Wireless internet access, for all its charms, remains a fickle friend. Not everyone can afford a 3G mobile broadband-equipped laptop, and Wi-Fi hotspots are neither ubiquitous nor always reliable. (When Wi-Fi access runs slow at the coffeehouse, count the accusing stares that shoot back and forth over the lattes as everyone tries to figure out who is watching Hulu.)
Like so many things, wireless internet would be better if you could have it to yourself. You may be able to with the MiFi 2200 Wi-Fi device being offered by Verizon Wireless and Sprint. The MiFi is a pocket-sized router/modem made by Novatel Wireless that converts a 3G signal to Wi-Fi. That allows Wi-Fi devices within 30 square feet to link to the internet, provided it has the MiFi's network access code.
Michael Ross, director of business distribution for Verizon Wireless, says the MiFi could be valuable when a business needs a temporary office. "For example, if a small-business construction customer needs to be on the job site, a MiFi set up in an administrative trailer could mean the administrative assistant is accessing company e-mail, the project manager is using a laptop to get to the internet for information, and the operations manager is reviewing behind the firewall inventory shipment schedules," he says. (Presumably, no one here is watching Hulu.)
The MiFi costs $100 from Verizon Wireless and Sprint, and the monthly service plan is similar to what you would get from a 3G plan: 250 MB for about $40 (some 3G plans offer only 50 MB for that price), or 5 GB for about $60. It offers about five hours of full internet use, and 40 hours on standby before needing a recharge.
Capable of supporting as many as five connections, the MiFi can be a bridge for all those with multiple Wi-Fi accounts, mobile broadband accounts and devices to be connected to the internet at the same time. You could even share the signal with someone you don't know at all, if that's how you roll. --D.O.
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.