Lynne and I bought one of Virgin Mobile's MiFi Mobile Hotspots recently because we wanted a way to get online when we were out and about with our trailer without committing ourselves to an expensive contract wireless service.
The Virgin MiFi has a number of advantages and disadvantages.
On its plus side, Virgin Mobile's data service can be bought in 10-day, 100 MegaByte chunks (enough for some really
lightweight Web surfing and email) or by the month with unlimited data for $10 and $40, respectively. You buy your week or month's worth of service, and you're done. No mess, no fuss, no automatic billing.
Though I had to call their Tech Support line, Activation was pretty straight forward, with good instructions. The one glitch I ran into was the MiFi unit had to be unplugged from its wall charger and running on its own batteries before it could complete the last step of the registration
The batteries, by the way, last up to five hours, so it's easy to take the MiFi and your laptop to a picnic table or coffee shop.
Speed-wise, the MiFi wasn't bad. We got download speeds of 670Kbps and upload speeds of 500Kbps, faster than most trailer-park connections, fast enough for comfortable web surfing, YouTube videos, and email. At $40/month, the MiFi might even be an ideal home Internet solutions that you just pick up and take on the road with you.
Thinking of kids, other adults, and multiple WiFi devices,the MiFi will support up to five devices at a time, so you can have your laptop, your partner's laptop, a WiFi Kindle or Nook reader, wireless printer, and Web Cam all connected and working at the same time. More than enough for most of us, but add a couple kids into the mix and those five connections may go fast at times.
On the down side, the $10, 10 day, 100Meg data plan did not last out the day. Virgin suggested 100 meg was enough to last out 5 hours of Web Surfing or 30 minutes of video, but it ran out in less than two hours while Lynne did some work-related things online. At least Virgin Mobile didn't cut us off mid-way through one of her meetings; we cruised right past the 100 meg limit to 130 Meg, and Virgin deducted the overage from our second $10 plan for the day.
The bottom line is the $10 card is probably only useful for short trips and light
Web and email usage.
Another downside is coverage. If you're close to a well-traveled freeway or population center, you should have no problem. Most of Oregon's beach communities -- Oregon Gathering's Bandon and the park we use included -- also have coverage. But take the road less traveled, as we often do, and you'll find yourself out of luck, coverage-wise.
And, lastly, if you're a speed demon, the MiFi might not be your golden ticket. 600 Mbps is pretty speedy for a mobile Internet connection, but it's slow compared to most in-the-home broadband Internet connections. Most interactive, multi-player online games require faster connections, as does streaming full-definition movies to your TV.
These limitations aside, I am fairly pleased with the MiFi. No, it doesn't do everything, but it does do a lot. If your Internet needs aren't too great, it might even be a good way to meet your Internet needs at home and on the road.