What is a MiFi/Pocket WiFi?
The rise of the ‘digital nomad’ has led to a growing number of location independent entrepreneurs traveling the world to wherever they can find a decent internet connection. This means International MiFi rental services have risen in popularity.
Staying connected is arguably one of the greatest challenges when you are traveling internationally. How many times have you purchased an overpriced coffee to access coveted wifi, only to find it is sluggish or inaccessible by some technical glitch? For those who rely on the internet for their work, this can create constant connectivity concerns, which isn’t exactly productive.
That is where the MiFi comes in. AKA the portable wireless hotspot, the pocket WiFi, the cellular modem etc.
This product gives users the ability to tap into a 3G network and distribute it to other devices over WiFi. It is a small device, usually about the size of a small smartphone, that you can carry with you wherever you go in your pocket or luggage.
This is useful for many people. Not just digital nomads, but backpackers, businessmen, and families on holiday.
When problems arise, as they inevitably do, it is nice to know that you have a steady and reliable connection. Letting you translate, navigate, and communicate with those back home.
Do You Really Need a Hotspot?
Sure, a hotspot is useful. But why bother? Why not just use your smartphone to share internet?
Battery life: Using your smartphone as a hotspot will drain your battery life faster than you can say 4G. Hotspots on the other side, usually have enough juice to keep you going all day long. the products that I have looked at range between 5-8 hours battery life.
Sure, some people might prefer to just use their phone and take a portable battery but hotspots will free up that battery life for other things like distracting yourself from the infinite richness of everyday life 😉
Number of devices: Whilst some phones can share a connection with up to five devices, hotspots can usually support around ten. They will also allow you greater control over technicalities like parental controls and port forwarding, and support for setting up VPNs. This makes them far more suited for families sharing a connection, and for mobile office work. Families might find carrying the wifi hotspot is a good way to ensure that children remain within a 10ft radius!
Roaming fees: Using your phone abroad can rack up costly fees, and using data can be equally costly. It can be helpful to isolate that cost by using a global MiFi data plan. This can help save costly roaming fees as data is often offered at a flat fee regardless of the country you are in.
With a pocket WiFi device, you might not even need a local SIM card or a world-compatible phone, as you can use Skype or another VOIP service over the hotspot. This means no time wasted shopping around for local SIM cards every time you cross an international border.
Security: Certain countries, like Vietnam for instance, are notorious for having high levels of cyber crime. Add to this insecure local WiFi networks and you open up the possibilities of having all your details fished out by some gangster.
A password-protected hotspot doesn’t make it impossible for your sensitive data to leak, but it does make it less likely.
How does it Work?
Details differ by provider, but generally, they will deliver the device to your door with everything you need, including a prepaid envelope to send it back at the end of your trip. Otherwise, you can collect it from the office, the airport, or specify to have it delivered to your hotel or accommodation. The MiFi will usually come in a package with world plug adapters, a case, and instructions for those who like to read them.
When you arrive at your destination, turn on the MiFi, and input the password, which is usually printed somewhere on the device itself.
Despite their benefits, portable wireless hotspots are just not at the same level as your home broadband.
Price: it costs far more to use than a home setup, which is to be expected I suppose.
Data Limits: Although many hotspots are advertised with big headlines offering ‘unlimited data’, this isn’t actually the case. The truth is that they will usually have a data cap, typically of a few hundred megabytes a day. After this is reached your service will slow to snail speeds like 256k. This makes most hotspot rentals unsuitable for data hungry activities like downloading or streaming movies.
What to Consider
On this page I have looked at the most popular worldwide rental options, which you might consider in terms of:
Cost: Prices vary quite widely – being generally more expensive for 4G speeds and massive data amounts. They typically vary between 5-12USD a day.
Speed: Some devices still only offer 3G, and even if you have a 4G device not all countries support it. So when you are selecting a device keep this in mind.
Size: most are slim and pocket-sized but you will find the bulkier options.
Coverage: It goes without saying that you should check the device you are renting offers service in your destination. If you traveling through multiple countries then some rentals offer a package for the whole continent at reduced rates.
To buy or rent? Over the long term, with repeated use, it is usually cheaper to buy the device. Otherwise, you will pay a daily charge for rental on top of the data fee. Why not rent the device first to try it out, and then buy if you intend to use that service exclusively long term. Bear in mind the hotspot will probably be locked to that provider. So you cannot change network at the drop of a hat.
If you don’t travel often, or are looking for a global connection for just one trip, then renting might be better for you. Also, If the company goes bust them you won’t be left with a useless brick. If you want to buy one to put your own SIM Card in – read my unlocked mifi comparison here.
How much data will you use? If you are prepared to ration data use carefully, and will stay in only one country, then it might be worthwhile using a local SIM for data instead. The less data you use on a local SIM card, the less you pay. Rather than on most hotspots where you pay a blanket fee per day to use as much as you want (within reason). An exception is the Karma Go.
Will there be mobile reception? If you are traveling to remote regions, use Open Signal to check coverage in your destination. You may need to check which provider your hotspot rental is working with in that location. Some providers, Like TEP, will allow you to cancel the rental if you end up having no coverage.
How many countries are you visiting? If you will be staying in one country for a long period, then it would make financial sense to buy a local SIM card and use that for data. However, if you will be moving between countries, then it could be costly and inconvenient to buy local SIMs in each place.