What is MiFi and how does it work?

The pros and cons of MiFi, how to get it, and why you should watch out for data caps.

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MiFi (pronounced my-fy), also known as portable Wi-Fi, or pocket Wi-Fi, is a great way to connect multiple devices to the Internet on the go. This makes it a great option for people who travel regularly for work or pleasure. It is also worth considering if you’re a student living in temporary accommodation or are travelling overseas.

In some circumstances, MiFi could even act as a replacement for your home Wi-Fi, if you have a good 4G signal and can’t get good broadband in your area, for example.

EE offers a moble 4GEE router especially for the home, which isn’t battery-powered.

What is MiFi and how does it work?

MiFi devices are small, mobile devices that let multiple users, and devices, share a mobile broadband Internet connection. It’s different to a mobile dongle, which only allows you to connect a single device, and to Wi-Fi, which is simply the name for the wireless networking technology that enables you to connect devices. A MiFi device connects to your other devices, such as a mobile phone, because it comes with a MiFi chip. It also connects to the mobile 3G or 4G network via your mobile provider.

MiFi devices create a localized signal that is similar to your home router. It taps into the 3G or 4G network to create a mini wireless hotspot. This means that, unlike a dongle, you can connect multiple devices such as tablets, phones and laptops.

How many devices can I connect to my MiFi?

You can share up to 10 devices on a mobile MiFi device, but they’ll need to be within 10-metres of the device.

Speeds vary but you can expect connected devices to achieve up to 25Mbps.

How can I get a MiFi device?

Like your mobile phone, you’ll need to buy a contract from your mobile provider. In the UK you can get a MiFi device from EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone.

As with mobile phones and dongles, there is a variety of packages available including contracts, PAYG and pay monthly deals. EE offers a mobile broadband router for the home for a monthly fee with no upfront cost. EE also has a Mini and standard MiFi device available for an upfront and monthly cost, which varies depending on contract length. EE also has PAYG Mifi devices for the home and for mobile users but beware upfront costs are high. EE offers data plans from 50GB up to a whopping 500GB.

Three’s HomeFi offers mobile broadband for the home and claims to connect up to 32 devices. It offers mobile MiFi on a 24-month, and monthly contract. Prices vary, and there is an upfront cost for the pay monthly options.

O2 offers its Pocket Hotspot 4G as PAYG following an upfront fee. Data allowances range from 5Gb to 75Gb. If you’d rather pay monthly you’ll have the choice of the Pocket Hotspot Pro or the Pocket Hotspot 4G. The device comes free of charge with the contract.

Vodafone’s R218 Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot is similarly available on pay monthly and PAYG plans and comes with Vodafone global roaming for use overseas. The company offers various packages. Be aware that each package comes with a different data allowance starting from 2GB over 90-days and rising to 15GB.

Which is better MiFi or Wi-Fi?

It depends on your needs. If you’re predominantly working from home, want to connect multiple devices, and are doing a lot of streaming of music and video then your best bet is probably to opt for a fixed line broadband (such as fibre), which comes with a wireless router included in the package.

You might consider a MiFi router for your home if you have a good 4G connection on your network but are unable to get fixed line broadband.

Another advantage for MiFi is that it will work during a power outage as it has its own battery power, unlike a Wi-Fi router, which will go down.

For those who do a lot of travelling a MiFi device is arguably preferable to a mobile dongle or tethering your mobile phone. MiFi comes with its own battery power and can offer up to 6 hours of battery life, with some companies claiming their MiFi devices last all day. You’ll also free up a USB port and be able to connect more than one device. Some MiFi devices offer their own storage, too.

MiFi is preferable in terms of connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot because any information you send via the device goes via the 4G network, and is therefore encrypted.

MiFi pros and cons

Pros

  • Won’t run down your mobile battery life.
  • Frees up your USB port.
  • Ability to connect multiple devices on the go.
  • More secure than connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Cons

  • Won’t match your ISP if you’re in a good area for fixed landline.
  • Watch out for additional charges if you exceed your data cap.
  • Upfront costs can be expensive for PAYG.
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