OAKLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT--When I wrote to Verizon, asking for a MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot review unit for my upcoming Road Trip 2009 project, the response I got back was, basically, "Why would you want that?"
The MiFi operates on Verizon's EV-DO network, and converts that mobile broadband signal into a Wi-Fi signal that up to five people can use. So the question really was, Why would I, one person, find useful an Internet connectivity technology designed for multiple people?
I've just started using the device, so I've hardly scratched the surface of its potential, but here's one reason why.
I boarded my flight to Denver to begin Road Trip--my annual journey through a region of the United States in search of the most interesting destinations there to write about and photograph--and decided I wanted to use my iPhone to download one of the terrific TED talks to listen to during the flight.
The problem was that the file was more than 10 megabytes, and the iPhone will only let you download files that big if you're on a Wi-Fi network. Now, I've been using Verizon's EV-DO technology for some time, and I love it, but the plug-in EV-DO cards only provide connectivity to your computer. Technically, I suppose, you could turn on Internet sharing on the computer and create a Wi-Fi signal that way, but that's an awful big hassle.
Instead, because I had a MiFi with me--an amazingly small device that looks much more like a thin piece of chocolate than a great new technology--I was able to quickly create a Wi-Fi hotspot and satisfy the iPhone's needs.
Next thing I knew, as the plane prepared to depart our gate, I was in a race against time, trying to download the entire 55 megabytes before they closed the door and required everyone to turn off their phones.
Well, let's just say that I was able to get the entire file onto the phone. I won't comment on whether the door had already closed.
To me, this is very big leap forward. Being able to turn on a personal hot spot like that, without needing to pull out the computer, opens up a ton of possibilities. I love my EV-DO card, but it's unwieldy to the point of being annoying. It sticks out of the side of my computer, works only with the laptop and on some machines, requires Verizon's VZAcess Manager software. The MiFi, by comparison, can fit in your shirt pocket and offer up Wi-Fi at the push of a button.
Frankly, I don't think its utility depends in any way on multiple people using it. Here, by myself on a plane about to take off for Denver, I've already proved--to myself at least--that MiFi is a technology perfectly suitable for one.
For the next several weeks, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'll be writing about and photographing the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.