A weekend with Bell’s MiFi and LTE.

Bell MiFi

The protective film might still be on it, but this is one toy that’s not going back to the store.

Last Friday, based partly on reviews of Bell’s touchscreen MiFi here and here, and partly on my experience with a similar device in Japan earlier this month, I walked into a local Bell store and purchased one on a new line.

It was a big deal for me; since Canada’s upstart carriers came on the scene in 2010 I’ve been enjoying cheap, unlimited no-contract data — first on Mobilicity, then on WIND. In those three years the incumbents have been steadily rolling out proper 4G service to large swaths of the country. I really had no idea what I’d been missing until I rented that LTE MiFi in Japan; WIND’s slow and oftentimes not-so-steady HSPA+ data just doesn’t compare, particularly with upload speeds.

So how fast is Bell’s LTE network? In and around Toronto, crazy fast. See for yourself:

Bell LTE Speedtests

For reference, the test at the bottom is WIND’s network. And the one in the middle (fourth from the top or bottom) is actually Bell’s fallback HSPA in Caledon, Ontario — still plenty quick, in both directions.

All this speed comes at a price, of course…

The good news is that I didn’t have to sign up for a three-year service contract; the bad news is that the more data I use, the more I pay. Here are the numbers directly from Bell:

  • The $10/month minimum charge includes only 100MB of data;
  • $30 gets me up to 500MB;
  • $45 gets me up to 2GB;
  • $70 gets me up to 6GB;
  • $85 gets me up to 10GB;
  • $105 (!) gets me up to 15GB.

Data transfers over 15GB/month will cost me $10/GB. And I’m pretty sure that I blew well past the official 50MB limit for a free return when I launched my first speed test.

The upside is the bottomless pitcher of mobile data made possible by Bell’s MiFi. Set the thing to never power off by itself and a fast Internet connection will be ready and waiting for as long as the battery lasts.

It’s an especially enticing proposition for me because I abhor voicemail and seldom talk on the phone; when I do I’ve got a VoIP account and Android app that work great together.

Hell, I wouldn’t need a SIM card in my phone at all were it not for SMS.

MiFi SMS

Bell’s MiFi requires a SIM card, of course, and the software on the MiFi lets you read and delete incoming texts, but that’s it. You can’t export or even reply to messages, which kind of makes having them in the first place a bit useless.

My VoIP provider is currently testing SMS functionality; if that doesn’t pan out I can always go with SpeakOut or some other bargain-basement prepaid service — that or change my WIND plan to SMS-only for $5/month.

Freeing my phone from the tyranny of a data plan and having data available for my laptop, tablet and whatever else is quite liberating. I’m already salivating at the thought of all the hardware I can buy next time I’m in Hong Kong, without having to worry about it working on AWS (or even LTE) back home.

I might not be gushing so much when Bell sends me my first bill, but in four days of extremely heavy use the data counter on the MiFi has logged just over half a gigabyte.

We’ll have to see if I can keep it under 2GB for the month…