Comcast has launched a 4G/3G mobile hotspot (also known as a Mi-Fi device) that allows users to connect as many as five Wi-Fi-enabled devices to the Internet simultaneously. Comcast already has a 3G Mi-Fi device and, with the addition of 4G, new Xfinity Internet 2go customers who sign up for a qualifying Xfinity Internet 2go service plan can get the Mi-Fi 4082 by Novatel Wireless for a $25 one-time fee.

The hotspot offers download speeds as fast as 6 Mbps on 4G  and as fast as 1.4 Mbps on 3G. Comcast’s 4G WiMAX network, through Clearwire, reaches 119 million Americans. Outside of 4G coverage, the device connects to Sprint’s 3G network. The device has a rechargeable battery for Internet access when power outlets are not available; it also supports industry-standard Wi-Fi security, where users are prompted to enter their passwords before being able to connect.

Verizon recently announced a similar Mi-Fi device for its LTE network. (For more, see Verizon Wireless Unleashes LTE Mobile Hotspot).
One of the key benefits of Mi-Fi is portability. (For more on Mi-Fi, click here).

"While our Xfinity Internet 2go service offers USB data cards, which plug into the USB port of a laptop, the mobile hotspot doesn’t need a PC and will connect any Wi-Fi-enabled device to the Internet," wrote Tom Nagel, senior vice president and general manager/Wireless Services, on Comcast’s corporate blog. "This is a very useful gadget because if you’re like me, when I’m on the go sometimes I need instant, secure Wi-Fi access. I don’t like the inconvenience of having to search for public Wi-Fi or having to stay in one location with Wi-Fi like a noisy coffee shop."

But Earl Lum, principal of EJL Wireless Research, says he doesn’t expect a huge demand for stand-alone Mi-Fi devices. Most people already have Wi-Fi in their homes, and the next generation of smartphones has Mi-Fi capability for when people are on the go.

"I would be surprised if (stand-alone hotspot devices) got even a one-percent penetration," says Lum. "The only reason you’d want one is if your computer has only Wi-Fi and you can’t access a Starbucks. Virtually every coffee house today offers Wi-Fi for free. McDonald’s offers Wi-Fi for free."?

But a Mi-Fi hotspot could be convenient in some cases, for example, enterprises that have sales forces in the field in remote locations, or at hotels and conferences where there’s a problem connecting to the Wi-Fi system. And it’s nice that more than one person can share in the Internet connection.?

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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