If you’re in an airport, coffee shop, ice rink, or driving down the freeway, and your computer detects a wireless network called “Alltop,” I’m somewhere close to you. This is because I’m using the Sprint MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot card.
This device is about the size of six credit cards stacked on each other. It grabs Internet access using the Sprint 3G EVDO network and then creates a WiFi network for up to five people to use within thirty-three feet. (You can password protect your network in case you don’t want to be an ISP.) The device costs $99.99 after rebate and a two-year contract. The monthly charge is about $59.99 with a five gigabyte per month limit. It has a four-hour battery life (that is twice my Macbook’s battery life) with forty hours of standby.
Top Ten Use Cases
Skeptics will immediately wonder (and I was one of them) why would you need another way to connect to the Internet with there are so many WiFi networks around plus built-in EVDO and mobile broadband USB devices. I’ve been using one of Sprint MiFi cards for two weeks now, and I truly love it. I’ve listed several use cases below.
At the airport. Most airports have WiFI networks these days. Some, like SFO, have T-Mobile coverage. Others, like McCarran Airport (Las Vegas), have a free network. There are four reasons why a Sprint MiFi network is better:
· Cheaper. If you’re not a monthly member of T-Mobile, Sprint MiFi is cheaper after five or six days of use in a month. If you have a monthly account, the Sprint MiFi is approximately the same cost but it’s not shareable or as easy to use.
· Easier. Free or paid, WiFi networks are often a pain to use. Some require log in after creating a free account, for example. And you can’t share the WiFi access with your traveling companions.
· Faster. Paid or free, you’ll be sharing the WiFI network with many others in the airport so it’s likely to be slower than a MiFi connection. If the Sprint EVDO network starts getting a lot of traffic, I suppose that this advantage will decrease, but until then it’s usually faster than the WiFi networks in airports. One notable exception: yesterday I got 20 megabits/second upload and download access at McCarran—what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas.
More convenient. WiFi networks stop working once you get on a plane, so you have to make a choice: stop working and get on the plane right away or wait until the last minute and not have room for your carry-on baggage.
With Sprint MiFi, you work in the waiting area, board the plane as soon as you can, and keep working right until the flight attendant threatens to call an air marshal because you haven’t shut your laptop. You probably won’t mind if the plane is even held at the gate for a while.?
In your hotel room. I’ve spent many a midnight hour talking to hotel engineering staffs or iBahn support trying to make a hotel connection work. (My favorite explanation is: “Oh, you’re using a Mac. We don’t support Mac.”) You’d think for the extra trouble and money, you’d think that you’d get smoking speeds. Think again.For example, I was at the Inn at Penn in Philadelphia this week. For $12.95/day, wired (Ethernet) access was .46 mb/s down and .25 mb/s up. The Sprint card got 1.58 mb/s down and .58 mb/s up performance in the same room. Ergo, why pay $12.95/day for lousy access in your hotel room when you can pay $60/month and use Sprint MiFi all the time?With the Sprint MiFi there is no logging in, no registration, no trying to figure out why my room number and last name don’t match the system’s record (“kawaski”), no $12.95/day, and no slow performance. Plus, with the Sprint MiFi supports both my Macbook and iPhone can access the Internet. (I know that I can make a Macbook share an Ethernet connection or use an Airport Express to create a WiFi network for my iPhone, but this involves more weight and wait.)
Traveling with kids. When our family goes for a drive, we have a combination of four iphones, four Macbooks, and one iTouch running. Wouldn’t it be great if family members could share access while truckin’ down the road? How about if you’re not truckin’ down the road, but you’re at an airport waiting for a flight? No one that I know has five TMoble accounts. Sharing access with your whole family when traveling justifies the Sprint MiFi alone.
Macbook Air owners. Let’s say that you got sucked in by Apple’s minimalist port strategy (MPS) and bought the vision that WiFi is everywhere. You could get a USB mobile broadband device for your Air (or any laptop), but then your sleek, beautiful, and minimalist Air looks like it has a colostomy bag. Don’t get me wrong: I had one of these USB devices (ironically from Sprint) and loved it, but you cannot share access with them. Also I sold my Air, but that’s another story.
iPhone owners. There’s lots to love about an iPhone, but AT&T and battery life are not two of them. AT&T’s Edge network is too slow—it’s called Edge because it drives you to the edge of insanity. 3G is lovely in the handful spots in America where there’s good coverage. So this what you can do with Sprint MiFi: turn off 3G (ergo, extend battery life), turn on WiFi (I don’t know if 3G or WiFi uses up juice faster), and connect to the Sprint MiFi.
Smartphone users of Jajah and Skype. These products are beautiful things—they essentially enable you to make free or very cheap phone calls around the world from your iPhone if your iPhone has fast enough access. If you’re in a permanent WiFi hotspot, you’re good to go. Jajah works with 3G networks but Skype doesn’t—it requires a WiFi connection. If your iPhone is accessing the Sprint MiFi card, you’re good to go almost anywhere. Think about this users: free international calls on your iPhone anywhere there’s Sprint EVDO coverage (for example, driving down the road) not only where there’s a WiFi network.
Pitch maker. Anyone who needs Internet access to make a sales or fundraising pitch should buy one of these—if for backup Internet access. Sure, the rich venture capitalist you’re meeting with has WiFi all over her office, but she doesn’t remember the password for it. Her “people” handle that for her. And what if the network is down—do you think you’re going to reschedule the meeting or just have to fudge now? You should hope that you can’t use the venture capitalist’s WiFi network so that you can show how you’re smart enough to have a backup plan.
Conference attendee. Let’s say you’re at one of these $2,000 tech conferences in a palatial hotel because you want to rub elbows with other smores (social media whores). Of course the hotel has WiFi, but to access it you often need the conference password. Let’s say you get and remember that. The next problem is that 750 other smores are also online at the same time. It’s better to have your own small pipe than to share a big pipe with hundreds of others. Power tip: Sharing your access with four other attendees is truly “networking” and is bound to help you meet people. Maybe you can charge access-desperate people to use it.
Conference speaker. You’re speaking at the aforementioned conference, and you need Internet access for your presentation. Would you rather share the hotel’s pipe with 750 attendees who are watching YouTube videos during your boring talk or have your own small pipe? At the very least, it’s good to know you have a backup plan in case the hotel’s access sucks because the important the presentation, the more likely it will suck. Here’s a line of business: charging other speakers to access your Sprint network. They’ll pay even more for access than audience members.Or, let’s say you’re speaking at a university. It has smoking fast WiFI (Wharton had a 20 megabits/second nework). Life is good right? Except that the network asks for an ID and password. You’ll probably find someone to sign you in, but it’s always good to have a backup plan.
Great untethered masses. Tethering is the concept that your laptop can access the Internet by connecting to your phone via Bluetooth and then using your phone’s 3G connection. This isn’t available for iPhones yet because Apple employees don’t need Internet access since the company is anti-social. When tethering is (a) available for your phone and (b) works well, you still can’t share a connection with others. And, “working well” requires a good 3G connection and getting your laptop and phone to talk to each other via Bluetooth is often a non-trivial task.
There are few battles I fight harder that adding bulk and weight to my backpack because it’s loaded with a 13-inch Macbook, Bose headphones, digital SLR, and an iPhone plus all their associated chargers and cables. The Sprint MiFI 2200 is the first thing I’ve add in a long time because it’s so easy to use, provides a fast, shareable network, and costs only $60/month—and it’s just a wisp of a device anyway. By the way, now that I’m an ISP, the password for my card’s network is “myalltop” (case sensitive) in case you don’t have one yet.
As a small business owner the availability of the Sprint MiFi card and services based in the “cloud” means that you can operate your business in many more places. For example, if you want to sell tickets at a neighborhood event, you can use the Sprint MiFi card and a ticketing service like TicketLeap (disclosure: I am on the board of advisors of TicketLeap). In essence, Sprint MiFi makes it so that your point-of-purchase is anywhere there’s Sprint broadband coverage.