MiFi 2

A couple days before Christmas, I did something that I’ve never done before - I lost a mobile device.

The victim was my poor MiFi (previously reviewed here), which I’ve had for nearly two years. It’s a wonderful device and has provided me with cheap and reasonable internet access on the move. I don’t quite know what happened, but on my usual train, the 7.49 to Cardiff, I must have left it on the seat. On realisation, I went through the seven stages of grief and accepted that I probably wouldn’t see it again. If a commuter hasn’t got themselves an early Christmas present, I’ve pretty much lost it to First Great Western’s overly bureaucratic lost-property office.

Luckily, I had a pleasant surprise when I called my network provider to report the loss. The blocked the device and said they’d send me a new “up to date” version, as long as I carried on the contract.

…and so, twenty-four hours later, I had a shiny new MiFi in my hands. Huzzah!


There are a few things that strike you when you first have a peek. Firstly, it’s been given a makeover. It’s like a little black pebble now, with a rather handy status screen to let you know what’s going on. Someone has also rather sensibly put a thingummybob to allow you to physically secure it to whatever you want to - which should prevent idiots like me from losing the damn things.

Perhaps the best improvements, though, are the web-based configuration interface (which means that anything that has a browser can set up the device) and the automatic connection that takes place as soon as you switch it on. Once on, it connects and fires up the WiFi within about five seconds. Simplicity is the best bit of it - It has even less buttons than its predecessor. The only other button is the one that displays the network ID and password. As before, you can connect up to five devices to it, but how much bandwidth everyone gets will depend on how good your coverage is. It seems that they’ve even thought about how to improve coverage too. Included in the box is a proper docking station which also charges the device and angles things for the best reception. Huawei seem to have considered everything.

In terms of performance, it’s said that with the addition of HSDPA, bandwidth is supposed to have massively improved over the previous iteration. Whilst it’s hard to give absolute values for this (because your coverage, network and computer might have some bearing on the performance), I averaged at least 3MB/s in good coverage 3G and city areas, and about 800KB/s in my “not to good” home area, which impresses me. There are still rural areas that don’t even get 512K lines with conventional wired broadband, let alone mobile versions. In most cases, the upload speed wasn’t too far off the download speed (tested with speedtest.net). It’s hard to say if the speed improvements are due to improved network coverage, a better antenna, or simply the HSPDA bit, but my hunch leads to me to think it’s a combination of all three. I used TuneIn Radio through my iPhone and car stereo as the test (6Music, I do wish you’d broadcast on FM!) and dropouts were very short and rare. The quality of connection seems to have improved.

If you’re using the device without its charger, then battery life will depend upon how much you hammer it. From full-battery to empty, you should get 6+ hours of continuous use. However, I’m just charging mine up again after a few weeks of slightly more intermittent use (about 20 mins/day). It’s got a standard USB connector if you want to charge it up on the go.

Do I recommend getting one of these? Of course I do. It’s damn good way of having mobile data, miles better than those awful USB stick affairs - and you can share it, too. Lots of small improvements have been made in every area, showing that a lot of thought has gone into the revamp. Setup is simpler, connection is simpler and the speed is better. I have to say that it’s seriously impressed me. If you’ve got an iPad, laptop or equivalent, you could do a lot worse than buy one.

Now I just need to make sure that I don’t lose this one.

MiFi - A real test.

You might have noticed a few posts ago that I made reference to my new little gadget - the MiFi. Whilst I gave something that resembled a review, the one thing I hadn’t done was an extensive real-world test. Is the coverage any good? What are the data-speeds like? What about battery-life? Would I recommend it as a purchase to anyone else?

I decided that a more thorough test was required and after a bit of deliberation, I thought of a simple one - streaming audio, set up using:

  • One car.
  • One car-stereo.
  • One MiFi.
  • One iPhone/iPod-Touch - with last.fm installed upon it.

I’d stream a channel through last-fm over WiFi using the MiFi unit. As I drive along, I get a good idea of how coverage is sustained, as well as whether transfer rates over the journey are useable.

My journey covered approximately 55 miles and was a mixture of city, town, dual-carriageway and rural driving. So how did it fare?

  • Of the 55 miles, the connection was held for approximately 65% of the journey. What was rather good was that the gap was pretty much in one chunk (more or less, about 15 miles or so). Over this stretch, there was no network coverage whatsoever.
  • The connection whilst in the city was maintained - but very slow. I suspect this was a capacity issue. Data transfer speeds were really low and the iPod continually had to buffer the connection - evidently the problem of shared bandwidth in a built-up area.
  • For the latter part of the journey speeds were good and audio continued all the way to home, resulting in a very short gap over the 35 minute stretch. This was particularly impressive given that this section of the drive was fairly rural.
  • I repeated the drive for a couple of days and didn’t recharge the battery. I’d guess that working hard, you’ll get about five hours from the lithium-polymer battery. It does get rather warm when it’s busy for a continued period of time, but not dangerously so.
  • As a guess, I’d say that streaming audio uses about 1MB/min. I’ve streamed about 10hrs of audio this week and reckon that it’s used about 550MB of my allowance.

The device is nice and simple to use, my only grizzle being that it doesn’t always automatically reconnect as quickly as it should if a disconnect happens.

Would I recommend it? That depends. If you live in a highly built-up area and want to use it in a static location, then possibly not. It would appear that 3 have either throttled the bandwidth significantly, or they have serious capacity issues. This would probably result in you tearing your hair out when using it for sustained periods. Of course, the same would be true if you live in an extremely remote area - you’ll probably find that your coverage just isn’t good enough. There’s always a significant degree of variance between coverage checkers and reality, so you may need to look at them in a more pessimistic light to get a true reflection of the MiFi’s capabilities.

However, if you’re looking for something that provides reasonable coverage for those ad-hoc situations where you require internet access, or you happen to live in a smaller town, you’ll probably find that it doesn’t do a bad job at all. Lightning fast broadband this ain’t, but it’s more than adequate for web-browsing, low-bandwidth streaming and the odd download - just don’t push your luck with anything as hungry as iPlayer.

Is this ready to replace your fixed-line broadband? The answer is “maybe”.


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