Pocket Hotspot Shares 3G Data

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Novatel Wireless has launched a pocket device to share a 3G Internet connection over Wi-Fi, creating a "mobile cloud" of connectivity

Novatel Wireless, a maker of 3G wireless products, has produced MiFi, a battery-powered mobile hotspot, that combines a 3G modem and a Wi-Fi hotspot, so it can share a 3G Internet connection among nearby Wi-Fi machines.

"This is not a USB product or a router, but a next-generation device," said Rob Hadley, chief marketing officer of Novatel. "It is intelligent, so it can host applications, and provides operators with a landing page for Web users so they can offer products and services." Previous products, such as dongle-docks and pocket routers, are less integrated, requiring a USB or card-based modem, he said.

The device could be used by small workgroups or by a family travelling in a car, said Hadley. It could also be placed on a window ledge in a building with poor indoor 3G coverage.

MiFi will support about four hours of active use and 40 hours of standby. It has an on/off switch and a mini-USB socket for charging or connecting to non-Wi-Fi devices. It also has a microSD card slot for storage, so content can be stored or cached on the device.

The device will be sold for around US$200 when it is delivered in 2009, but will be available through operators first, said Hadley.

Analysts feel that the concept is interesting, although it would increase demands on operator networks: "It is imperative that Novatel position this as a solution for small workgroups of ideally two to three people (or perhaps a carful) than as a solution for a larger group that would really tax the network," said Ross Rubin, director of analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group.

"If Novatel can convince operators that it is more of an extension of a card usage model offering more convenient connections, then it should minimize those concerns.

"Ultimately, the MiFi may be in a better position being sold outside the carrier channel as we've seen retailers such as Best Buy offer the Cradlepoint mobile router," said Rubin. "It would also be a good fit for bridging Wi-Fi and WiMax as Clearwire rolls that out next year."

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