It’s just over a year ago that I took the plunge and ordered a Sprint 3G Mifi. It was move inspired by a tweet from Andy Abramson pointing out a deal on Amazon.com. The device was free with a two year contract at $59.95/month.
I’ve put the device to good use over the course of the year. It’s been very handy indeed. However, I suspect that we shall part company shortly.
I really don’t have any complaints about the Sprint 3G service. It’s been pretty good. There have been a few places where the Mifi could only connect at 1xRTT, but I’ve usually had decent 3G data rates in the locations where I tend to travel.
The Mifi itself, and Sprint’s handling of it as a product, is another matter. There have been some issues.
The battery life on the Mifi I find to be in the 2 hour range, which is merely adequate. The simple fact is that I most typically am not sharing the wifi with multiple devices. That implies that it’d be a lot more convenient to have a USB dongle and not need to worry about the battery life at all….ever!
There have been a dozen occasions when the Mifi was shared between several laptops. Typically these were family gatherings in my wife’s home town….a rural place. Without the Mifi there was no internet access at all. The Mifi let everyone kill time online when it was too cold, hot or dark outside to be doing other things.
The Mifi made me unusually popular on such occasions, as I was the only one in the family who had such a device. Even so, most of the time it only needed to service one computer, so a USB dongle would have sufficed.
At the point when I ordered my new netbook, an HP Mini 5102, I gave some consideration to ordering the built-in 3G modem. However, a built-in device would be too limiting. There are times when I need access from my larger laptop, and even occasions when I need ‘net access from a customers computer. The USB dongle provides a necessary level of portability.
I also find it problematic that in order to have 3G/4G cellular data access on multiple devices I require multiple accounts, incurring multiple monthly charges. If I can share voice minutes across a family plans then I should be able to use any number of 3G/4G capable devices on one account as long as I stay within my allocated data each month.
It would be great if the ability to share the access over Wifi could be retrofit using another device. For a couple of years an Apple Airport Express lived in my luggage permanently. When traveling I used it to provide Wifi in hotels where only wired connections existed.
Such things came to known as “travel routers” and are now available from several manufacturers. It would be outstanding is such a device existed for the 3G/4G USB dongle. Just a small, cheap embedded host that used the 3G/4G as its WAN connection, and shared the service out over Wifi.
Returning to the issue of battery life, some will surely note that you can tether the Mifi to a PC using a USB-to-micro-USB cable. When you do this the Mifi shuts off its Wifi radio, acting as a USB modem to the attached PC while at the same time charging its battery…or at very least running on the endless power from the USB bus.
Well, Verizon provides the requisite cable with every Mifi that they sell. Sprint doesn’t. I could not find the cable offered on Sprint’s web site so I bought one online for a few dollars. However, I’ve never been able to get the Mifi to load drivers to my laptop. It’s supposed to have a small flash partition on-board and auto-start the installer, but mine simply doesn’t. So the only thing I’ve been able to do with the USB connection is charge the Mifi.
My motivation for thinking about all of this is the most recent offer that I’ve seen from Clear. They offer a 3G/4G USB dongle for $40/month. The service is unmetered when in 4G coverage, and capped at 5 GB/month in 3G areas. The 3G service is provided by Sprint who is a partner in Clear.
The Clear offer is one third less than the monthly cost of my current Sprint 3G contract. That contract has another year to run, but I could buy it out for a $200 early termination fee. Since the Mifi was free in the first case the ETF really only amounts to paying for the device at the end of the contract.
I could be free of the Mifi’s headaches, enjoy 4G speed in some locations and 3G everywhere else. And I’d be paying less each month. It certainly is tempting.
Then again, T-Mobile has rolled out their quasi-4G HSPA+ service which is supposed to be faster than Clear’s Wimax. Also, they’ll soon be launching their new G2 phone which just might be the Android phone that I’ve been waiting for. If the G2 acts as a pocket hotspot then perhaps it could be a cheaper alternative to separate voice & data accounts?
Perhaps I should practice some patience? Yes, patience….that’s the thought for today.