MiFis let you share your mobile broadband connection with multiple devices simultaneously. But what else have they got to recommend them? And which providers offer the best MiFi deals? We take a look at what's out there.
What is a MiFi and how does it work?
MiFis are similar to dongles in many ways: they're both portable, come under the broader banner of mobile broadband devices, and generally require a SIM card to work (you’ll need a special data-only SIM). In fact, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably with each other, although they’re not actually the same.
So what's the difference? Well, a dongle looks like a USB stick and must be plugged into a USB slot. What's more, a dongle only connects a single gadget to the internet at any one time.
On the other hand, a MiFi looks like a smaller tablet-shaped version of your home broadband router. You don’t need to plug it in, because it creates a wireless connection to get you online.
Better yet, it's precisely due to this wireless connection that MiFis let you connect lots of gadgets simultaneously.
That means that while using the connection to check your email on your laptop, your companion could be playing games online on a Nintendo Switch, while another downloads a video to their smartphone.
You may have heard the terms ‘mobile Wi-Fi routers’ or ‘mobile Wi-Fi hotspots’ in conjunction with MiFis.
That’s because both are just alternative ways of referring to MiFis, in acknowledgement that MiFis are A) portable, and B) create a wireless signal via mobile broadband that can be shared among multiple devices at the same time.
How to choose a MiFi deal
In the market for a MiFi, but need some help to get the right one? Here's a look at the key things to consider before signing up...
Although MiFis all connect you wirelessly to the internet, not all MiFis are created equal.
While some allow you to connect five devices at the same time, others permit you connect six times that number.
So, think about how many gadgets you’re likely to need to connect and choose a MiFi accordingly.
It’s also worth considering size and longevity of a MiFi’s battery. In general, the higher the milli-amp hours (mAh) number, the longer the MiFi will last between charges.
Some MiFis also include a microSD slot, so you can store files on it and quickly transfer them between devices.
4G or 5G
Most MiFi deals are 4G. You can get a 5G MiFi from Vodafone, if you’re prepared to spend a fair bit more.
Of course, 5G is several times faster than 4G. But you'll only get that service in the parts of the UK where 5G networks reach.
Conversely, 4G is much more widely available. And it’s substantially cheaper: you can get a 4G dongle for not much more than £10 per month.
Just need a MiFi as a short-term fix while you’re without a home broadband connection? Or maybe for a few weeks while you’re working remotely?
If that's the case, you’ll probably only need to get a MiFi on a one-month rolling contract.
That way, you’re free to cancel at any time (with a month’s notice) and won’t pay for data you don’t need.
However, if you’re know you’re going to require a mobile broadband connection for an extended period, it might be smarter to sign up for a 12-month or 24-month deal.
How many devices/people are going to be using your MiFi? If you’re planning to share your allowance with others, you’ll want more than a few GB per month. And if you’ll be using your connection to stream video or play games, it’s worth considering an unlimited data plan.
Deals for MiFi devices typically come bundled with a data plan – this comes in the form of a SIM card that’s inserted in the device.
Networks that offer MiFi and mobile Wi-Fi
When deciding on a MiFi deal, you’ll want to think about network coverage (which determines whether you’ll get a good signal or not), average speeds (the more Mbps, the faster), and monthly data allowances.
What download and upload speeds will I get with MiFi?
The average speeds you get depend on whether you have a 4G or 5G MiFi.
With a 5G MiFi, you’ll get speeds that give ultrafast broadband a run for its money. Average download speeds can range between 75-250Mbps, while some can achieve gigabit-ready speeds (up to and beyond 1Gbps).
4G is a fair bit slower than 5G, though. Depending on the network you’re with, download speeds average around 10-70Mbps, putting it roughly in line with ADSL and entry-level fibre optic broadband. Overall, we’d say a 4G MiFi is typically slower than a home broadband connection.
In both instances, upload speeds are much slower than download speeds (purely because most of our internet activity involves downloading, rather than uploading). Average 5G upload speeds are around the 10-15Mbps mark, while 4G upload speeds hover just below that.
What are the pros and cons of mobile WiFi?
Not sure if a MiFi is right for you? To help you make the right decision, we’ve weighed up all the pros and cons here…
- Handy for working on the move
- More reliable than public Wi-Fi, such as in a café or hotspot
- Great as a back-up connection if your home broadband goes down
- Unlike dongles, MiFis let you get online with more than one device at a time
- Depending on your network, you can use your UK allowances in the EU and beyond
- You don’t need to download any software. Just switch on and you’re good to go
- You can use with iPads that don’t have a USB slot for dongles
- Some include microSD cards, so double as portable storage device
- Dongles work out a bit cheaper, if you don’t need a connection you can share
- Requires charging, as batteries typically only last a few hours – particularly if multiple devices are connected
- Most smartphone contracts support tethering. So why pay extra for a MiFi?
Why compare MiFi mobile broadband with MoneySuperMarket
With MoneySuperMarket, you can easily shop around and compare deals from a variety of networks. We show you all the information you need, such as monthly cost, contract length, data allowance and total cost, as well as any free gifts or special discounts on offer.
Once you’ve found a deal you like, all you need to do is click on it – you’ll be taken straight to the network’s website, where you can complete your purchase.
What do I need to get a quote?
Use our comparison table at the top of this page to browse all our available MiFi deals. You can use the filter to adjust your preferences – for example, if you’re only looking for unlimited data MiFi deals, or a specific contract length.
You can also sort by monthly cost, total cost, contract length and more.
Can I get a MiFi with unlimited data?
Using our comparison tool at the top of this page, select ‘unlimited data’ in the filters, and we’ll show you what data plans are available.
Is MiFi as good as Wi-Fi?
It largely depends on your situation. MiFis are portable and more affordable, so they’re a great alternative if you’re temporarily living somewhere, or if prices for broadband are simply too high. They’re also easier to set up and use, and provide a secure connection wherever you go (so you don’t have to connect to potentially dodgy public Wi-Fi network).
However, MiFis tend to be slower than the average Wi-Fi connection. This is because they rely on the mobile network’s signal, which can vary depending on your location, network coverage and a host of other factors. Although 5G MiFis offer speeds that can rival and even surpass broadband, 5G isn’t that widely available. If you live more rurally, you might not have access to these top speeds just yet.
Additionally, you need to keep an eye out for your MiFi’s battery life, whereas with Wi-Fi you won’t have this problem (though in the event of a power outage, MiFis win).
If you’re going to be at your permanent address for a good amount of time (say, at least one year), and you often work from home or do online gaming, we’d recommend getting a broadband connection for your home if possible.