It is likely that you may have seen the MiFi dongle advertised by different mobile broadband service providers. If you have, you may be wondering what this device actually is and how it can benefit you. The MiFi dongle is a small device that allows you to broaden the range of your mobile broadband. However, this is not the only advantageous feature: the MiFi dongle offers a plethora of benefits that you should be aware of. You should be aware that many of these benefits will be dependent with the mobile broadband connection you already have or are getting. The connection should have the data, speed, and stability to enable the Mi-Fi technology to shine.

Mobile broadband

Before we look at MiFi dongles and their benefits, you must have an understanding of mobile broadband. This knowledge is important as the dongle is connected to, and therefore through, mobile broadband networks.

Over the years, mobile broadband has increased in popularity with approximately 99% of the UK population able to acquire 3G broadband connections. More and more locations are incorporating the 4G network into their coverage area. This is due to the growing number of providers offering 4G connection packages. EE trail blazed and now have about 50% UK coverage of 4G. With Vodafone, Three and O2 rolling out their own networks we should see about 98% UK penetration of the technology by 2014.

While mobile broadband is convenient, there are several disadvantages, which must be considered. One of the primary concerns is the connection speed and stability. While connection speeds have improved with the introduction of the 4G network, the 3G network speed still remains too slow for high intensity activities. It is adequate for the majority of light users, but not for moderate or heavy users. Basic 4G speeds can reach up to approximately 14MB per second. One should expect average speeds above 5MB, which is plenty for most internet activities.

The stability of both 3G and 4G broadband connections have improved over the years, due to the growth of network coverage range. However, it is still important that you ensure you are located within your provider's coverage zone, as you will not receive a strong signal without good coverage.

Mobile Broadband Dongle

Before the introduction of the MiFi dongle, the mobile broadband dongle was the exclusive method of connecting to 3G or 4G on a computer. This type of dongle would be connected to the computer via a USB port and often required specific software to be operated. It is these types of limitations which have been improved on in the MiFi dongle.

While the MiFi dongle is gaining in popularity, it is the traditional mobile broadband dongle that is included in the majority of mobile broadband deals. It is included as a free device when you sign fixed-term contracts, but you will be required to pay an upfront fee for it should you purchase a "pay as you go" connection.

MiFi Dongles

Before identifying the pros and cons of a MiFi dongle, you need to know what it is. The MiFi dongle is a mobile wireless connection for a mobile broadband connection. It will connect to a 3G or 4G broadband connection and then transmit wireless signals. The MiFi dongle will allow, at most, five devices to be connected to the broadband connection at any point in time.

Advantages of a MiFi Dongle

Before considering the purchase of a MiFi dongle you must consider the advantages and disadvantages. Below is a list of pros to argue the case for a MiFi dongle:

1. The dongle does not need to be connected to the computer via a USB port. It works via wireless signals and, once connected to the mobile broadband, sends these signals to a number of different devices. This makes it great for devices that don’t come with USB ports, like iPads.

2. Unlike the traditional dongle, the MiFi dongle does not require you to download specific software. This is one major difficulty individuals have with the dongle. The MiFi dongle has increased the level of ease and convenience. All users have to do is find the wireless network and enter a password.

3. The MiFi dongle is able to connect to more than one device at the same time. The majority of individuals in the United Kingdom will use two or more devices simultaneously and this becomes a problem if you do not have a wireless connection. The MiFi dongle is perfect for students who require the internet for group work, or just for individuals that want to use mobile broadband for their phone and laptop at the same time.  Having a mobile broadband contract for a MiFi device can be much cheaper than using smartphone data plans. The maximum number of devices that can operate off this dongle type is five.

4. The connection speed of the associated broadband is high. Research into MiFi dongle connection speeds have shown that some 3G connections will reach up to 21MB per second in certain locations and absolute optimal conditions. If you are using a 4G connection, you will be able to acquire approximately five times the speed of a 3G connection in best conditions. However, these are all best-case scenarios. 3G tends to top out at 1.4MB and 4G at 14MB speeds.

5. Unlike home broadband connections, the MiFi dongle will continue to operate even if you experience an electricity outage. The dongle operates on batteries so, as long as the battery is working, your dongle will offer a connection to the internet.

6. Just like the traditional mobile broadband dongle you will be able to store data on the MiFi dongle. In fact, the MiFi dongle allows for more storage space with the availability of a micro SD card. It should be noted that not all MiFi dongles offer this feature.

Disadvantages of a MiFi Dongle

While the advantages of this type of dongle are great, it is vital you are aware of the limitations and pitfalls as well. There are three main points you should pay close attention to when considering the MiFi dongle.

1. Only five devices connect at one time. Should you have more individuals or devices who need to connect to the internet you will have to rotate the connection.

2. The range of the wireless cloud is only 10M at the moment. This may be ideal when out and about but, if you are working at home, it may be a problem. Most rooms are a greater distance apart and the signal strength will weaken when outside of this range.

3. The dongle can connect to only one type of mobile broadband connection. For example, if you have a 4G dongle you cannot connect to a 3G network.