Vodafone has confirmed plans to deploy the MiFi mobile broadband hotspot in three markets but may face a challenge in marketing the hard to explain device.

James Middleton

September 10, 2009

3 Min Read
Vodafone to roll out MiFi mobile broadband hotspot
The MiFi mobile broadband hotspot

Vodafone has confirmed plans to deploy the MiFi mobile broadband hotspot in three markets but may face a challenge in marketing the device to end users.

The concept of a mobile broadband hotspot is gaining traction in the tech world, but may be a difficult one to pitch to consumers. The MiFi, manufactured by Novatel, is a pocket sized box powered by batteries or a mains supply and can connect up to five wifi-enabled devices with a cellular backhaul connection – a sort of 3G dongle on steroids.

Telecoms.com has been playing with one of the Novatel devices for a couple of weeks and is impressed by the concept. It’s more user friendly than a dongle because, with  no software to install, everything is accessed via a web interface. But the main benefit is that you can move the unit to an optimum coverage position — by the window, say — and leave your laptop or other wifi-capable devices on the desk or a more comfortable location. With a couple of hours battery life, it’s also got potential as an emergency hotspot, when you need to get a handful of users online.

Small businesses may understand the advantages of being able to set up a micro network on the fly, but explaining the concept to consumers is a different story altogether. Even Vodafone doesn’t seem to have a coherent pitch, with a spokesman saying that it is being marketed as a way to bring wireless connectivity to devices that might not otherwise have it, such as cameras, media players and gaming consoles. But as one analyst noted, the question here is why you would want to bring mobility to such devices? Gaming consoles would likely be better of connecting to the internet via a fixed line, where bandwidth and latency are not so much of an issue, while cameras and media players would need an interface to be able to use the connectivity and would likely struggle to stream any sort of media reliably.

Vodafone will initially make the MiFi 2352 device available in Germany, Romania and Spain, with no details on pricing or other markets available as yet.

Commenting on the announcement by Vodafone, Michael Kovacocy, European telecoms analyst and sector strategist at Daiwa Securities, said that the device represented a serious part of the convergence puzzle but the operator would likely be faced with difficulties in the economics of distribution as well as the marketing of the device. However, Kovacocy suggested that as a technological development, the mobile broadband hotspot could pave the way for the appearance of an ‘intelligent router’ in the home, perhaps combining it with a femtocell. Such a device could have both fixed line and mobile broadband connectivity, sending heavy duty apps over the fixed broadband connection and lighter touch apps over the mobile network, for example.

Earlier this month, 3 UK, announced its own plans to bring a similar mobile hotspot device to the country later this month. 3’s Mobile wifi device, also known as ‘MiFi’, is not the same MiFi unit that is manufactured by Novatel Wireless, but is instead a branded Huawei E5830 wireless modem that does a very similar job.

From September 18, 3 Mobile Wifi will be available from 3 on two plans: Broadband 5GB  is a one month rolling contract which includes 5GB of data for £15 a month, with an outlay of £69.99 for the device; and a Ready to Go option which prices the device at £99.99 and includes 3GB worth of data which can be used over a three month period, afterwards topped up on a prepay basis.

About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of telecoms.com | Follow him @telecomsjames

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