It’s hard to get school administrators to see eye to eye on anything but one thing they generally agree on is that WiFi is a great way to cover a school with wireless Internet connections without the cost and hassle of running Ethernet cables to each room. But, just about every set up I’ve seen has dead spots, nooks and crannies where the signal (and the Web) doesn’t reach. For those areas and a variety of other uses, I like the idea of using a nifty mobile router, like Verizon's MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot that takes a 3G cellular connection and turns it into a WiFi hot spot.
At just of 2-ounces about the size of a few stacked credit cards, the MiFi router can be carried in a shirt pocket from room to room as needed. Made by Novatel, the MiFi 2200 is available from Verizon or Sprint and can plug holes in your school’s WiFi infrastructure. I used the Verizon version, which connects to Verizon’s 3-G CDMA network and doles out WiFi connections to up to five systems at a time. Alternatively, it can be connected to a single machine via a USB cable.
It takes about 10 minutes to set the MiFi router up and Verizon has a nice little video that explains it all. It comes fully configured with a cryptic network name and password, which can be changed at any point so that it better fits into the school’s LAN. It works with any 802.11b or g equipped computer, PC or Mac, but can’t create an 802.11n network.
The system’s Administration page shows vital statistics like the status of the connection as well as the amount of data sent and received. You can see how many users are online and IP address, network name and other details. With the device’s password, which is printed in the manual, you can make changes to a variety of performance and security parameters
Unlike most routers that come from the factory with generic network name and security turned off – making it very easy to hack into – MiFi has a personalized network name and is setup for full WiFi Protected Area (WPA) encryption, although that can be changed as well. There’s even a way to force it to go into standby mode to save on battery power when not in use.
For a device so small and light, the MiFi router does surprisingly well at grabbing an Internet connection out of thin air and connecting with teachers and students. It’s just as good for repurposing a room out of the WiFi network for instruction, setting up an instant digital classroom or for offering the Web to students and staff on a field trip or on the playground on a sunny day. The big bonus of having a few MiFi 2200 devices sitting around is that whenever there’s a network or power failure, they continue to work.
Its performance is surprisingly good with an average 1.2Mbps download connection at 15-feet during a variety of times during the day and week. It handled video, Internet radio and long downloads well, worked with notebooks old and new, and had a range of 80-feet. It ran for 3 hours 25 minutes of continuous use on its built-in battery, a little short of the advertised 4 hours. I only wish it could accommodate more than five users at once.
While the MiFi 2200 device itself costs only $50, you need to sign a two-year contract for service. The basic plan provides a stingy 250MB of data per month for $40. That’s only about enough for an hour of YouTube video. For $60 a month Verizon gives you 5GB of data a month or about a nickel a megabyte. The network doesn’t offer any unlimited data plans.
Today, you have to put the Internet in its place, and increasingly that’s wherever there are teachers and students.
Verizon’s MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot
$49 with two-year contract
$40 plan with 250MB per month or $60 plan with 5GB per month
+ Small light and easy to set up
+ Battery power
+ Full WiFi security
+ Surprisingly fast
- 5 connection limit
- Short battery life
- 802.11b + g only
- Limited data plans