Despite having been around for a while now, Mi-Fi units have yet to be embraced by those outside the tech fraternity.
The idea of wireless internet which you can share with your friends and family wherever you are is appealing, but a combination of high costs, shoddy connection speeds when compared to home broadband and powerful connections on smartphones or tablets could make Mi-Fi seem redundant.
However, the Huawei E586, released last September on the Three network, may have blown this market open.
Three say that they are “the only operator offering an entirely next generation HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access) enabled range of mobile broadband products.” This is no idle boast. The connection is fast. Very fast.
Three offer the E586 on a number of monthly and pay-as-you-go tariffs, although to opt for anything other than the 15GB cap on a 24 month contract at £18.99 a month, you would frankly need your head examined.
Out of the box the E586 couldn’t be simpler to get up and running - you remove the back plate, insert the sim and battery then hold down a power button on the side of the device.
Once on, the OLED display springs into action letting you know your connection status, which according to Three’s website should be uninterrupted over 97% of the UK’s landmass.
Unlike many dongles and 3G devices on other networks, this feels like real, unleaded internet being mainlined straight into your vein.
No lossy images, no disconnecting because file sizes are too large, this feels as genuine as most home broadband wireless connections.
When at home the modem can be charged by either by a USB cable straight into your computer or in the E586’s rather fetching docking station.
Three claim that five devices can connect to the signal at once, and in testing this is absolutely true; an iPad streaming SkyGo, two laptops browsing, an iPhone downloading podcasts and a Nintendo 3DS playing MarioKart online and the E586 didn’t even flinch.
Outside and on the move, the modem survived the entirety a bus journey from Brixton to Euston with an iPad downloading newspapers, checking emails and RSS feeds and an iPhone streaming from Spotify with no interruption.
So the device works fantastically both at home and on the move, it’s easy to use and the costs are pretty reasonable. So, why shouldn’t you get one?
Once past the initial “sweet lucifer, what futuristic witchcraft is this?” moment when you first fire up the E586, it’s difficult to imagine what sort of person might actually own one in real life, and there’s good reason for this.
The problem all Mi-Fi units face is that to be more than a luxury item they need to adequately replace home internet. The wireless-whilst-out-and-about bit is all well and good, but with most smartphones able to tether and hotspots available virtually everywhere, any additional cost to your internet needs is simply unjustifiable.
This is definitely useful if you are on a phone contract that limits your ability to tether, or you are indeed in one of the rural black spots our country does so well.
Three’s claim that up to five wireless devices can be connected at the same time with little effect to the performance might be true, but with all those separate devices playing online games, browsing the web, browsing Chat Roulette and catching up on the latest Justin Bieber video, that 15GB won’t go very far.
As marvellous an achievement the Huawei E586 is, until download caps are removed this service is not a viable replacement for a standard home internet connection.
With most sceptical at superfast broadband being readily available in the UK anytime soon and copper phone lines delivering ADSL speeds that impress about as much as a decaffeinated semi-skim frappuccino with no cream, a 3G service which performs just as well and doesn’t require a visit from an engineer is an attractive prospect - if unlimited.
If the caps can be abolished, Three and Huawei might just change the world. At least for a few years.