For years I’ve quietly lusted after a mobile broadband card for my laptop. I couldn’t justify the expense as most of my day was spent in an office, not in the field. Now as a consultant, I find myself out and about in a variety of places. The consistent challenge is Internet access.
Originally, I was waiting for AT&T to officially support tethering with my iPhone, but that has yet to officially see the light of day. So I broke down and purchased a Verizon Wireless MiFi card.
In a nutshell, the MiFi is a small credit card sized device that you can either plug in directly through USB to your computer or simply place on the table and connect over WiFi. The device supports the Verizon 3G network, which in my region works consistently well, although it is not a speed demon. (Engadget has a good review of the product here.)
The magic of the MiFi is that it goes beyond the typical broadband connect card and gives you a portable wireless router. So in practical use, I can turn on the MiFi, place in on the center of the table, and anyone (up to 5 people at a time) with a standard WiFi card can connect to the MiFi with a simple password. The process is the same as connecting to a WiFi network at your friends house or a local coffee shop, just by entering a password to access the wireless network.
After the first couple of weeks, I’ve used the MiFi at several clients’ offices, down the shore to do little bits of work, and even once in the car upon arriving early to a lunch during a deluge of rain. In all cases, things were smooth.
At one meeting, there were several of us with laptops, but I was the only one with a MiFi. The others tried to get on the local network WiFi, but couldn’t seem to connect. I fired up the MiFi and within about a minute, four of us were all connected. The only problem was that now all four of us were sharing the connection, so none of us had great speed, but it did give us the access that we really needed.
In one of the more bizarre moments, I decided to turn on the MiFi, connect my iPhone through the WiFi connection and fire up Skype. (Side note: This is exactly what AT&T doesn’t want you to do, that is make calls with the iPhone without using any of your minutes.) I left a voice message for my father, who promptly emailed the message back to me so I could listen. The quality was pretty good, not much worse than Skype through the phone on my home (fast) WiFi network. Certainly usable in those situations where I cannot get an AT&T signal but the Verizon network is alive and kicking.
So the verdict? It’s a keeper. If you are considering getting a broadband card for your laptop, take a look at the MiFi.
(Please note: I was not asked by Verizon Wireless or any other company to write this post and I have not been compensated to do so. I purchased the MiFi at a local store with my own money and do not receive any special discount on the equipment or the monthly service.)