss, simple elegance. The MiFi I own is from Verizon, and what sets it apart from those USB modems of the past is the ability to get up to five gadgets online with a single connection. Even when I am working on a laptop, I always have the Palm Pre or the iPhone 3G sharing the connection, too. I share that connection with others rarely, and then usually only family members. I realized today that I actually share the MiFi connections less than I have shared the old, USB connection in the past.

So why don’t I share the connectivity more often than in the past, given the easy ability to do so with the MiFi?

It is a Wi-Fi router, after all, and it only takes me a few seconds to get someone connected to my personal, little hotspot. The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. I do it less often because it is too easy to share. How’s that? Well, the MiFi appears as a simple Wi-Fi hotspot to any device. That means that computers treat it just like any other hotspot. The difference is that my little MiFi hotspot comes with a 5 GB cap on monthly data consumption. If I exceed that cap, Verizon charges me usurious rates for the overage. That’s enough of a reason to make me think long and hard about sharing this connection.

I mentioned that I have shared my Verizon data connection in the past, when I was using a tethered USB modem. That method caused me to take specific actions to initiate the connection sharing. I would connect to the web using the USB stick, enable Internet sharing on the laptop, and then instruct the lucky person I was sharing with how to tap into my little network. This is a lot more work than the MiFi sharing but strangely enough, that’s why I do it less now with the MiFi.

My old method required me to manually initiate the data connection first, and then enabled the sharing. That put me in control over when it happened, and for how long the sharing lasted. When I wanted to watch my data consumption, I would just kill the sharing. That is not easily done with the MiFi.

The MiFi Wi-Fi (say that 10 times really fast) connection requires a password to tap into the hotspot. I have control over who gets on the hotspot, and thus who shares my data connection, by restricting who gets the password. The problem is the way that most devices access Wi-Fi hotspots. Once a password is entered on the device, it is remembered so that it can automatically access the hotspot in the future. Therein lies the problem, and why I say the MiFi is too easy to share. If I allow someone in a coffee shop to access my little MiFi hotspot once, then that person can automatically tap into my network connection in the future without my knowledge. I would be happily working away, while my data cap was getting assaulted by others without my awareness. That scares me, quite frankly.

Sure I could change my MiFi access password often to prevent this, but it’s an involved process that defeats the easy access. It’s far easier to not allow anyone to share the connection, and that is what is happening. So, even though it’s much easier to share, I am in fact more selfish with my MiFi. That’s what data caps will do for you.

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  1. I could understand about the datacap issue. That is why I am happy with my mobilebroadband here in Sweden. I pay 25 US Dollar a month. When I reach 20GB. They switch me from HSDPA to 3G. I have never really had any troubles.

  2. Good point. The Cradlepoint router’s default sharing is to have the user open a browser and enter the password, like how you connect to hotspots or hotel WiFi.

    This is missing in the MiFi and that’s unfortunate. If I were to share my connection with strangers, I’d like to switch it to a hotspot mode so I wouldn’t have to give away the default password that’s located on the back of the device.

    I guess you could change the password each time you want to share, but that’s a pain.

  3. What about liability/accountability? If someone you shared the network with does something illegal or downloads mp3s illegally, wouldn’t the RIAA potentially sue you the WiFi MiFi sharer (in the latter case) and not the culprit?

  4. it is such an easy thing to overcome if they have just implemented a temporary password for predefined time.
    you wouldnt need to change your permanent self password or family password, but you will be able to share a temporary one with others for a few hours.
    Moreover, controlling the throughput for those temporary devices is an easy thing is they had wanted that.

    Tal

    1. Or a secondary broadcasted network, for this kind of guest sharing.

  5. James Kendrick Friday, July 10, 2009

    I think it works this way by design. Verizon doesn’t really want me sharing 3G with casual folks. Family sure, but I doubt they want me regularly letting folks on the network who aren’t paying anything. In that regard their method works great, for them.

  6. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this is exactly the reason why current data plans defeat the purpose of this device.

    If carriers are too greedy to offer unlimited plans, they should at minimum step up with a 25GB cap for a device such as this. Even without sharing that connection with strangers, the fact that “my own” multiple devices can be connected and sipping bits in the background makes shared bandwidth just more sense.

  7. Ideally you should probably be changing your password on your router probably every month or so anyway, so would it really be that big a deal to do so in this situation?

    Also, if you instead of giving them the password, just type the password for them, you can make sure you select the box that doesn’t save the connection, can’t you?

    I know Ubuntu, OSX and Windows 7 have that as an option, though I can’t remember for XP and Vista.

  8. Does the MiFi have MAC filtering? Find out the MAC addresses of your devices and add them to the whitelist. When you feel like sharing, turn off filtering. MAC addresses can be spoofed, sure, but I think in this situation, ie being mobile and controlling when the access point is actually on, plus having SSID broadcasting turned off might work for you.

  9. Is a 3G connection really fast enough to share with others?

  10. Regarding the low cap that mobile operators impose, I think part of the problem is that heavy users are an especial problem here. In UMTS and HSDPA (but presumably not EV-DO), a mobile broadband user occupies far more capacity than a voice user, but per MB generates far less revenue. As long as one person’s data usage is fairly light, it can be fitted round other users. When the usage is heavy, accommodation is more difficult.
    The price of mobile broadband has reduced recently, in the UK at any rate, because operators had spare capacity. Once that spare capacity is taken, things don’t look so rosy. Operators can install more infrastructure, but if it’s mainly to supply mobile broadband users, the economics don’t look so good.

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