Equipped with wireless-enabled mobile computers, consumers continue to stoke demand for personal hotspots such as the new low-priced Virgin MiFi service.
With the number of open wireless networks failing to keep pace with the number of users needing Internet connections, and with the seemingly unreliable nature of many of the available networks, consumers are turning to soc-called “MiFi” services offered by mobile carriers.
MiFi refers to personal hot spot services made available to mobile phone users, usually by a dedicated mobile router or by a mobile phone with hot spot capabilities built in. MiFi services usually incur additional fees from the mobile service provider, although many mobile workers find that the cost is easily justified by the productivity gains they experience.
Virgin Mobile has released its own MiFi at a cost of $150. The device offers wireless Internet access for up to five devices. At first this sounds like any other mobile hot spot plan offered by the major carriers. It differs in three ways.
First, the Virgin MiFi plan offers unlimited connectivity. Rather than limiting users to 5 GB per month before adding extra charges or slowing down the hot spot connection, Virgin allows users to continue on, using the Internet time and data that they need.
The next important feature of the Virgin MiFi plan is that no contract is required. Users only pay for the service when they need it. In an age where two year service contracts are the norm, many consumers will find the flexibility of the Virgin hot spot data plan is sure to appeal to many mobile users.
Finally, Virgin MiFi has an amazing price: $40 per month. Most carriers charge $60 for mobile hot spot service and still require usage limitations and the long term commitment.
Although the Virgin offering seems very strong, it does have some limitations. First, it does not include roaming data services. This means in some service areas users will not be able to use the Internet connectivity it offers. Another potential concern about the Virgin device is that it is wireless only: there is no option to connect to it via USB, so a device equipped with a wireless network adapter is required in order to use the service. The only other complaint some users seem to have about it is its lack of indicators: it’s either on or it’s off. If it isn’t working, there’s really nothing to do except cycle power and hope that the problem resolves itself.
Virgin MiFi seems to be a strong alternative to standard mobile hot spot services. With aggressive pricing and unlimited use, it’s hard to see how a customer could go wrong by signing up for the service. Hopefully, this innovative service from Virgin will help create downward pressure on the prices from other carriers so that mobile hotspot connectivity can become a reality for everyone.
New York Times. Yahoo! Finance. September 2, 2010. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Your-Own-Hot-Spot-and-nytimes-362333608.html (accessed September 3, 2010).