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Back in December, I broke the mobile broadband speed limit using Verizon’s just launched 4G network. The only LTE-compatible devices at that time were USB dongles, and they were initially limited to computers running Microsoft Windows(s msft). Since then, Verizon (s vz) has added USB support for Mac (s aapl) computers, but also new MiFi devices that can share the fast 4G signal with multiple devices.
For the past week, I’ve been using one of the new MiFi’s. Novatel Wireless(s nvtl) sent me a loaner MiFi 4510L, which Verizon currently sells online for $99 with a two-year data contract. This morning I used the device as my only data connection for my laptop and a tablet. It can share the 4G connection with up to five devices. My laptop was used all morning on the MiFi’s hotspot, while I used the tablet sporadically. Both devices enjoyed super speeds from the 4510L; I felt like I was working at home where I have a fast FiOS connection.
Verizon advertises that the MiFi 4510L should provide downloads 5–12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2–5 Mbps. In repeated tests, the device exceded those claims and performance didn’t vary much. My speedtests routinely showed network latency around 45 milliseconds, downloads at 16 Mbps and uploads just over 5 Mbps, all of which are comparable or better to what I experienced in December.
To give you a real-world example of the speeds, I downloaded the latest Christina Perri album from my Amazon Cloud Storage(s amzn) account in just under two minutes. Every activity I threw at the network and the MiFi — video chats, YouTube (s goog) HQ viewing, streaming music, browsing and more — offered a comparable experience to my speedy home network.
The device itself is slightly thicker than the old 3G MiFi I still have for Verizon’s network, but it doesn’t have a noticeably bigger footprint, as you can easily throw the new MiFi in a pocket. The 1500 mAh battery lasted for just over 3.5 hours on the 4G network and can be charged with the included plug or from a computer’s USB port. One upgrade I really like over the prior version is a handy display to show signal strength, battery life and the number of connected devices: A small dot appears for each computer, tablet or mobile device using the MiFi’s wireless connection.
While the MiFi 4510L uses Verizon’s 4G network, it also supports the operator’s 3G or EV-DO data networks; helpful since LTE is only available in 46 markets now. The carrier plans to cover 145 markets before the end of 2011. Since the MiFi 4510L supports both 3G and 4G mobile broadband, it’s future-proof and is prepared to show you 4G speeds if you’re not yet in an LTE coverage area. Using the device at my home office provided standard 3G speeds, just like my old MiFi does.
Should you buy this MiFi? There’s two schools of thought here for people that need mobile broadband. One one hand, some are occasionally using the wireless hotspot functionality that’s becoming prominent on new smartphones. The potential downside here is that using the phone as a hotspot can leave you with a brick. Once the battery runs down you lose both your mobile broadband and your smartphone features. The other camp would rather have a dedicated data device which can offer more monthly bandwidth for the dollar. For those folks, especially in an LTE coverage area, the MiFi 4510L is a great choice.