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MiFi Me!

My office recently went crazy and locked down everything. Everything. To the point that any attempts at exercising my creativity were shut down. After a day of freaking out (I don’t do well when forced to sit) and giving myself a migraine (possibly, I’m going to get that checked out), I took action and got a MiFi.

A MiFi is a Mobile Wireless Hotspot. Sounds like WiFi, but for me only. Basically it works like a cell phone’s data plan, only dedicated to data. Between some very generous friends (who I guess didn’t like the idea of a world where I’m incommunicado from 7am to 7pm most days) and a couple sales, I was able to get the Virgin MiFi plan set up for a pretty low price. The ‘extra’ money in that fundraiser are going to the ongoing monthly payments. Right now I’m on the $10 for 10-days plan.

The first question is “Why not tether?” I can tether my iPhone to my iPad, but that limits me to one device. When the little lady and I travel, she’d like to check email too, and having a way to get us both online at once is a good idea. That reason was actually secondary to the more important one, I got issues with AT&T. In order to tether, I have to change my plan and pay an extra $50 a month (yes, $50, it has to do with the fact that I’m grandfathered into the original, unlimited data plan from the iPhone 1.0s, and I’d lose the ‘shared’ plan with the Mrs’s iPhone). Oh and reception’s a shit in my office. Heck, I barely get a signal at home! I didn’t spring for a 3G iPad for much the same reasons.

The next question is “Why Virgin?” Signal for Virgin is amazing in my area. I mean amazing. I got full coverage in the basement. I can’t even get a single bar on any phone in my place, but this guy got faster-than-3G speeds. Also it’s got great coverage at my office (I found someone else who uses it). Third, they have a ‘pay as you go’ plan, and that was very important. I didn’t want a contract, in case things change, and I didn’t want to pay $30 a month for something I may not need every day. Virgin has a low-end plan: $10 for 10 days or 100megs, whichever comes first. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Now, as we know, the normal way to get a ‘use wherever’ 3G signal on a WiFi device like an iPad or a laptop has been a 3G USB dongle. No USB ports on an iPad, so I looked up the MiFi 2200. It’s about the size of a credit card, costs $130 (unless you can find it on sale for $75 on Amazon), and weighs a sneeze. Setting it up was a little weird, since I decided to do it on my MacBook first, and that meant installing software. I couldn’t find the software, and in fact most places said there was none for a Mac! But then I plugged it in with the USB cord and it popped up with ‘Hi! Install me!’

The install requires a reboot, but once you do, and put some money in your account, it works. The device makes a new network called “VirginMobile MiFi2200 Secure FFD” and the password is a sticker on the back of the device. I tested it on both my iPad and laptop and it worked fine. You can connect up to five devices at once. The only hurdle was setting up the admin page. After you connect to it, point your browser at http://192.168.1.1/ OR http://virginmobile.mifi – The default password is “admin” and you’ll be asked to change this one you do setup.

After that? It’s faster than 3G, slower than my cable modem, and portable. The first day (Thursday) I used it, I quickly determined leaving it on all day would wear out the battery and cause me to check my email way too often. I’m supposed to be working at work, and I don’t want to give myself more slack excuses. So when it was my ‘smoke break’ and I’d go for a walk around the floor, I took the iPad and MiFi with me. I sat in the window above Occupy Chicago (hi, guys!) and fired it up. The MiFi has to connect and negotiate (remember modems? same thing) so I turned it on, and after about a minute, I was online. I checked on the MiFi page first, to make sure I had a good signal, and found I had to point the MiFi a certain way on my desk if I was there. Once I was on, though, email was pretty fast.

I burned through about 3 megs of the allocated hundred I get for 10 days, so I think I’ll be okay with it on the low end. The next day I used about 30, but I was downloading a speed test app, which I didn’t actually get to use at work. I ended up hitting about 56 megs with two days left on my 10 days, which is awesome. I re-upped my ‘minutes’ on Sunday at my grandmother’s, in California, as she has no WiFi and we needed an address, and I’ve since used the MiFi again at work for two days. The average usage seems to be about 7 megs a day, which means I’ll rarely (if ever) hit the 10 day limit on things. Which is great! I only use it to check email, after all.

This is a win.