Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My MiFi's A Virgin

When I bought my iPad (which I am still loving!), I chose the wifi option. Didn't know any better, so I spent the extra $130. Now I wish I hadn't.

At the same time that I was setting my iPad up I ran across a blog post mentioning MiFi. I investigated. MiFi is the acronym for personal, mobile wifi hubs. I investigated further and found out that Virgin Mobile sells a mifi unit for $149. Then for $40 per month you have unlimited internet access anywhere, and for up to 5 devices. I plucked the money down, and started the service. It works great. The backbone is provided by Sprint, so I don't suffer with AT&T's network problems, and I get connectivity for more than one device.

But hey, why reinvent the wheel in explaining this technology. The Modern Day Pirates blog has a post all about this stuff!

Why The Virgin Mifi is a Big Deal

As our computing goes increasingly mobile, the cellular networks are struggling to keep their service afloat and not be crushed under a pile of iPhones. One space that this has been especially apparent is in the mobile hotspot arenas.

Mobile Wifi Hotspots (or Mifis to the cool kids) are devices that use the cellular data network to connect any wifi enabled device to the web. This means you can finally live the lifestyle of people in stock images, using your laptop in a park with headphones on with your friends. That’s real quality social time!

Up until this point the networks in the United States have really stunted what these hotspots could do with either bandwidth caps, prohibitive pricing, or both.

For example, the Verizon Mifi will set you back $40 monthly for $250MB of bandwidth or $60 monthly for 5GB. If you are even a normal web user who watches YouTube or listens to Pandora, you are going to burn through this pretty fast. Remember, this is a hotspot, meaning you can connect more than one device to it at a time. Sorry friends I am hanging out in the park with, I am close to my bandwidth cap.

Another option is to use tethering with your smartphone for mobile web. Both the iPhone and Android Froyo offer this functionality if the user is willing to pay $20 additional a month, but anyone who has actually done this knows that using a smartphone as a hotspot drains the battery extraordinarily fast.

Apple made an interesting play at hotspots with the iPad 3G, which gives your iPad access to 250MB for $14.99 or 2GB of data for $25. Unlike other devices, the iPad data is without contract, meaning you only pay for the data when you need it. This was a step in the right direction, but only worked on the iPad you paid for.

Enter Virgin Mobile’s new Mifi to really shake things up. The Sprint based Virgin Mobile has just announced a Mifi hotspot that will connect users to unlimited (that’s right. no limit, hence the “un”) data for $40 with no contract. For people that were on the fence about getting a MiFi, this is extremely tempting.

The lack of a contract means no recurring charge to the credit card bill and on months where you are very static, you don’t need to pay to keep the service. Most importantly, true unlimited mobile broadband means that a person can attach multiple devices without worry and not change their web habits. At $40, that is even competitive to use in the home to replace the landline internet. Mobile has virtually replaced landline phones, its only a matter of time before that moves to web too.

Even though Virgin Mobile was sold to Sprint last year and he has moved on to commercial space flight, I like the Virgin Mifi so much I am going to say that this was Richard Branson’s idea. Thanks Sir Richard!

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