Verizon Wireless customers will be able to link their Wi-Fi devices to the Internet via 3G mobile networks in more than 120 countries with the Fivespot portable hotspot, set to go on sale Thursday. But globetrotting with it won't be cheap.
Like Verizon's MiFi 2200, the Fivespot is a miniature access point that can talk to as many as five Wi-Fi devices at a time and use Verizon's national EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) network to connect them to the Internet. However, the Fivespot also can link to carrier networks based on the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) family of standards, which Verizon does not use but most of the world's mobile operators do.
Other carriers, such as Sprint Nextel and Clearwire, also sell portable Wi-Fi devices that use cellular networks on the back end. Because these devices use standard Wi-Fi, they can simplify connectivity over a 3G or 4G network and help users get online without buying several different mobile data devices from a carrier.
The Fivespot comes with a built-in SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card and can be used on networks in more than 200 countries through Verizon's roaming agreements. In more than 120 of those countries, there is a 3G network for the device to connect with, according to Verizon. In others, there are networks built with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution).
But the carrier will charge handsomely for the privilege of roaming with the Fivespot. With international coverage, the least expensive plan is US$129.99 per month for 5GB in the U.S. and Canada and 100MB in select countries. The next plan up, which includes 200MB in select countries, costs $219.99. Additional data costs $0.05 per megabyte in the U.S. and Canada, but in other countries the toll beyond the limit is $0.005 per kilobyte.
Users who need only occasional international data can buy a GlobalAccess Pay Per Use plan if they have a $59.99-per-month Mobile Broadband plan. With the Pay Per Use plan, data costs $0.002 per kilobyte in Canada, $0.005 per kilobyte in Mexico and $0.02 per kilobyte in more than 200 other countries.
Standard domestic Mobile Broadband plans are available for the Fivespot for US$39.99 for as much as 250MB per month and $59.99 for as much as 5GB per month. Those plans are also available for the MiFi, which is free after a rebate with a two-year contract.
The Fivespot, made by ZTE, is handheld-sized and weighs 2.82 ounces (80 grams). It can be used for access to a corporate network over a VPN (virtual private network). The device will cost $99.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year contract. Users will also be able to buy the device without a contract and buy a prepaid plan, starting at $15 for one day of use with 100MB. The top prepaid plan is good for 5GB over 30 days, for $80. Prepaid customers will pay full price, which Verizon was not able to provide by press time.