Tech Tips - Getting the Most out of your MiFi 2200

It's only been a short few weeks, but I must admit I absolutely love my Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200. While I did have to pay the full $150 for the hardware, the $40 monthly service fee will easily let me recoup that cost within the first six months. Getting unlimited 3G speed, however, means that I can surf literally all day long, be it websites, Hulu, streaming Pandora radio, or downloading updates for software on my netbook and notebook.

I've also come across various ways to improve the out-of-the-box experience with the MiFi, including tweaking the settings and taking other steps to improve it's performance. Read on to see just what you can do to get the most out of this fantastic little device!

Being available now for more than a year, the MiFi 2200 (and 2372 GSM version) has made fast 3G wireless data access possible for users where wifi hotspots haven't been available, as well as devices that lacked a USB port or card slot to work with traditional 3G modems. It offers so much flexibility, especially given that it can share an untethered web connection with multiple devices. But traditional pricing for 3G service, along with restrictive caps, have unfortunately kept the real potential of the MiFi untapped. With Virgin Mobile's affordable pricing, and truly unlimited usage model, MiFi users can reap the full benefits and finally unleash the capabilities their MiFi devices were designed to offer.

My short 3-4 weeks of testing so far has shown me that there's a lot that can impact how well the MiFi performs. These include settings that you can adjust to make it work easier, perform more secure, and tips to get around it's 4-hour battery limitation.

1. Check your speeds!

Virgin Mobile claim that 3G speeds on their network with the MiFi fall between 600-1400kbps. My own testing in the first few days yielded a pathetic, some may consider unacceptable, 200-400kbps. Indeed, I was perplexed as to why I was getting such slow speeds, especially considering I was using the MiFi all around town. Further testing at various points of the day did actually get speeds at 600-700kbps, but not one bit higher. Signal strength/quality, location, network congestion, server IP and perhaps even time of day all impact how good your performance will be - 3G can be notorious for providing a consistent experience.

If you do find that you are repeatedly getting abnormally slow speeds though, it may be wise to contact customer service and inquire about service in your area. I did exactly that, and after explaining my speed issue to a technical rep, I was told my account was to be modified in a way that my device would now operate on a different channel. I wasn't quite sure what that meant. Lo and behold, after a few hours delay, my MiFi 2200 was now registering on the Sprint PCS network, rather than Virgin Mobile, and using a new IP address from a server based much closer to where I was located.

Can your 3G match these speeds?
Subsequent testing has shown that my 3G speeds now consistently hit 1000kbps and above, with my fastest results being 2389kbps down and 558kbps up with latency averaging 112ms. That's definitely impressive! In practice, it's sufficient to stream 480p Hulu video keeping the buffer full without any video stuttering. In fact, I've watched over two dozen shows so far on Hulu with the MiFi racking up well over 7GB of traffic in a period of perhaps only 2 weeks.

Cutting you from the cord is one thing, but at these speeds it really makes basic 768k DSL seem like an antique technology. You gotta love fast, unlimited 3G - it completely changes how you use the web, not just on the go, but also at home.

One thing you cannot do though is request a static IP address. Long-time 3G users will tell you that every time you connect your device will be assigned a different server IP. While home DSL does in fact use static IP, and thus ensures consistent speeds/service, the mobile nature of 3G makes dynamic IP the only workable option. This can and will impact the speeds you get during your connection session. Sometimes disconnecting and reconnecting to a different server IP can improve performance, but if your slow speeds are due to a rare network-wide issue, reconnecting won't help one bit.

2. Random disconnects

I've experienced a few times that the MiFi 2200 would at random disconnect from the 3G network and stop feeding a signal. Using the web admin application to reconnect failed to work, and the only way to regain use would be to perform a power-down cycle. This would only occur after several hours of use and only while plugged into the AC charger. I can be certain it's not an overheating issue since the device never gets overly warm even during charging, and I also have 3G auto-connect enabled.

My calls to tech support, after several instances of this happening, have determined that the cause of this erratic behavior is the hardware itself. Apparently, when charging, the device may throw a 180 and cease 3G reception. This is only an issue when being used while charging, as I tend to do when at home to avoid the battery running down. When on the go, running off battery, this doesn't happen. By design, the device is meant to be used on battery, so my usage while charging at home may be considered somewhat unorthodox. It's wise to know, though, that if you do want to use this as an all-day connection, be prepared to stop your work and power cycle the MiFi if it suddenly stops working.

3. Usage meter resetting

One of the advantages of the MiFi is that when you connect you can monitor your data usage. That won't mean a lot with an unlimited data plan, but it does give you a useful yardstick for tracking your mileage when doing a variety of things online.

Except the problem is the traffic counter will hit a snag every time you approach 4-5GB of usage, resetting itself and clearing the accrued history. That can be an inconvenience if you, for example, want to track usage over a certain period of time such as a business trip or weekend vacation. It also makes it difficult to see how much of the web you're hogging while doing certain activities like watching Hulu video or maintaining a blog. I have a rough idea of the usage I've done so far, but it's unfortunate that the software fails to report accurately how much the device has been used since it was activated. It's also strange that the error happens on only the data received field - start date, total connection time and data sent fields are not affected and continue to report correctly.

4. Update your security settings and passwords

One of the first things you're prompted to do when using the MiFi web interface is to create a log-in password, much as you would have for a wireless router at home. It's wise to get not too complicated here, since you may need to use it often to get in and establish 3G connectivity - something that can happen if the auto-connect fails. It's also not a password you can set your browser to "remember", as the interface will force you to enter something physically to ensure security.

On the other hand, you should definitely change the SSID and bump up the network key used by your devices to connect. Yes, the MiFi does have this info printed on a sticker on the bottom of the device, but imagine what can happen if your MiFi gets stolen or lost - that information is plenty for a hacker to compromise your connection and surf on your dime. It's also wise to change the SSID since the default includes the name of your device, and depending on where you are working, you might not want the people within radio range to know exactly what kind of device you are using.

Likewise, you should turn SSID broadcasting off, especially since being mobile you may not know who is around you tracking your device and it's MAC address.

One of the better aspects of the MiFi's security settings is the ability to use various wireless networks (profiles) depending on how you want to get online. The device comes with three fixed presets, each letting you adjust the SSID, security type and network key. You can use a secured network for personal use, but also have a shared network available for joining other devices with friends. Alternatively, you could run the MiFi as an open network - handy for testing devices temporarily. Switching between the three is easily done using the web interface. You can also set how many devices are able to access the MiFi at the same time, ranging from 1 to 5.

5. Consider implementing MAC filtering

MAC filtering is what is sometimes called wireless access control, in which the router (MiFi) stores a list of devices by their MAC address and only allows those devices on the list permission to connect. It's a great way to lock down your 3G access, but it doesn't kill the sharing ability of the MiFi completely. Those devices you want to connect concurrently need only be added to the trusted clients list, after which you can share your connection with those devices.

One important thing to note is that these settings are global, meaning if you switch between secured and open profiles often, you will need to update your trusted clients list every time someone new wants to connect. I don't, so for me MAC filtering just stays on.

6. Configure your advanced settings accordingly

Many settings for the MiFi can be found under the advanced menu, ranging from router configuration backup, port forwarding, port filtering, power management and TCP/IP. Depending on how you want to use your device, or what hardware you have connected, you may need to make adjustments here. It's also from here that you can reset the MiFi to its factory default settings, should you inadvertently mess things up down the road and lose functionality.

7. Beat that 4-hour battery

Recharge up to 5 times for 20+ hours of 3G
You know already that I get a kick out of using my Energizer XP8000 with my HTC Touch Pro 2 to charge while I'm out and about. Turns out that this versatile little battery pack works great with the MiFi 2200 as well. Using the XP8000's microUSB adapter tip, I can recharge the MiFi whenever it runs out of juice. Even better is the ability to plug in and charge while the MiFi is on and keep my 3G connection going - something I can really appreciate when using my netbook and notebook all day long.

At home, I just keep the MiFi plugged into AC. Random 3G disconnects aside, I can surf the web 24/7 sans-DSL without ever worrying about battery. When it's time to head out the door, I know I've got a fully-charged MiFi ready to go!

Alternatively, you could buy a second 1150mAh internal battery and swap, or buy a larger 3600mAh extended battery for the MiFi. Both of these are ideal for folks that may need all-day power. The latter would require a larger battery door, though, making the MiFi heavier and more than twice as thick. As always, decide what works best for you. For me, the XP8000 was just more convenient, being compatible with multiple devices, easier to use, and saves me money.

8. Embrace your prepaid voice plan

Many don't know that while I have a high-end smartphone, I was for a long time unable to use any of its data functionality. Reason being I was forced to unceremoniously dump my wireless service provider back in 2009 due to my being the victim of a rather nasty breach of contract. Long story short, in order to stay in touch with the world, I purchased a cheap prepaid SIM for my phone.

Since it has saved me considerable money, and eliminated my monthly fee, I decided to keep the prepaid voice plan for my Touch Pro 2. And while I was able to get wifi at home from my cheap wireless router, I was still unable to use 3G while on the go. The Virgin Mobile solution has made that now a possibility.

Actually, the MiFi gives my Touch Pro 2 various benefits. One, I can get data connectivity anywhere now. Two, I continue to save money by staying with prepaid voice. Three, it doesn't affect the battery life on my smartphone. And four, since my particular Touch Pro 2 model would not work on US 3G frequencies, I can get to enjoy full 3G speeds. Indeed, the combination of prepaid voice and prepaid data makes low-cost connectivity not only a reality, but a contract-free possibility. Most notably, I now enjoy the luxury of a voice and data plan from two different providers, using GSM for voice and CDMA for data. This opens wide the potential for smartphones, creating far more choice for the consumer along with much more flexible use. For the first time ever, I can think about all that my smartphone can do, without being tied to making a horrendous monthly commitment to my carrier.

Hammering home that last point is the recent survey (IDC study) that shows US smartphone users cough up an average of $108 per month for their cellphone bill. I remember I used to pay about half of that and get only voice service. Today I pay less than what I did, enjoying full voice and data features along with unlimited tethering. Over a period of 12 months, I save probably over $700 compared to the average Joe. And yet I make no sacrifice when it comes to connectivity.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, I recently bought one of these mifis and I think they are great!