What is MiFi and How Does it Work?

What is MiFi - Woman in coffee shop using laptop

MiFi is a mobile hotspot device that lets you enjoy the internet virtually anywhere by leveraging mobile data from cellular networks. Hook up your connected devices like phones, tablets, and laptops to one of these portable Wi-Fi hotspots to get online. Learn all about MiFi devices, including what they are, how to use them, and how they differ from Wi-Fi.

What Is MiFi?

Although MiFi is used interchangeably with terms like pocket Wi-Fi, it technically refers to Inseego (formerly Novatel Wireless) mobile routers. Just as Kleenex is a brand name generally used synonymously with tissues, MiFi has become an umbrella term for portable routers. The name is likely a portmanteau of “my Wi-Fi” or “mobile Wi-Fi,” but there’s no official explanation.

How does MiFi work?

A MiFi device utilizes mobile broadband rather than traditional terrestrial internet like cable or fiber. Therefore, MiFi routers require SIM cards or eSIMs, which provide a 4G LTE or 5G cellular signal. That mobile internet connection is distributed to connected devices like your phone, laptop, tablet, or Nintendo Switch. You’ll need a MiFi device, data plan, and SIM card to get started. After you’re up and running, connect to MiFi like any Wi-Fi network.

In a traditional home internet configuration, a signal gets piped in, usually via cable or fiber optic. A modem interprets that information and sends it to a Wi-Fi router that wirelessly distributes an internet connection to devices around your house, like streaming boxes and laptops. Similarly, portable routers accept an internet signal—the same type your phone receives—then connect to Wi-Fi-enabled electronics for web access almost anywhere.

MiFi vs. Wi-Fi: What’s the difference?

Simply put, Wi-Fi is technology enabling wireless internet access, whereas MiFi is a device that delivers mobile broadband. MiFi creates a Wi-Fi signal for communication with your various electronics.

How fast is MiFi?

Mobile hotspots offer up to 2.5Gbps download speeds on a 5G connection and as fast as 100Mbps over 4G LTE. However, real-world speeds vary based on several factors, including Wi-Fi type and signal strength. Consult our 5G footprint maps to explore cell phone coverage in your area.

MiFi vs. mobile phone hotspots

MiFi routers are great for working remotely or streaming Netflix on your iPad at the airport during a long layover. While you can use your Android or iPhone as a mobile hotspot, a dedicated pocket Wi-Fi device lets you conserve your handset’s battery. Additionally, you’ll avoid burning through any Wi-Fi hotspot data allowances with your phone plan since MiFi requires its own service.

However, phone-based hotspot connectivity is convenient since you only need to lug around one device. Generally, we recommend MiFi mobile broadband for:

  • Frequent travelers

  • Digital nomads and remote workers
  • Folks regularly connect multiple devices away from home
MiFi Pros:
  • Conserve phone battery life
  • Save phone hotspot data
  • Internet access anywhere there’s a cellular signal
  • Works with multiple simultaneous connected devices
MiFi cons:
  • Requires its own data plan
  • One more device to carry around
  • Pricier than using a phone as a hotspot (extra device and plan expenses)

Best MiFi Devices

Our favorite MiFi hotspot devices include:

Best MiFi Plans

Telus Rogers
Monthly cost $10-$150 $10-$60
Data allocation 100MB-50GB 100MB-5GB

MiFi portable routers require data plans for Wi-Fi connectivity. Expect to pay between $10 and $150 monthly for a data-only plan that provides anywhere from 100MB to 50GB of monthly data. Explore popular plans with a mobile hotspot in Canada with our search tool.

What Is MiFi and How Does It Work?: FAQs

What is MiFi, and how does it work?

A MiFi device is a portable router that utilizes mobile data from 4G LTE and 5G networks for internet connectivity anywhere you’ve got a cellular signal. Select a data plan, pop in a SIM card, and enjoy portable Wi-Fi on your mobile devices.

Is MiFi as good as Wi-Fi?

No, MiFi is not as good as Wi-Fi, with slower and less reliable speeds than a traditional DSL, cable, or fiber internet connection. But MiFi supports up to 2.5Gbps speeds with a strong 5G signal.

How much does MiFi cost per month?

MiFi costs anywhere from $10 to $150 per month for a data plan, depending on what plan you need.

What is the difference between a mobile hotspot and MiFi?

MiFi and a mobile hotspot are the same thing; MiFi is merely a trademarked name from Inseego (previously Novatel Wireless). Other common terms for mobile hotspots are pocket Wi-Fi and portable routers.

Will MiFi work anywhere?

Yes, mostly. MiFi works anywhere you’ve got a mobile data connection, from the city to remote rural locations.

How long does MiFi last?

MiFi devices last up to 13 hours, although specific battery life depends on your connection—a 5G signal drains your pocket Wi-Fi faster than 4G LTE. Likewise, the more simultaneous connected devices you have, the faster you’ll burn through a MiFi battery.

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