MiFi Units - Mobile 3G Internet with WiFi

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What is a MiFi device?

A MiFi unit is a small battery powered device which contains both a 3G data modem that provides internet access through the mobile phone network (as in a Smart phone), plus a mini router & firewall, together with a WiFi access point to allow computers, tablets and any other device with WiFi to connect to it.

With one of these, several computers or other devices that have WiFi can have internet access from anywhere that has a mobile phone signal - they are completely self-contained and portable.

These are available both from mobile phone providers, either on a pay-as-you-go or contract basis, or you can simply buy an unlocked one and add any data SIM card to allow it to connect to the mobile network of your choice.

They are often far more flexible in use that a 3G 'USB Stick' or 'Dongle' style 3G adapter as you would use with a laptop:

The internet access they provide can be shared by other tablets, phones & computers that have WiFi.

If you are in an area with a weak 3G signal, you can put the MiFi device in the best spot rather than having to work with you laptop eg. held up against a window to get a 3G signal.

And, you do not have to have a USB stick 'dongle' plugged in to a laptop, where it can easily get knocked or damaged.

Unlocked MiFi units are typically available from around £30 to £40, with second-hand ones cheaper and some specific models or types that have extra facilities rather more expensive. Various types are, of course, available on eBay.

You can also get locked ones, bought with a data contract from phone company, at lower prices or free, though obviously the data contract is not..

Beware Fakes !

Unfortunately, as with many things that become popular through reputation, there are now a number of devices being sold on ebay and elsewhere, listed as MiFi or portable 3G data / WiFi units, which are neither MiFi or 3G.

These are typically a portable ethernet-to-WiFi device and do not have any form of 3G radio or mobile internet access in them.

To work as a true portable internet system, they need a 3G USB stick [dongle] adding, just the same as you would buy to add Mobile Broadband to a laptop that does not have 3G.

The 3G stick you would need to make one of these work probably costs as much again as the gadget itself, and it makes it bigger, clumsier and more delicate than a true all-in-one MiFi device. Also, only a relatively limited number of dongle types are supported.

If you bought a laptop that was advertised as having 3G internet and found when you got it that had to buy a 3G dongle to give it 3G, like any normal laptop, you would consider it a deliberate fraud.

These fake MiFi units are no different - they only have the advertised 3G capability if you buy a 3G dongle to add to them.

If you already have a 3G dongle of a suitable type, it may be a cheap choice - but if you just want a MiFi device, stay well clear.

Real MiFi units tend to have next to no external connectors, typically just a mini USB for charging.

The fake ones usually have both an Ethernet socket and a full-size USB socket to plug in a 3G stick/dongle.

There are also a relatively small number that have Ethernet and also true internal 3G systems, that can be used for either MiFi or as portable cable routers.

Read the description very carefully and be sure the item you are looking at is what you really want.

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