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If you have a WiFi enabled iPad or laptop but are not in a wireless hotspot then a MiFi modem can be used to connect to the cellular / mobile phone network (3G or HSDPA signal) and create a wireless broadband hotspot so you can get online . Alternately you can use a MiFi mobile wireless modem to connect up to 5 WiFi enabled devices to the cellular network which could get you online on your iPod Touch, Sony PSP, Nintendo DSi, netbook, mobile phone or other WiFi enabled devices all at the same time.
MiFi packages are available from numerous mobile phone carriers worldwide (such as 3-Mobile MiFi / Vodafone MiFi in the UK or Verizon / AT & T MiFi in the US) and various plans exist depending on if you want to sign up for a contracted period and pay a set amount per month for a regular data allowance or pay-as-you-go service. The pay-as-you-go plans may be more appropriate if you use the service from time-to-time as the data is more expensive but you only pay for what you need.
MiFi modems vary in size and shape but generally they're credit card sized and around 1cm thick. The MiFi modem is portable but equally substantial device that is like a very small mobile phone. Some also have a micro-SD slot so you can add your own SD card and use the device as a memory stick also.
How to set up your mobile wireless MiFi modem
The following instructions refer to a Huawei E585 3G Wireless MiFi Modem (part of the 3 MiFi package from the 3-Mobile network provider in the UK) but other modems will work in a similar way.
- Get the SIM in the modem by opening up the modem and sliding it in the SIM card slot behind the battery.
- You'll need to charge the modem for a long period initially to get it up and running (around 8 hours). You can do this by connecting it to the mains via an adapter plug, or alternatively you can charge by attaching it to a USB socket if you're using it to connect a laptop or other USB enabled device.
- Power up the MiFi modem using the on / off switch and give it 90-120 seconds to pick up the mobile / cellular signal.
- The modem's screen contains various icons giving you details of signal strength – all are pretty self explanatory and explained in detail on the instructions that come with the modem
- You then just connect to the usual WiFi signal on your iPad, laptop or other device and enter the login and password details provided by the carrier who purchased the MiFi and data plan from.
If you struggle to get a strong signal then move around as network coverage can vary a lot even in the space of a few metres.
When you pick up a strong 3G or HSDPA signal you should get decent data speeds enabling you to stream YouTube videos and loaded web pages quickly. The performance is as any fast as you'd get on a smart-phone but not comparable to a high-speed home broadband connection. The signal strength greatly depends on the cellular / mobile carrier you select and their coverage in the area you're trying to access the 3G or HSDPA network.
Battery life of the Huawei E585 3G Wireless MiFi Modem was generally around four hours when powered by the battery in the modem and in continuous use. "But standby time is much longer so best to turn the modem off if not in use to prevent the power draining away.
To give you an idea of how far your data allowance will go. The 3-Mobile cellular network in the UK states that 1 GB of data should roughly allow you to browse the web for 10 hours, plus send 1000 emails, plus download 32 four minute music tracks, plus download 5 four minute videos. A lot will depend on what you use if for but simple websites such as Google with few images require very little data usage and video downloading on YouTube will take much more.
Mobile WiFi Summary
Your mobile wireless MiFi experience will greatly depend on the cellular / network coverage in the area that you'll use it and watch out for hidden charges such as using the device abroad. All-in-all though, a MiFi modem is a great way to get online when you're out of range of a WiFi network and do not have a 3G connection built into your iPad, laptop or other wireless enabled device. MiFi modems also allow you to create one connection that a number of other devices can connect to and often the cost of the modem is far less than paying up front for a 3G enabled device.