Mobile Internet Hot Spots: Hot or Not?By Saul Hansell
Will your next cellphone be without a microphone, keyboard or screen?
It may well, argued Daniel R. Hesse, the chief executive of Sprint Nextel, when I spoke to him after the embattled wireless carrier announced its second-quarter earnings last week. He said that an increasing number of customers were going to use mobile hot spots — tiny devices that connect any nearby gadget equipped with Wi-Fi to the Internet using a cellular data network. (In May, David Pogue reviewed one of the first of these hot spots, Novatel’s MiFi 2200, calling the concept a “jaw-dropper.”)
As devices like digital cameras and portable game machines seek to communicate with the world over the Internet, Mr. Hesse argues, this sort of hot spot is better than trying to put a cellphone connection on each gadget or accepting the one-device limit of a wireless data card for a laptop.
“If it’s your iTouch or MP3 player or your netbook or your PC or whatever it might be, even your BlackBerry phone, it can use Wi-Fi to connect to the mobile hot spot to connect to our 3G network,” Mr. Hesse said. “You won’t need a separate bill for each and every device.”
Mr. Hesse said that there were already 425 million computers and other gadgets with Wi-Fi connections.
The one bill you do have won’t be small, however. Sprint charges $99, after rebate, for the Novatel device and $59.99 a month for up to 5 gigabytes of usage. Verizon Wireless offers the same device with a range of price plans.
Mr. Hesse said the hot spot, MiFi, is selling well, but he expected the concept to take off as Sprint introduces its faster 4G network in conjunction with its Clearwire affiliate.
He imagines that people will put the hot spots “in the coffee-cup holder of the car.” He added, “As you go down the road, everybody is connected.”
This isn’t entirely fanciful. J. Wilson, who reviewed the Verizon version of the device on Amazon.com, is already taking it on the road:
It’s surprising how easy it is to connect when traveling in an RV (I’m retired, so I find myself in many geographical locations, when connecting …) and this gadget has provided me with Wi-Fi connection in the Grand Canyon’s RV Trailer Village, in the mountains above Boulder, Co, and at the border of Glacier Nat’l Park (at the portal of West Glacier, East of Whitefish).
And on my commuter bus ride to New Jersey, my laptop is picking up hot spots called MiFi, implying that people are already throwing these gadgets in their purses or briefcases so they can surf on the road.
This sort of mobile hot spot clearly has some uses. It’s great for groups of business travelers. And even some families that travel with more than one laptop might well lust after one. I’m not convinced this is a mainstream product, though. It’s expensive and adds yet another gadget in your life to recharge. I wonder whether you would rather simply carry a cellphone that can connect — by way of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — to your camera, game machine and so on. But I do think more and more people will want some version of what David Pogue called the “personal Wi-Fi bubble.”
Still, Sprint, which is still losing customers rapidly, needs every weapon it can muster to generate excitement.
What do you think? Would you pay for a portable Internet hot spot so that any gadget you own can go online?