For today, let’s dig into the difference between MiFi and WiFi. Tech jargon seems to be expanding at a never ending pace these days. 3G, 4G, now even 5G. LTE, GSM, CDMA etc. What does it all mean and why should I care? Believe it or not, each of these terms has an interesting backstory and a concrete meaning.
First, what is a mobile hotspot?
Many of you likely found your way here while researching whether to buy a mobile hotspot. A mobile hotspot, as you may know, is a portable device that provides wireless internet access for many devices including laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc. One way to think of it is as a compact, battery powered WiFi station that taps into cellular networks like a smartphone does and then wirelessly shares its data connection with other WiFi enabled devices, as many as ten at a time.
Some people may ask, why would I want a mobile hotspot when I can just tether to my smartphone and use it as a hotspot? The answer to that depends on how heavily you travel, who your mobile carrier is, and the data plan you have. Some of the reasons to use a hotspot include not running out of data on your phone’s plan, sparing your phone’s battery, reliably tethering multiple devices, fewer signal drops or throttling of your connection, not having to choose between data and voice (so you can make and receive calls), and the ability to choose your carrier based on where you are.
Wait, back up, what is WiFi again?
Simply put, WiFi is a wireless networking standard that various devices use to communicate with each other without actual wires connecting them. If you have a device that has or is WiFi compatible, it can wirelessly interact with other WiFi compatible devices. For example, your smartphone has a WiFi chip inside that lets you connect to a mobile hotspot. The same goes for your hotspot, laptop, or tablet or other WiFi enabled device.
So now tell me about MiFi
MiFi is actually a brand name used for a portable broadband device that allows multiple end users and mobile devices to share a 3G or 4G mobile broadband internet connection and create an ad hoc network, i.e. a mobile hotspot. Novatel Wireless owns a registered trademark on the “MiFi” brand name in many countries. According to Wikipedia, Novatel has never offered an official explanation for the origins of the name MiFi, but it is likely short for Mobile WiFi, though some think MiFi stands for “my WiFi”. Although MiFi devices are manufactured by Novatel, the name is often used as a generic label for any device that can function as a WiFi hotspot.
Simply put, the main difference between WiFi and MiFi is that MiFi is actually an internet device that has WiFi built in to it, while WiFi is a wireless networking standard. A MiFi device can be connected to a cellular network and provide internet access for up to ten devices. You can call a MiFi a modem or even a router, as it has both components, but it really is a brand name mobile hotspot.
In fact, MiFi doesn’t just support the WiFi standard, they also support mobile data technologies such as 3G or 4G LTE. That’s why a MiFi device can pick up mobile data from your telecom provider. A MiFi device consists of two main parts, the modem and the WiFi router. The modem part supports 3G or 4G LTE and provides connectivity to next generation wireless devices, and the WiFi router part takes care of providing WiFi connectivity.
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