A complete broadband network you can carry in your pocket, is this clever dongle-cum-Wi-Fi hub the beginning of the end of traditional net access?
The MiFi’s name is a lovely portmanteau of acronyms – take mobile broadband, add Wi-Fi, and you get MiFi.
The device is far cleverer than word play, though. It's a mobile dongle that, instead of plugging into a USB port to create your connection, creates an instant wireless hotspot by broadcasting its 3G modem.
The same, but better
3 has covered this territory before, with the Sharedock – a small router with a USB port in the top for the modem. The difference with MiFi is that it's entirely self-contained, needs no external power source and fits in your pocket.
The advantage over a normal dongle is that just like your router at home, you can connect several devices – your iPod, DS, netbook and laptop, say – at once, and don't need software running in the background.
The MiFi device itself is a simple silver lozenge with three keys down one side, and a mini USB port at the bottom for charging. The large black area on the front isn't an LCD screen – it covers four status icons which light up different colours to show battery life, signal strength, and router and modem status.
This, really, is the only flaw in the MiFi's design. Set-up is, theoretically, simple. Turn on the power, turn on the router, turn on the 3G radio.
When it goes well, all is fine. But trying to troubleshoot any connection problems is baffling. Especially when the meaning of some light and icon combinations isn't even in the manual.
Of all the major mobile networks, 3 is the one that's dedicated to exploiting broadband on the go. It doesn't have the same restrictions as the others for using VoIP from its 3G handsets, for example, and the MiFi is great for Skype, Spotify or any other low bandwidth app you can think of. We wouldn't recommend trying iPlayer on it, though – this isn't WiMAX, you know.
The downside to 3's usage generosity is that its coverage isn't as geographically comprehensive as most. That should change over the next few months as it upgrades its network.
When you have a strong connection and the device is working, it's hard to fault the MiFi. It may be pricier than a normal modem, but its potential – particularly for connecting iPod and games consoles on the go – is enormous.
3 MiFi review
When it works, MiFi brilliantly showcases the future of personal networks. On the rare occasions it doesn’t, you’ll want to throw it in a river