May 12, 2009 0

A few thoughts on MiFi

By Deepak in Networks, Random

I recall being totally convinced that high bandwidth wireless internet would be ubiquitous by the time I graduated, when learning about 3G and wimax back at university. Now three years later on, nothing revolutionary has yet arrived. Of course this may have something to do with me being in Mozambique, but still … both technologies have arrived, they’ve done their razzle-dazzle and have been relegated to being ‘that other wireless solution’. There are plans and service solutions, it’s not that people are not using them; it’s just that they are not your first choices. It’s not just us as consumers; even the manufacturers seem to be convinced of this apparent entrenchment of wifi and the dominant wireless solution … so much so, that despite being obviously not suitable for the task, there are companies attempting to use it cover city wide areas. Sure this is within the scope of the technology but there is a reason why everybody that has attempted to create a metropolitan wifi network has failed.

One can appreciate the obvious benefits of going down to the cafe or whatever to score some free wifi and its advantages over paying 60 odd dollars a month for a cellular data plan with the tiny wireless modem etc … it’s the same reason people are still not using the video call options on their phones as much. All this craziness being justified, yesterday I came across this interesting article on a device called mifi. Its clever name notwithstanding, I can’t help but think this is yet another counter-intuitive move. Forget trying to leverage wifi like wimax, let’s now start using it like Bluetooth. I mean seriously how is this working towards ubiquitous wireless internet when you’re simply creating many password protected mini hotspots?

Normally, reading an article like this one is a pretty academic exercise, but this device seemed like it warranted a blog mention. Don’t get me wrong, a mobile wifi hotspot is a brilliant idea, from the narrow perspective of ‘don’t go searching for wifi, bring the wifi to you’ this device fits the bill perfectly. My problems with it however stems from the fact that it is still cheaper to get wifi from a cafe, anybody that really needs the internet anywhere is still better off purchasing a 3G or edge modem instead of carrying around yet another device to charge and the trend is many people using the device as a shared internet connection so how and why market this to individuals? The do-it-yourself-hotspot concept of simply wrapping a 3G modem with a wifi router could be done much better. I suppose inspiration for this probably comes from SOWN which was under development back when I was there, but being powered by crappy internet connections and doubling back to the university VPN as a security feature really is quite unnecessary, but a similar grassroots approach for network propagation has its advantages.

Hotspots should be sold as part of a reseller/partner program. Instead of this lobotomised power-saving version, sell a full-fledged single device; offer whatever incentive to the hotspot owner, such as a percentage of the revenue from their device or some other sort of credit and then let them be responsible of find a place to plug the damn thing in, have the little web login redirect so people purchase data/time credit, I don’t expect one should worry too much about handoff between neighbouring devices but I guess it can be worked in if you really care about browsing the web when mobile, but at least we’d have the makings of what I expect to be a sustainable wide area wifi network. The argument can be made that the only real benefit the mifi and its method of using a 3G or whatever last mile tech it uses, is that you have the option of sharing your internet connection, so why not go all the way? Hotspots could be created anywhere, businesses as well at individual residences; yay for stealing the neighbours wifi. Naturally this doesn’t address the very many other issues a business based on social service might face, bottlenecks, gaps, people hacking devices but at least you get wifi without having to do anything yourself, which I maintain is the whole point.


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