The Fundamentals of the MiFi Mobile Hotspot

What a MiFi mobile hotspot is, how it's used, and its limitations

People on phones with social media icon chalkboard

Justin Lewis/Getty Images

MiFi is actually the brand name for portable devices from Inseego Corp., formerly Novatel Wireless, which sold its mobile broadband MiFi business in 2016. MiFis work as mobile hotspots. A MiFi includes a built-in modem and serves as a wireless router, creating an ad hoc network that enables multiple devices, such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets, to share a data connection on cellular networks.

MiFi Compatibility

Inseego makes several different models of MiFi devices. Some are only available from certain carriers, and some are global:

  • MiFi 7730L Global Mobile Hotspot is a premium device that provides up to 24 hours of battery life on a single charge. It includes simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi. Up to 15 Wi-Fi clients can connect simultaneously. 
  • MiFi 6630 Global Hotspot connects up to 15 devices to LTE cellular networks for up to 20 hours on a single charge. It includes a built-in power pack for charging external devices.
  • MiFi 5510 3G/4G Intelligent Mobile Hotspot comes with a screen that displays the data usage that can help you avoid overages. Up to 10 devices can connect simultaneously.

The devices are small, some barely four inches wide. Wireless service providers such as Verizon and Sprint sell their own branded versions of MiFi.

Using MiFi

Connecting a MiFi device to a cellular network typically requires setting up or updating a service contract with your cellular service provider. A MiFi usually has its own data connection from the cellular service provider. Configuring local wireless support and connecting Wi-Fi devices to a MiFi is similar to connecting with other wireless routers.

MiFi Limitations and Issues

Connection speeds attainable through a MiFi are limited to the speed of the cellular network. Also, when multiple devices use the MiFi connection at the same time, speeds can drop because the MiFi is sharing the bandwidth of its cellular network connection among those connected devices.

Monitor your MiFi usage. The convenience of connecting multiple devices like laptops, which often consume larger amounts of data than smartphones, can quickly use up data plan quotas.

Portable hotspots like the MiFi require significant power to run. Depending on how many devices you connect and your usage, the battery life may or may not be sufficient for your needs. However, current MiFi models can provide a full day's worth of power to average users who connect intermittently before the device requires recharging.