What is MiFi: is MiFi or Wi-Fi best for your business?

Tom Grange
By Tom Grange, Director of Connectivity

Although both business broadband download and upload speeds are increasing year on year, there are still slow areas, line faults, and delays in getting broadband up. These delays and outages can have an unwanted effect on your business. 

In an age where being connected has never been as important, having a back-up or alternative option can help ensure your business is never without a connection.

That’s where MiFi comes in. In our guide, we’ll walk you through what MiFi is and whether it can replace your current Wi-Fi setup.

Someone using a mobile (MiFi) connection on a smartphone

30-second summary:

  • MiFi is a portable WiFi solution that uses a cellular network to create a local WiFi connection.
  • The main difference between WiFi and MiFi is that MiFi uses a portable device to run while WiFI needs a router that is plugged into a mainline using an ethernet cable.
  • The main advantage of MiFi is that it's a portable, flexible solution. It's also cost-effective, easy to set up and provides a secure connection. Disadvantages include limited internet coverage, data caps, short battery life, network overcrowding and a limit on connected devices.
  • The speed of MiFi depends on your location as outside environments affect cellular networks. Areas with 5G or 4G will provide the best connections. 
  • MiFi hubs on their own can cost anywhere between £50-£300, depending on the model and various contracts can be tailored to business needs.
  • MiFi is a good choice for remote workers and small to medium businesses. It's not suitable for large companies with lots of employees who need a high-speed internet connection.

What is MiFi?

MiFi, which is short for ‘mobile Wi-Fi’, is a portable connectivity solution that allows users to access the internet whenever and wherever they are.

Unlike traditional fixed Wi-Fi networks that rely on physical cables, MiFi uses the power of cellular networks, such as 3G, 4G, or 5G, to create a local Wi-Fi network wherever you go. It offers a versatile and flexible internet option for small businesses, freelancers, remote workers, or anyone who requires access to the world wide web on the go. 

What is a MiFi device?

A MiFi device is a compact and portable gadget that acts as a wireless router, allowing multiple electronic devices to connect to the internet using a cellular data connection. They typically look like a small router or pocket-sized hub and come with a SIM card slot.

They’re usually battery-powered, so they can be used away from a power source, but as they use cellular data, they only work in places with access to a mobile network connection.

How does MiFi work?

MiFi devices work by inserting a SIM card from a mobile network provider, and the MiFi device then establishes a connection to the cellular network. This cellular data connection acts as the main source of internet access for the MiFi device.

It then creates a localised ‘ad-hoc’ network, broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal that devices within its range can detect and connect to. These include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices that use Wi-Fi.

And just like a regular Wi-Fi router, you can set up a password for your MiFi hub to ensure that the connection is secure and only available to people who you want to access it.

What's the difference between MiFi and Wi-Fi?

While MiFi and Wi-Fi both provide wireless internet connectivity, there are significant differences between the two.

MiFi works using a portable device that’s connected to a cellular network and can be used away from a mains plug point, while Wi-Fi can only be accessed via a fixed router which connects to the internet using radio waves. 

MiFi hubs need a SIM card to create a connection, which is independent of existing Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi networks must be physically connected and rely on fixed infrastructure, like fibre optic cables, to provide a wired connection. They’re also usually found in homes, offices, and public spaces to give internet access to a specific area.

What's the difference between MiFi, internet dongles, and mobile broadband routers?

It can be easy to confuse MiFi with other similar products, like internet dongles and mobile broadband routers. While they share a similar purpose – to provide internet connectivity – they do also have their differences.

Internet dongles, or USB dongles, plugin directly to a computer or laptop using a USB port. Like MiFi, USB dongles have a SIM card that taps into cellular data networks to allow you to access the internet. The difference is that they must be physically connected to a device and can only be used on the machine that they are plugged into.

Mobile broadband routers – also known as 4G or 5G broadband routers – are similar to MiFi devices in that they also use a SIM card to access cellular data and create Wi-Fi networks. They can also connect multiple devices. Where mobile broadband routers differ is that they tend to be larger and need to be plugged into a mains socket, making them less portable, but they may provide stronger coverage. 

Learn more about business broadband routers.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of MiFi?

Having an internet source that you can access wherever you need, may seem like an excellent option for your business, but MiFi does have its limitations. To understand whether it’s the right fit for you, let’s look at its benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages of MiFi

  • Portability – As MiFi devices are small and portable, they’re ideal for on-the-go connectivity. They can fit in a pocket or bag and be taken anywhere, making them a great solution for if you run a remote business that requires travel from one place to another.
  • Flexibility –  MiFi devices offer flexibility in terms of data plans and service providers, allowing businesses to choose a plan that meets their specific needs and budget.
  • Cost-effective – Since MiFi devices run using SIM cards, they eliminate the need for expensive data plans or long-term contracts, and businesses can choose to pay only for the data they use. This makes them a cost-effective solution for users that don't require constant connectivity. 
  • Easy setup – MiFi devices are straightforward to set up and use, requiring only a few simple steps to connect to the internet.
  • Secure – With most MiFi devices, it’s possible to create a password in order to access the network. This adds an extra layer of security; MiFi hubs tend to be more secure than public Wi-Fi networks. To find out more about broadband security, find out how to keep your business Wi-Fi secure with our guide.

Disadvantages of MiFi

  • Limited coverage – MiFi devices rely on cellular networks, which can have limited coverage in some areas. This may result in connectivity issues in rural or remote areas or your service dropping in and out if you’re travelling, like on a train.
  • Data caps – Some MiFi business plans may have data caps or speed limitations that can impact business operations. It's essential to choose a plan that aligns with your data usage and speed requirements.
  • Limited number of devices – Most MiFi devices have a limited number of devices that can be connected at the same time. This can be a challenge for businesses that require multiple devices to be in use at the same time.
  • Battery life – While MiFi devices come equipped with built-in batteries, they may have limited battery life, depending on usage. This can be an issue for businesses that need extended periods of mobile connectivity.
  • Network congestion – In areas with busy networks; such as city centres or office buildings, MiFi devices may experience slower speeds and connectivity issues. Find out how to check your internet speed here.

As well as weighing up the pros and cons, as a business owner you should consider your own needs and requirements to determine whether MiFi is the best solution for you.

How fast is MiFi?

The internet speed of MiFi devices depends on the SIM card that is used and the cellular network the SIM is compatible with, like whether the network is 3G, 4G, or 5G. Other factors that may affect speed are the network coverage and the MiFi device's capabilities. Other outside elements may also cause the speed to vary; like hills and mountains, and stormy weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, can mess with signal strength and affect speed.

In areas with robust 4G or 5G coverage, MiFi devices can provide high-speed internet access, allowing for smooth browsing, video streaming, and data-intensive tasks. The latest 5G networks deliver data faster than ever, averaging download speeds of 90-230 Mbps.

However, it's important to note that the actual speed experienced may be slower if more devices are using the same MiFi connection.

What is the battery life of MiFi?

The battery life of a MiFi device depends on things like how big the device's battery capacity is, how much it is used, the number of connected devices, and power management settings.

Typically, MiFi device battery life can range from a few hours to a full day of usage on a single charge. Some advanced MiFi models may have larger batteries that can last even longer. 

If your usage means that your MiFi hub’s battery is draining quite often, you may be tempted to leave it on charge when you’re using it to connect to the internet. While you can technically do this, it’s recommended to take it off charge once the battery is full, or you might run the risk of your MiFi hub overheating.

It's important to consider your business's needs and determine whether the battery life provided by a specific MiFi device aligns with what you need it for. For example, if you’re looking to use MiFi in a large office space with over 100 employees who need access to the internet, you might struggle to establish a strong connection and may need to charge your device regularly throughout the day.

How much does MiFi cost?

MiFi hubs can cost anywhere between £50-£300 depending on the model, with higher priced models offering much faster download speeds and connection for a larger number of devices. It’s important to note that some MiFi hubs do not come with a SIM card as standard, so it’s always worth double-checking if one is included in the price of the MiFi device that you’re looking at.

Alternatively, many UK network providers offer MiFi-specific SIM contracts or tariffs that can be tailored to business needs. Options can vary from 1-month to 24-month contracts, and some may offer pay-as-you-go deals for maximum flexibility. Like when buying a MiFi hub on its own, deals will cost you more if the data limit is higher, the internet speed on offer is faster, or if they are compatible with the latest cellular network generation. 

Some MiFi tariffs include the hub within the cost, which can also cause them to be more expensive as they absorb the price of the device. However, business SIM-only deals are also available if you already own a MiFi device.

How to set up a MiFi router

Getting your business set up with MiFi is a quick and simple process. It’s much faster than setting up a traditional Wi-Fi router as, unlike fibre to the cabinet or fibre to the premises broadband, you don’t need to connect to copper telephone or fibre optic cables. You also won’t need to install any software to access MiFi.

All you need to do is charge your MiFi hub, insert a SIM card, and turn it on to create a Wi-Fi network that devices can connect to. It’s a similar process to setting up a mobile hotspot on a phone.

Once the network is up and running, all you need to do is find it on your Wi-Fi-enabled device and enter the password if you have one set up.

Is MiFi right for my business?

MiFi is an excellent choice for remote workers, anyone who travels often for work, or those who have several devices that they need to connect to the internet.

It’s also a good alternative for anyone who uses their phone as a mobile hotspot, as using a MiFi hub will help to save phone battery life.

If you run a business that employs a lot of workers who all require a high-speed connection, MiFi may not be the right broadband solution for you. You would probably need a MiFi hub with the fastest connection and latest network capabilities, which could end up being quite costly, and a business broadband deal may end up being cheaper.

However, MiFi can be a great backup option for your office-based broadband if you have a patchy service or if an outage would mean essential business operations come to a grinding halt. Or, if you need to get up and running at short notice and can’t wait for your fixed-line broadband to be fitted, a MiFi hub could be exactly what you need. 

At Bionic, our pocket-sized 4G MiFi Hub is powerful enough to connect up to 50 devices at a time. You can even use the hub to charge other devices! Our 4G MiFi Hub will get you up and running and keep you and your employees online, wherever you are.

Contracts can provide up to 200GB of data per month, and from £10 per month, you’ll receive 25GB of data. That’s much better value (and a stronger signal) than a £10 SIM-only deal which would get you around 5GB of data. 

You can, of course, upgrade at any point in your contract if you find you need more data.

Switch your business broadband with Bionic

Our business connectivity and telecoms experts can help you navigate through all the different types of telecoms bundles and deals that are right for your business’s needs. Whether it’s finding the right MiFi option or locating a better business VoIP system, give our tech-enabled experts a call at 0808 253 6797.