WiFi iPad? Meet TruConnect’s cheap pay-as-you-go MiFi

MiFi mobile hotspots aren’t new, but not all consumers want the two-year data contract that comes with one. TruConnect launched a new 3G MiFi on Monday for $90 that’s targeted squarely at these potential customers. The device uses Sprint’s (s s) nationwide 3G network, doesn’t require a contract and the monthly service is based solely on the amount of bandwidth used. This differs from the tiered data plans that most carriers have adopted, providing a set amount of bandwidth per month.

Just owning TruConnect’s MiFi incurs a $4.99 monthly charge, even if the MiFi goes unused. However, that’s a small price to pay knowing that you’d have a readily available mobile broadband connection for a combination of up to five notebooks or tablets. The device might even make for a good backup connection if you think of the $5 monthly charge as cheap insurance against a home or other mobile broadband outage.

As far as the data charges, TruConnect provides 1 MB of data for $0.039 cents. If you’re the type of person that routinely uses 1 GB or more of data, then you might be better off with a traditional MiFi plan from the larger carriers or tiered MiFi pre-paid plan from another MVNO such as Virgin Mobile.

But for a new tablet owner or someone who occasionally uses a laptop outside of Wi-Fi hotspot areas, this MiFi be more cost-effective. For example, using 250 MB of data in a month would cost just under $15: the $5 monthly charge plus $9.75 for the data. The company will automatically top up your account balance if it dips under $2, ensuring the service isn’t cut off when needed.

TruConnect’s MiFi is, like many others on the market, produced by Novatel Wireless(s nvtl). So based on my prior testing of using similar MiFis, the device should last for at least four hours on a charge and be as simple to use as pushing the power button and connecting to the Wi-Fi network created by the MiFi.

Those interested in a 3G USB stick with the same data plan price terms can buy one from TruConnect for $70; that device is also made by Novatel Wireless. Either device can be returned to TruConnect for a refund within 90 days, no questions asked, according to the company’s online storefont.

Is this deal going to attract those who have been using mobile broadband on a regular basis for some time? Not likely, although I may consider the TruConnect MiFi and retire my month-to-month Verizon(s vz) MiFi which is costing me $35 a month as a rarely used backup connection. As tablet sales continue to rise, however, there could be a reasonable number of Wi-Fi tablet owners who decide to take their iPad (s aapl) out for a walk and do a little mobile surfing or email on the go.