making way for MiFi in business communications arsenal
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
May 4-10, 2010; issue #1071
High Tech Office column
It’s safe to assume that you’re all familiar with “Wi-Fi,” the wireless
networking standard that allows notebooks and other devices to get
online in homes, airport lounges, cafés, hotels and increasingly in
places of work.
It doesn’t, however, stand for anything. It’s a trademark of the Wi-Fi
Alliance industry association.
Are you ready for MiFi? Again, not an acronym (and no hyphen). Also a
trademark, in this case, owned by device manufacturer Novatel Wireless.
But like brand names Kleenex and Xerox, it’s starting to be applied
generically to devices that connect to a cellular data network and
share the Internet connection locally using Wi-Fi.
That’s harder to describe than to use.
I’ve recently had the loan of a pair of devices from Rogers, one
marketed as a Rogers Rocket Hub (actually a Sony Ericsson W35 device),
the other a brand name Novatel MiFi 2372.
The Rocket Hub ($150 with two-year plan, $400 with no plan) is about
the size of a paperback novel and isn’t designed for portability. It
needs to be plugged into an electric outlet. It connects to Rogers’
high-speed data network and can share the Internet connection via wired
network cables with up to four computers or via Wi-Fi with up to 10
As an added bonus, there’s a phone plug on the side – you can plug in
and use a standard phone. The phone connects to the cellphone network,
not voice-over-IP, with unlimited local calling.
The target market: home users and small businesses that aren’t
well-serviced by either ADSL or cable Internet providers. It could also
be handy for families with a summer cabin or on holiday: pack it along,
plug it in and take your Internet connection (and home phone) with you.
The Novatel 2372 ($50 on a three-year plan, $250 with no plan; also
available through Bell) is more portable. It’s battery-powered (with
four hours of battery life) and pocket-sized. The smaller size leaves
out the wired network ports and the phone plug, and it will connect to
a maximum of five Wi-Fi devices. (Connecting to multiple devices drains
the battery faster.) It includes GPS positioning (Windows only) and a
memory card port. Plugged via USB into a PC or Mac, it doubles as a
wireless modem, providing Internet connections to that single device.
Its portability gives it a different set of uses than the larger
device: throw it in a bag and use it in a hotel room. Or on long car
trips – there’s an optional car charger – to keep passengers (not the
driver, please!) connected while travelling. Use one with a Wi-Fi-only
iPad model for Internet access that’s not limited to available wireless
Assuming access to the mobile data network, setup and use is
straightforward: plug it in, let it find the data network – with the
Novatel device, you need to charge the battery first (even if you’re
using it plugged in) – and watch it appear on your computer’s list of
available Wi-Fi networks. Enter the encryption key, and you’re online.
Rogers promises up to 7.2 megabits of bandwidth, depending on the
strength of its data signal at your location.
Running an online Internet speed test, I got download speeds of about
two megabits, slower than my home Shaw cable results, but plenty fast
enough for casual Internet use, including watching online video.
As with all mobile networking devices, the upfront purchase price is
only a fraction of the total cost. Rogers offers several data-only
plans that range from $35 per month for up to three gigabytes of data
to $60 per month for up to 10 gigabytes. Use of the phone line on the
Rocket Hub adds $15/month.