In praise of the humble hotspot.

Sierra Wireless AirCard 763S

So if you’re wondering why I’m on the front page yet again, Howard has asked me to contribute some daily — well, week-daily — content here.

For the next couple of posts I’d like for you all to get to know me and my interests a little better; it’ll be back to more outward-looking stuff next week. And by the way, if you’ve an idea for an article by all means shoot me a PM.

So one thing you should know about me: I really like hotspots — in addition to mobile phones, of course.

Not the type of hotspot that you’d find in a hotel room or Starbucks, but the much more secure personal hotspot that you carry with you. MiFi is perhaps the less confusing moniker, but it’s also a trademarked brand belonging to Novatel Wireless. So “hotspot” it is…

And why this irrational obsession with something my phone does anyway? Well, three reasons:

1. LTE

My Nexus 4 doesn’t support LTE — at least officially. As a matter of fact, I had no idea how game-changing-ly (?) fast LTE even was until I rented a DoCoMo hotspot during a trip to Japan this past spring. In retrospect the speeds weren’t even that great, but once I sampled LTE nothing less would do.

2. Battery Life

Specifically, the battery life on my phone… At the risk of stating the obvious, Android doesn’t generally compare well to other mobile platforms in this regard. The second biggest drain on my device after the screen used to be the mobile radio. With a hotspot that’s no longer the case. If I had to venture an unscientific guess, my Nexus now gets about double the battery life.

You’d think there would be constant disconnect and wake-from-sleep issues; in fact no such problem exists, provided that you set your hotspot to not time out.

3. Utility

With up to ten available connections from either of my current hotspots, I am my own ISP. I don’t charge friends or co-workers to connect, of course, but more than once I’ve come to the rescue of someone whose signal was lacking. And it’s seriously convenient to whip a laptop out of a bag and connect to the Internet right away, without having to turn on my phone’s hotspot function.

Ok, that’s pretty easy too.

I’m currently the proud owner of two LTE hotspots — one each from Rogers and Bell. I posted about the Bell’s 700 MHz Novatel MiFi 2 this past spring. Some helpful replies in that thread pointed out that a hotspot from Sierra supported 2600MHz LTE and was potentially faster. Boy, were they right.

If you poke around a bit you’ll find some other hotspot fans on the forums. Jonavin has pointed out that the Huawei¬†E586E on WIND actually supports both AWS and standard bands of HSPA+. At $100 CAD plus unlocking it’s a really inexpensive way to get data on any network at speeds of up to 40 Mbps.

And then there’s Howard himself, flaunting the ultimate piece of cottage kit, the Huawei B890 — I’ll just call it the Franken-hotspot. With support for every conceivable flavour of 3 and 4G service you can almost forgive the fact that it has to be plugged in.

My favourite thing by far about these LTE hotspots is the data plans that come with them. At the time of purchase I thought my plan with Bell was fairly reasonable, $45/month for 2 GB of data. But Rogers offers a much better 5 GB for $40. From what I’ve seen a data rate of $8/GB is just not available in this country for anything that’s not a hotspot or tablet. In fact, there are some forward-thinking forum members attempting to use their smartphones on a hotspot or tablet plan.

So there it is, my high-five for the MiFi. I’ll be looking to dump my Bell MiFi soon, but the cheaper and faster Rogers one will stay in my bag for the foreseeable future — at least until I get a phone with LTE.