Verizon Wireless MiFi Review

Review of the Verizon Wireless Novatel MiFi 2200

If you know me personally, you know I’m a huge Apple fan. I absolutely love my Unibody MacBook Pro, loved my PowerBook before giving it to my mother to use, loved my iPhone 3G (which is also my mother’s now) and absolutely love my iPhone 4 (plus I do have an Apple TV and am eyeballing an iPad and iPod). My iPhone 4 is spectacular. The almuinosilicate glass makes it extremely durable (and the olephobic coating makes cleaning it a breeze), the Retina Display screams WOW when I turn on the iPhone, it’s remarkably faster than the 3G thanks to the A4 processor, increased RAM, and HSPA 7.2 and HSUPA additions, and the new antenna gives me better coverage than I ever had with the 3G. Top it off with the integrated gyroscope that allows me to use an app to control my mouse cursor during presentations, the HD video camera and 5MP still camera with flash, and FaceTime, and I’m pretty much thrilled to be an iPhone user. And that’s just in the hardware. Multitasking, iBooks, iMovie, and all the other innovations released with iOS 4 have made being an iPhone user even better.

And I’m also a very happy AT&T Mobility customer. Contrary to some in the news, I really like AT&T. Their customer service has been great to me, I’ve always gotten the help I needed at AT&T Stores, the majority of the people I call on my iPhone are AT&T Mobility customers, so their mobile-to-mobile calling is a huge time saver, I love having rollover minutes since I never know when I could use extra minutes one month from another month I didn’t call as much, their GSM international roaming capabilities are unsurpassed, plus throw in free Wi-Fi, and I’m a pretty satisfied customer. When I’m on areas that have 3G (such as back home in Hot Springs and Little Rock, Arkansas, and here in Georgia when I’m in areas such as: Buford, Gainesville, Atlanta, Athens, Commerce, Toccoa, Lawrenceville, etc.) my iPhone ticks along happily, usually getting between 1.5M-2M easily.

Except where I happen to live. The county where I live in is still on EDGE, and I’m literally on edge when using my iPhone. Most of the time I see pathetic speeds of 4k down (yes, I typed that right), and when in a good area I can get maybe 30k bursting to 50k tops (and that has to be in a really good area to get it). So most of the time I’m accessing the Internet way below dial-up speeds. That’s not the case on some EDGE networks I’ve been on. Usually in those areas, I’ll get about 130k-150k down, which is pretty reasonable and usually pretty fast. Except here. Coverage with my iPhone just isn’t what it needs to be in order to get my work done. I’ve been working directly with AT&T to help resolve the issue, talking with network operators, emailing over maps of the area, sending in incident trackers all over the county showing where the dead zones and slow areas are, and I’ve even picked up an AT&T 3G MicroCell for my home which really gave me a major boost at home, plus I’ve even gone to commission meetings to help strengthen coverage up here.

Alas, things are still slow, and I find myself needing my iPhone more and more.

So I talked with other residents up here and they told me the cold hard truth. If I need better coverage up here, I’d have to go with Verizon as a wireless carrier, since their coverage simply works up here. Period. Well, there’s a small problem with that. I really love my iPhone and really like being an AT&T customer. I looked at Verizon’s smartphones and I just don’t see me with a Blackberry, Droid, or Windows Phone. I really don’t. I tried texting on a Blackberry and what took me seconds on my iPhone took about 5 minutes to text out on the Blackberry. I can tell they’re just not made for me. Plus, I really need to stick with AT&T and keep my GSM device for International roaming. As the CEO of a tech firm, who knows when I’ll have to go on an International marketing trip, and having a GSM device ensures it’ll work overseas.

So my dilemma was: how can I keep my iPhone, keep AT&T as a wireless provider, and strengthen my coverage around town?

Then the perfect little solution came along….

Verizon offers the MiFi 2200, a portable, intelligent little mobile hotspot that makes accessing mobile broadband a breeze. It’s similar to an aircard, but here’s the extra benefit: it’s a WiFi hotspot that fits in my pocket. I can sign up to five devices on it at a time, including my MacBook Pro and my iPhone, and signing a device onto the MiFi is a breeze. Simply push the button to turn it on, for the first time signing a device on, enter the passcode to sign onto the network (the MiFi uses WPA2-PSK encryption so the connection is very secure), and that’s it. Now my iPhone can piggy back off of Verizon’s EVDO 3G network here, giving me speeds from close to 600k up to around 1.8M easily. And because everything happens over Wi-Fi, I can now enjoy simultaneous voice and data again (that really drove me nuts not having that on EDGE) and I can even FaceTime anywhere! Additionally, I signed up for the $3/month Skype credit so I could place a call over Wi-Fi in the event I’m in a complete AT&T dead zone.

Battery life on my iPhone doesn’t seem too bad since I’ve started using WiFi out and about. The new iPhone 4 has 40% more battery life, and so far my battery has lasted well. I have an iPhone car charger as well, so I can always give it a boost if need be. Battery life on the MiFi could be a little better. It only lasts 4 hours tops, and the way I use it, the battery can drain quite quickly. I’ve decided to plug it into a car charger when going between destinations to give it an extra boost, and that should help tremendously. Another word of advice on the car chargers. I had to pick up an extra car charger for the MiFi with an integrated MicroUSB port since plugging its included USB cable into the iPhone charger caused it to shut off data flow. The other charger allows it to continue sending data while charging. The battery is also removable, so one could easily pickup a spare battery if need be.

Speaking of USB cables, the USB cable allows a user to plug the MiFi into their notebook to charge it and to connect it directly to a computer that doesn’t have integrated WiFi, similar to the way an aircard works. Trying this out seemed to work quite well, and the device includes on board an installer for VZAccess Manager to make it easier for PC’s and Macs to connect to the MiFi (one word of caution, it doesn’t yet work with Snow Leopard when booted into 64 Bit mode. I had to boot into 32 Bit mode to install and run the software). The MiFi also comes with a charging AC adapter that makes it easy to charge the device in a wall outlet.

In addition to VZAccess Manager, users can tap into the MiFi using an IP address just as they would any other wireless router. Once tapped in and logged in with the admin password, configing the MiFi is just as powerful as any other wireless router. The MiFi includes password encryption, MAC address filtering, standby mode settings, the works. Logging into the config page also shows the battery status and signal strength. It would have been nice to have these on the MiFi themselves, but since it’s a breeze to bringup this page on my iPhone, it’s not a problem.

Some other interesting tidbits about the MiFi are that when I signed up online, I got the MiFi free with a two year contract, so the MiFi itself didn’t cost a penny. Verizon also threw in overnight shipping for free which was great. The MiFi comes with two different plans, 250MB for $40/month (which I’m trying out now) or 5GB for $60/month (which I can always upgrade to). Both include access to Verizon’s Wi-Fi hotspots, so now having both AT&T and Verizon Wi-Fi hotspots at my disposal, I now have more Wi-Fi when I need it. For those willing to shell out retail price for the MiFi (about $270), Verizon also offers Prepaid Mobile Broadband with no term commitment and only pay for when one needs it. The plans go for 100MB for 1 Day for $15, 300MB for a week for $30, 1GB for a month for $50, or 5GB for a month for $80.

Verizon’s customer service was nice as well when I needed to call them (their Twitter support was great too). Activation was simple, and they walked me right through the process, and signing up for the My Verizon web access page was simple as well. Another interesting thing I learned when signing up for My Verizon was the MiFi is also text message capable, although I added a text block to my account since I don’t plan on using that feature (that what I pay AT&T $20/month for). I also opted in for the Extended Warranty which is only $2/month.If I ever need International roaming to areas on CDMA networks, I can add I-Dial to my plan for free and either pay per MB or signup for a discounted package. Not bad.

The Verizon Wireless MiFi 2200 has been the perfect little lifesaver bringing better coverage to my iPhone as well as being a perfect backup if my DSL goes down or if I need Mobile Broadband for my notebook somewhere. For a not bad monthly service, I can finally have the strength of the nation’s largest 3G network to supplement using my iPhone on the nation’s fastest 3G network. The MiFi is truly a gem, and I’m thankful to have it. I only wish I would have signed up sooner!