Bring Your Own WiFi

by Aaron Silvers. Average Reading Time: about 2 minutes.

Virgin Mobile MiFi

Virgin Mobile MiFi

Last week, after some goading by my good friend Graham (@ggelling), I picked up something I thought would be a bit of a luxury — a Virgin Mobile “MiFi” Hotspot. MiFi is the coined term for a portable WiFi router that works off a cellular connection like 3G or 4G, allowing you to connect via your devices wirelessly instead of having to be tethered with a cable or built into your device like a SIM or SmartCard.

The Virgin Mobile option has 3G speeds delivered over Sprint’s network. CLEAR had a 4G/3G MiFi that was more expensive for the device and the per-month cost, but it, too, is delivered over Sprint’s network. I chose Virgin because at $150 for the device, it was reasonable, and at $40 a month for unlimited data with no contract, I could stop and start as I want to.

Like I said, this was all a luxury until it turned out that I really needed it. Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC has no WiFi access in the United terminal (C) — I mean, none. O’Hare makes you pay, but at least there’s Boingo. There’s nothing for me to even pay for at Reagan. So if I’m through security two hours before my flight (because I’m a little OCD that way), I’m reading or writing (or draining my iPhone battery). This is still expected and not necessarily a dire circumstance.

This week, I attended a conference where the hosting hotel had such insane WiFi fees, provided by a third-party, that the conference simply didn’t provide WiFi. It was a conference on Social Media for Government, and there was no WiFi provided. If I had no MiFi, there would’ve been no tweeting from me from the conference… on social media. I thought it to be an anamoly, but the same thing happened at the Design for Mobile conference (also in Chicago; also at a Hilton). There, the price of WiFi was so extraordinarily high, they didn’t provide WiFi for the conference, either.

Having had to fight this fight through ImplementationFest for ADL, I can tell you for conferences that WiFi is not cheap — not in the slightest. With not-so-stellar performance at mLearnCon, I can see a trend starting that will require people who want to stay plugged in to roll their own WiFi. Maybe this is fair; maybe this is a sign of the economic times. All I’m saying is that more and more will be required of the technical nomad, and a MiFi is not so much a luxury item as an assurance that you can stay connected.

  • Hmm..I hope conferences continue to offer WiFi – I wonder why the vendors are charging so much? Do you know who the third parties are? We should contact them to ask why. I’ve been tempted by Clear and the Virgin MiFi options, both for business reasons (backup, travel) and personal (online gaming, anywhere). Tempted, but haven’t jumped in yet because of reports of slow speeds and/or poor connectivity. For Twitter, that’s fine. For FTP, website maintenance, and gaming, that’s not cool.

    • It seemed to some of us in the conference that the lower the quality of the hotel, the more accomodating it was for providing WiFi — probably because they don’t have third-parties that manage their event WiFi. Hiltons may be able to command a premium.

  • Anonymous

    ok Im 90% sold,

    What is the footprint of this? and the life, is it USB powered, looking for in the Car and Travel

    Where in Milwaukee do I go to get one? you say the Sprint Store? any other options?

    Jeff Thompson

    • Good questions. First of all, for footprint, the thing is pretty thin (thinner than a pencil) and fits in the palm of my hand. It is USB-powered (your laptop wouldn’t be able to charge it efficiently); it does it through a micro-USB port (removable, rechargeable battery), so you could do car and travel pretty easily.

      I bought mine at Best Buy, where they were plentiful.

      • Anonymous

        How does sign up work? do it right there at Best Buy? for Pay as you go?

        also Good Coverage/Speeds so far?


        • Sign up at home. It’s pay-as-you-go. You *can* get a plan, I think, but there’s no activation fee. Just straight up $40/month, all-you-can-consume. Not the greatest coverage or speeds, but it’s tolerable. The other option is Clear, which is also on Sprint’s network — I can’t imagine it’s going to be much better. The speed can be 4G on Clear, but it’s more expensive and 4G is not nearly as ubiquitous as 3G.

  • Anonymous

    Also I am finding some hotels/hotspots are not letting me use my Iphone as a WiFi Device