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Summary:

Novatel Wireless said this week that it will open up its MiFi router to developers who want to build applications for the popular gadget. This means tech companies can build software that will run on the credit card-sized Wi-Fi router that uses Verizon’s or Sprint’s 3G […]

novatel-mifi-2200-4xh-460Novatel Wireless said this week that it will open up its MiFi router to developers who want to build applications for the popular gadget. This means tech companies can build software that will run on the credit card-sized Wi-Fi router that uses Verizon’s or Sprint’s 3G network as its backhaul to the Internet — and essentially turns a person into a walking Wi-Fi hotspot.

Vendors are already taking advantage of the development program. James over at our sister blog jkOnTheRun wrote about Eye-Fi, which makes a Wi-Fi card that allows people to transfer photos from their camera to their PC without a cord, building a program that allows folks to send photos to the MiFi when they aren’t in a traditional hotspot. He didn’t understand why anyone would want to do this, however after talking with people in the consumer device industry and with carriers, it’s clear that they think using the MiFi as a way to connect consumer devices to a cellular network has a lot going for it. Companies making cameras, MP3 players and other portable devices that might benefit from 3G connectivity would rather consumers use MiFi or a similar device then have to embed an LTE or CDMA chip directly into their gadgets. Not only would it be cheaper for the cost-sensitive device makers, which wouldn’t have to put more expensive cellular radios in their products, but it would also mean that consumers wouldn’t have to pay for multiple subscriptions to get connectivity on a variety of devices. Instead, they would pay for an unlimited data plan from a carrier and essentially turn their purse or pocket into a Wi-Fi hotspot that travels with them wherever they go.

The downside of this is twofold. One, current MiFi data plans — which run about $60 per month for 5GB — aren’t exactly cheap. Two, carriers have expressed a desire (and have a business need) to adjust their payment plans to account for machine-to-machine connectivity. For example, AT&T’s Glen Lurie told me that for photos the carrier might try to get consumers to buy prepaid cards that allow for a certain number of photo transfers using a 3G-connected camera. For a carrier, such a program could boost margins, and be priced so it doesn’t overwhelm the data network with too much traffic.

But if the idea of consumers becoming walking hotspots is embraced by gadget makers and users alike, we could see connectivity on more of our devices sooner rather than later. Currently I use my iPod touch in conjunction with my MiFi and love it. Since the MiFi supports up to five devices, I would be excited to see what else I could add to my portfolio of WiFi-connected gadgets. At this point the only thing standing between me and ubiquitous connectivity everywhere is the 5-GB-per-month limit on my data plan and the lack of Wi-Fi chips in most of my portable devices.

  1. I acknowledge the MiFi’s form factor is superior, but want to bring Fon to everyone’s attention:

    http://www.fon.com/en/info/whatsFon

    Credit card sized Fon would be awesome!

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  2. [...] Link: Which Will Win? Connected Gadgets or a Connected You? – Gigaom.com [...]

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  3. wow that’s expensive, I bought a mifi in the uk on three and use my existing data plan with them which is 5 gigs a month for £7.50

    The only downside is that the mifi in the uk has been played with and you cannot access the controls without using a windows program (annoying when I am on a mac).

    Its a great device but unless they stop carriers from playing with it I can’t see it taking off. One mifi should work the same as another no matter the carrier.

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  4. I’m definitely excited to see what the future brings.

    So far, the MiFi with a $60/month data plan works well enough; besides, you can get the MiFi for free with a data plan (see http://buymifi.com ).

    Electronics with embedded cellular radios would definitely be pricey. Plus, you’d have to worry about each device’s cellular connection rather than just your MiFi. I guess, on the other hand, that could be a blessing, too, in the case of one service failing where others perform admirably.

    I guess we’ll know as soon as the market (either way) gathers momentum.

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  5. mifi is an awesome idea and the credit card size is nice indeed, but it is already possible to accomplish the same with any nokia smartphone using an app called joikuspot.

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  6. Have been using my tether http://mytether.net/ for the palm pre on sprints network – it is very fast! and I don’t need to carry another device or pay additional $60/mo.

    down side is I can’t make a phone call at the same time, at least, until skype for the pre comes out.

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  7. I too, use a MiFi with my Touch and it’s simply awesome! Wherever I go, I have WiFi. Sure it’s pricey, but what the heck–I’m only gonna live once. It works flawlessly. When we go on vacation, it works all up and down freeways at any speed for listening to Pandora and providing internet access to netbooks for my passengers. You gotta try one to believe how cool it is! My wife sewed a little pouch for it and I keep it in my pocket. Some folks claim it gets very hot–mine never gets even noticeable warm when providing wifi for just the Touch. I think it heats up the more devices are using it’s wifi signal.

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    1. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, October 14, 2009

      Dave, will your wife sew me a Mifi pouch too? Mine gets all manner of weirdness on it laying at the bottom of my purse :)

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  8. I guess I must be missing the point … why do Ineed a MiFi router when I already have an iPhone? A simple software tweak could enable the iPhone or similar to act as a Bluetooth and/or WiFi hub for all of my other devices.

    One less battery, one less device, one less subscription. This seems like a stopgap gimmick to me.

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  9. Ian, not everyone has a device that can tether; hence the MiFi is awesome for obtaining wifi service just about anywhere.

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  10. The MiFi’s a great device. No ifs or buts about it. The problem is the data plans attached to the device. Laptop users would already blaze through 5 GB with just their laptop. Throw in extra devices? It’s like saying let’s have an email party. Everybody get together and type.

    Whoop dee doo.

    If they’d like to attract business users and consumers alike, they’ll need to be more generous with these caps. The MiFi’s abilities are severely restricted right now. It could reach it’s full potential on a WiMAX or LTE network with much more generous caps.

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  11. The MiFi’s current potential is being held back by the caps of 3G networks. What Novatel needs is a WiMAX and LTE MiFi. With much more generous caps (or presumably unlimited), it’ll truly be a cable/fiber optic replacement.

    Just as how many households have strictly cell phones, they could also just have the MiFi on WiMAX or LTE as the sole connection to the internet.

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    1. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, October 14, 2009

      First we have to get the LTE networks :) But even then, using it or even a 3G/4G dongle for your sole connection won’t be a great experience for a while. Plus, it will be pricey.

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  12. [...] it to link devices together without the need of a web-connected router (although earlier this week I wrote about how Wi-Fi may also win out over direct connections to the web in favor of devices like the MiFi). It also will threaten other wireless networking [...]

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  13. I have a Mifi on Verizon’s network and, yes, it’s great if you can stay on 3g (EVDO Rev-A) and not drop speed to 1XRTT every other minute. In major metropolitan areas (such as Miami) 3g is everywhere and very consistent. Here on the SW Gulf coast, not so much. I bought the Mifi to use on a trip with my family this past summer, and it handled the multiple users really well. In “real life,” however, the slow speed issue is no good.

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  14. [...] Which Will Win? Connected Gadgets or a Connected You? [...]

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  15. [...] developers — because like all gadgets, web sites and services released in the last few years, the MiFi is a platform. Sure, it’s primarily seen as a convenient way to get online using a variety of devices or as [...]

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  16. [...] the availability of personal hotspots such as the Mi-Fi and the rise of the Direct Wi-Fi standard make Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell big [...]

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  17. [...] how will the subscriber be billed for myriad connected devices? I’ve talked about carriers and consumer device makers looking at personal hotspots such as the MiFi to enable consumers to subscribe to one plan while [...]

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  18. [...] from Novatel, which offers users a Wi-Fi signal while using the cellular network for backhaul. I have gotten excited about  personal hot spots before, and Sharma namechecks the MiFi in his article as well. Either way, fixed broadband isn’t in [...]

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  19. [...] E-book readers such as the Kindle, automobiles, upcoming and current tablets, not to mention cameras, are all getting connected. Combined with continued growth in the Asia-Pacific area and infrastructure maturity in emerging [...]

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  20. [...] laptops. Our own Stacey Higginbotham disagrees, as she points out that it makes far more sense to share one data connection with these other devices. The rapid adoption of the smartphone, coupled with the inclusion of 3G and 4G connectivity, will [...]

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  21. [...] media players. A single device such as a MiFi, or a smartphone that offers Wi-Fi / USB tethering, can act as the Internet on-ramp for any and all of our gadgets. And those MiFi devices aren’t limited to 3G any longer: Clearwire offers a 4G unit while [...]

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  22. [...] how will the subscriber be billed for myriad connected devices? I’ve talked about carriers and consumer device makers looking at personal hotspots such as the MiFi to enable consumers to subscribe to one plan while [...]

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  23. [...] be Wi-Fi only, provided Apple continues to offer a non-3G option in its next generation tablet. As Stacey foresaw more than a year ago, consumers will only need (and likely have budget for) one cellular network-connected device that [...]

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