MiFi deals explained
By Dan Howdle | Monday, February 3rd 2020
In this guide
- What is MiFi?
- Do I need MiFi broadband deal?
- National MiFi Coverage
- 4G/5G MiFi data speeds
- Which providers offer MiFi deals?
- Frequently asked questions
MiFi is one of those awkward acronyms that doesn't actually stand for anything, but rather sounds a bit like something else with one key difference. It sounds like wifi, and most of us know what that is. The 'Mi' in MiFi is meant to sound like 'my', since MiFi is essentially a personal wifi hotspot.
If you work a lot while you're out and about and spend a lot of time in places where wifi is not available, then MiFi, which is a type of mobile broadband, might be something you need. It uses a mobile phone network to deliver data to a device which then distributes connectivity like a regular router. It's not the cheapest way to get online, but it does fill a necessary void.
What is MiFi?
When you get a MiFi deal you are getting three things, essentially. The device itself, which may or may not plug into a computer (sometimes called a dongle). A data-only SIM, which goes inside the device and acts much like your mobile SIM but cannot be used to make calls, and of course your contract.
- The MiFi device – These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities, depending on which device you choose, and on which network. Some have a single USB plug and will provide mobile internet to just one device. These are classed more as dongles than MiFi, since they do not create a mobile hotspot. Others, proper MiFi devices, create a wifi hotspot and can run on either batteries or via a charging or power cable. The more devices a MiFi device needs to provide internet connectivity to at any one time, the larger and more expensive it tends to be
- The MiFi SIM – This is a SIM card of the same sort you would put in your mobile phone. However, it cannot be used to make calls or send texts, so it has more in common with a SIM you might put in your tablet
- The contract – There are a few contract-free MiFi deals around if you look hard enough, but most MiFi deals and MiFi devices are supplied with a minimum 12-month contract. Similar to your mobile contract, you will have to pay a standing amount each month for a specific limit on data, though more and more of these sorts of deals are offering unlimited data these days
Do I need MiFi broadband deal?
Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone these days. Gone too are the days when 'tethering' (that is, using your mobile as a portable wifi hotspot for other devices) was limited in any way. Most deal allow it, with no limit bar whatever your mobile data limit happens to be.
With this in mind, the need for mobile broadband solutions such as MiFi devices has fallen dramatically. MiFi is more niche than it once was, basically. Let's take a look at who a MiFi deal might still suit.
- You have terrible fixed line broadband – There are unlimited MiFi deals available that could stand in instead of your home broadband connection, or as a back-up if you frequently experience problems
- You travel for work – If your work requires you to be online wherever you are, MiFi is a useful main or backup solution. Just make sure your MiFi deal is on a different network to your mobile phone so if one fails you can revert to the other
- No other options – There may be some situations where no other solution is feasible
- You need a temporary solution – If you're between mobile plans, home broadband plans or both and need a temporary solution – maybe you're only in the country for a few months to do business in multiple locations – MiFi could be a sensible choice for you
National MiFi Coverage
Whichever MiFi solution you ultimately choose, you'll be drawing your data from one of only four networks. You see, although there are many, many mobile providers in the UK, there are only four physical networks: EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. All other providers 'piggyback' on one of these four.
We should all be grateful for this. It means we only need to think about the coverage and download/upload speeds of four networks, even though there exists a wider range of providers. Thankfully, all four networks offer over 99% coverage of UK landmass. Just bear in mind that that still leaves plenty of spots, especially indoors, where your signal might be dodgy. If you know where you're likely to be using it prior to purchase, you might want to ask someone there who is on your chosen network what the signal's like.
4G MiFi data speeds
At the time of writing there's a lot of buzz about 5G. Sadly, there are currently no 5G MiFi devices or deals available in the UK. When it comes to network speeds you're likely to get, then, 4G is where we're at. Tests conducted by OpenSignal at the end of 2018 showed as follows:
- EE – Was the fastest data provider on average, with speeds of 28.99Mbps and latency of 39.77ms
- Three – Was the next-fastest data provider on average, with speeds of 18.78Mbps and latency of 48.15ms
- Vodafone – Was the third fastest data provider on average, with speeds of 21.92Mbps and latency of 40.78ms
- O2 – Was the slowest data provider on average, with speeds of 14.61Mbps and latency of 42.38ms
Which providers offer MiFi deals?
Not including dongles (USB devices for a single computer), six UK providers will currently supply you with a MiFi device, a SIM and a contract. Here's a brief overview:
- EE – Offers a couple of different MiFi options, both of which you will have to buy up-front as regards the devices. You can then choose your options in terms of data limits etc. Do not get confused between these and its 4G and 5G home broadband options – those are not MiFi devices, but wholesale replacements you your home fixed-line broadband
- Vodafone – Offers just one MiFi device, keeping things nice and simple. Snap it up and you can take your choice of contract SIM to go inside of it
- Three – Like Vodafone, Three offers just one device option, keeping things nice and simple
- BT – You'll only find BT's MiFi devices and SIMs under its Business Broadband heading. It assumes no one but a business or business person would want such a thing, you see. It's probably wrong about that, but not to worry, since anyone can get this deal, business or not
- O2 – Has a couple of different 'Pocket Hotspot' MiFi devices available, both of which you can get free, depending on which contract you choose to take out
- Virgin Media – Offers one device with a choice of pay-monthly plans. All plans have up-front costs
Frequently asked questions
Can I get unlimited MiFi?
Yes, all UK network providers offer unlimited MiFi deals, but be prepared to pay quite a lot for the privilege. One day, unlimited won't cost you any more than a limited deal – they'll all be unlimited, in fact – but we're not there yet.
How much does MiFi cost per month?
It varies enormously from a few pounds a month to amounts that will almost certainly exceed what you pay for your entire home broadband connection. In some cases you will need to buy the MiFi device upfront, too, so you should think about that when making your choice and calculating how much it's going to cost you.
Is MiFi any good?
For what it does, sure. But the truth is most people don't need a dedicated MiFi device because they can get a broadband signal most of the time simply by being in range of wifi or from their mobile phone contract. MiFi serves a specific purpose, often as a backup when all else fails – you will know if you need it.
What is the best type of MiFi?
There are only two types of MiFi or mobile broadband device – one that distributes wifi to a number of devices and one that delivers internet to a single device, usually a laptop. Which is best will depend on your particular needs.
How do MiFi plans work?
In some cases you will buy the device up-front. These can cost anything between £10 and £100, depending on its capabilities. If you are getting a mobile broadband contract, often the cost of the device can be folded into your monthly payment. On contract, these plans work similarly to your mobile phone plan – you will be tied in. Usually for 12 months.
How fast is MiFi?
Average speeds top out around 40Mbps, though thing may run quicker or slower depending on where you are as well as which network you are with. This really is a 'how long is a piece of string' question.