Hands-on: Novatel MiFi 2352 mobile hotspot untethers tethering

Stick a SIM card in the palm-sized MiFi 2352 and it'll pump out Wi-Fi for up to five devices within a 10m radius, making you the most popular person on the train

A few minutes offline and we're tearing at our eyeballs and clawing at our netbooks , praying to the gods of the cloud to send us a sign that our data's still alive.

Thanks to tethering, when there's no Wi-Fi, we can go online over our phone's 3G data connection -- but that's only possible on some smart phones, and it usually involves a USB cable connection.

The Novatel MiFi 2352 untethers tethering by taking a 3G data connection and pumping out a Wi-Fi signal. Just pop a SIM card inside and fire it up to create your own mini-cloud for up to five devices within 10m.

The MiFi's wireless, palm-sized portability and 81g weight mean that you can chuck it in a backpack and surf your shizzle wherever. We got all fired up just thinking of the places we could get our WLAN on.

Of course, you need a good 3G signal, but we could easily use Spotify in the park, or turn our Wi-Fi-free local into our home office, or set up a cottage industry renting out Wi-Fi at the beach this summer -- surf 'n' surf!

We took the MiFi for a spin around Crave Towers and had no trouble using its signal from way the hell over on the other side of the office. It has to be configured, like a wireless router, with the network info for the SIM you're using, but, after minimal faffing, we had it up and running with O2 and T-Mobile SIMs.

The HSPA support -- 7.2Mbps download and 5.76Mbps upload -- meant surfing was nice and speedy. Novatel claims it will offer 4 hours of battery life when connected to one device over Wi-Fi, although that will drop when more devices are connected, especially if they're pulling heavy amounts of data.

If you want some privacy, it supports WPA security, or you can plug in into your computer with a micro-USB cable and disable wireless altogether. There's even a microSD card slot so you can share files over Wi-Fi -- a welcome bonus.

The MiFi is already being offered by networks in the US and Spain, and Novatel tells us that it'll be coming to UK operators soon. In the meantime, you can pick it up from distributers like eXpansys, but it's not cheap, at around £210. We expect networks will cut that price by bundling it with a SIM and a data contract.

But you don't need to have a special contract, and, surprisingly, Novatel says that the networks don't object to people popping in their SIMs and tethering like there's no tomorrow.

We're waiting for comment from the networks, especially O2, which charges extra for tethering goodness on the iPhone -- £14.68 a month for 3GB, or £29.36 for £10GB, plus 19.6p per MB if you go over the limit. On the other hand, O2's cheapest SIM-only package, with an unlimited Web bolt-on, will cost you £17.13 per month, so, if you're a heavy surfer and don't mind the £210 outlay, the MiFi could be a good little saver -- or you could just use your normal SIM, if you don't mind switching it when you want to surf (and missing calls).

It's still much more expensive than using a USB dongle for mobile broadband -- £10 up front and £15 per month will get you 15GB from 3, for example, although the modem they're offering doesn't have 7.2Mbps HSPA. But, once you add into the equation the freedom to tether without a USB connection and support up to five devices, the MiFi definitely gets a place on our gadget wish list. We're going to invite all our geek friends out to the cabin, and then ask them to chip in for a weekend of wireless access -- a few hours without the cloud and we'll have the cash for a MiFi in no time.

 

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