I got a 4G MiFi recently and to put things in perspective, I’m writing about the history of wireless data.  Part 1 covered wired modems and Part 2 covered wireless modems and static hotspots.

Around 2007, I again broke free from the shackles of having to be connected via an Ethernet cable or to a static hotspot like they had at Borders.  The wireless networks had started rolling out high speed networks.  So I got a Sprint 3G wireless card.  It was a Novatel Merlin EX720 that fit in the ExpressCard slot of my 15″ MacBook Pro.

3G was great since it had speeds up to 1Mbit down and around 300k up.  The coverage was pretty good too.  What really amazed me was that I could be sitting in my car (with my wife driving) and stay connected on the Internet even at 55 miles per hour!

Then I got Verizon FIOS and got a great deal as an early adopter for the 30 Mbit down / 5 Mbit up package and 3G seemed slow.  Also, the 3G card only really served that one laptop.  You can share out your network via Internet Sharing on Mac OS X, but I found that to be flaky.  So I couldn’t share it with my friends at NSCoderNight DC (a local iPhone, iPad and Mac programming group) or with my family on vacation.  The final nail in the coffin was that Apple got rid of the ExpressCard slot.  I kept my 3G card going with a USB -> ExpressCard dongle, but this was unwieldy.

Fast forward to today.  Wireless providers are rolling out even faster data networks, all of them called “4G”.  Friends tell me T-Mobile is quite good, partially because it is the smallest of the big 4 networks, though after around 5 GB, the speed is throttled.  Sprint has unlimited data on their 4G network, which is good if you watch a lot of video, but I have to imagine that this encourages high usage and thus high traffic and lower speeds overall.  Verizon has 4G LTE which as of this writing seems to have the highest speeds, with plans for 5 GB and 10GB, with charges for each 1GB over, but I think they don’t throttle.  Having a cap might seem like a drag, but if your priority is speed (and are using it for business) then I think this is a good trade-off.

Today we also have lots of devices.  The iPhone really kicked that revolution off.  I routinely carry both an iOS device and an Android device with me.  Kids have iPod Touches.  Each device works better when its connected to the Internet.  Companies realized this and so now we can have our own little wireless network that we can carry around with us in the form of the Mobile Hotspot, which of course is connected to the Internet via 3G or 4G.

Mobile Hotspots are also great at sharing your connection with your friends or co-workers.  NSCoderNight DC meets at a Panera in Bethesda, MD which doesn’t have WiFi, so we have come to depend on these mobile hotspots, which are also known by the term MiFis.

So what will the future bring?  If it were up to me, I’d make the networks even faster, of course.  However I think even more pressing is the battery life on MiFis.  They last on average around 3-4 hours.  They really should last at least 8 hours, if not more.  MiFis also usually only support 5-6 connected devices.  With laptops only, that’d support a small workgroup, but with each person carrying at least a smartphone, they really should support 10-12 connections due to Device Inflation.

Next up: Finally!  The Verizon 4G LTE Novatel MiFi Review.