Mobile Internet

One of the most common (sensible) questions I come across on forums and Facebook groups is what is MiFi and how do I get internet on the go. Let’s take a look at what this is and how we at Wild-Vistas go about provisioning our personal mobile internet.

MiFis (Mobile WiFi) are compact, wireless devices that enable multiple users to share a single mobile broadband connection while they are on the go. The devices come in two types dongles and independent modem devices. Both are compact, wireless devices that enable multiple users to share a single mobile broadband connection while they are on the go. Into either of these you insert a SIM card which then provides internet access on either 3G or 4G.

To dongle or not?

Dongles are USB sticks which can take a SIM and have the associated circuitry to connect you to a mobile network. However they only work for the laptop, they are plugged into – you can’t plug them into a phone – and consequently they are single user. They have other drawbacks to such as a poorer ability to receive mobile signals, the only area where they win out is cost. So if you are a single person with one laptop that you use for internet access then perhaps a dongle is for you – everyone else use a MiFi modem.

How does it work

MiFis work by creating a localised signal, similar to the wireless routers used by home broadband providers, such as BT or TalkTalk, because of this, sometimes the technology is referred to as wireless mobile broadband. 
In the picture above you can see the MiFi unit in the centre, this contains your SIM card typically a data only SIM, as you won’t be making calls from the device. The MiFi device connects to the 3G (or 4G) network of your chosen provider and then creates a local WiFi network just for you,

£1 coin for scale

ours is called Wild-Vistas, as you can see in the picture below.  From the display you can see that we are on 3G at the moment and have used 9.13Gb of our 40Gb allowance. Once all this is setup and working your devices can connect to your mobile wife using the password which you set. You can have multiple devices connected sharing that single link to the internet.

For mobile phone users, it means that you are not using your own personal data allowance, so as Lisa likes to think – it’s free! Except it isn’t you are using the allowance from the SIM inside the MiFi instead, you are still paying one way or another, however you may be getting a better rate for data as well as a better signal and thus improved browsing speed. Many MiFi units can also act as a WiFi Extender, this means that if there is a local free WiFi nearby you can have the unit connect to that instead of using your SIM data allowance, it continues to allow connections to it as normal so your connected devices won’t be able to tell that this is happening, this is good for saving pennies, but in many cases free WiFi spots tend to be very slow.

Security

You will want to give your WiFi network a sensible password so that other people can’t use your network, when you setup your device is should take you through the process and encourage you to set a strong password. What they often forget to tell you is to change the admin password on the MiFi device, this is usually set to something dumb like “admin” and if you don’t change it you are liable to be hacked.

Speed

3G connection

What kind of speed should you expect with this type of setup? In our house in the country we got a miserly 2Mbits/second download speed, now we are using a MiFi we are seeing much better speeds. This example is while running on a 3G network in the Norfolk Broads, we have seen speeds reaching up to 20Mbits/second. At these types of speeds you can stream HD video, but watch out as this gobbles up you allowance in no time! For instance if you a streaming an HD movie on Netflix, it will consume 3Gb/hour so 6Gb for a 2 hour film.

Tips and Tricks

Right now none of the UK service providers sell an unlimited allowance package for data only SIMs. The best to be had at the time of writing is 30Gb from EE and 40Gb from Three, but this market is in rapid change so it pays to shop around. Because we use the internet so much we have opted for two SIM cards one from EE and one from Three, when the allowance on one is reached we swap to the other until the allowance is reset – which happens monthly.

Even so we still try to minimize our usage, we do this by turing off the iPhone/iPad automated backup, auto updates on apps, stop apps refreshing data in the background, auto photo syncing and anything else which can use up your allowance without your knowledge. As mentioned previously you can make use of free WiFi spots with the WiFi Extender function, when we find one of these we then use it to update all our phone apps and data.

If you are using Apple devices you shoudl use AirDrop to share photos between devices as this is not only much faster but only uses the local network provided by the MiFi device and hence does not eat into your allowance.

Although our device does not offer on-board storage, some MiFi devices do allow you to store photos and other files locally to save yourself network charges.

If you have any other tips and tricks for reducing your network usage – let us know!