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30 October 2012

Mobile WiFi Access Points

By Andrew Clifford

If you need Internet connections when you are away from home or the office, a mobile WiFi access point could be just the solution you are looking for.

A mobile WiFi access point is a mobile device that provides a WiFi network that you can use to connect other devices, like laptops and iPads, to the Internet. It is basically a mobile phone with the talking bits taken out, optimised to connect to the Internet and provide a WiFi network.

Mobile wireless access points are a compelling option in many situations. Imagine one or more people away from home or the office, with devices that they want to connect to the Internet.

Chart that shows decisions about using a mobile WiFi access point

A mobile access point makes sense when there is more than one person. A single access point can serve multiple devices, so rather than having the cost and complexity of multiple Internet connections, just use one.

Some mobile phones provide WiFi access points, and this can be a very simple way of accessing the Internet from other devices. However, some operators block the use of this feature, or make it unreasonably expensive. If more than one person needs Internet access, then accessing it through one person's mobile phone is not very useful because when they go out they take the Internet with them.

Some devices can access the Internet directly through built-in mobile networking. This is fine if it is your only Internet device. But if you need the Internet on more than one device, having a single mobile access point is likely to be cheaper and less effort.

Mobile WiFi access points can be a cheaper option than fixed-line broadband. In the UK, it is possible to keep yourself connected to the Internet for under £50 per year through mobile broadband. However, for anything other than light users (i.e. anyone who watches much video over the Internet), fixed-line broadband would usually be a cheaper option.

I have been trying out a mobile access point. When I went on holiday, I used to connect my laptop to the Internet using my mobile phone. However, my sons are now of an age when they can't imagine going on holiday without adequate Internet access. I bought a ZTE MF60 (about £65), and using this I can get up to three months Internet access for about £11 by buying pay-as-you-go data SIMs for the Three network. The device is extremely simple to set up - just put a SIM in, turn it on, and access with WiFi using the security key printed on the inside of the battery compartment. Depending on the strength of the mobile signal, this can be much faster than either my phone or my fixed-line broadband at home. I can use a different SIM card to access a different network operator, for example using a local operator to get cheap Internet access abroad.

Mobile WiFi is cheap and simple and works well. It could be just the solution you are looking for.

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