Typically all smartphone platforms have one thing in common – they don’t allow you to download large (app / OS) updates over the cellular network. Apple iOS especially prevents download of any OS updates over a cellular data connection. This is usually done to limit your data usage so that you don’t end up making a considerable hole in your pocket over mobile bills. Instead, we have to connect to a WiFi network to download these large updates.
Our homes and offices generally have WiFi Internet connections. But often, while travelling, we may have to spend considerable time at locations where public WiFi hotspots aren’t available. In such a situation, we have to rely on cellular data (3G/4G) for Internet browsing and downloads. Many users can’t download updates when they are travelling, just because OS doesn’t let them to.
Convert Cellular Data (3G/4G) into WiFi
One way of utilizing your 3G or 4G connection for downloading large updates is to share your Cellular data connection over WiFi (WiFi Tethering). Unfortunately, you can’t connect to a WiFi network using the same device as the one used to tether cellular data. When cellular data is tethered, it engages your phone’s WiFi device and so the same device cannot connect to the shared WiFi network. Hence, you need a separate hardware device that can transmit the 3G or 4G data over WiFi, to which your phone and other WiFi enabled devices can connect.
But WiFi tethering requires a smartphone whose only purpose is to keep WiFi hotspot alive. You can imagine how much battery power is wasted over something so trivial. Many users don’t have a second smartphone lying around too, which means they have to pay for a new smartphone just to tether their cellular data over WiFi. The solution we’ll be providing here is certainly much more economical than getting another smartphone for tethering cellular data.
MiFi (Mobile WiFi) dongle is a portable device that can tether cellular data over a WiFi network. It is similar to the 3G/4G dongles that use your mobile SIM card for connecting to the Internet. But rather than just letting you plug the device in a computer and surf the web, a MiFi device usually also has the ability to share its 3G/4G connection as a WiFi hotspot. These devices also come in cheap, and won’t make much dent on your finances.
MiFi devices generally come in two categories. Some of them are carrier specific, in which you can only use SIM cards from a particular service provider. Others support SIM cards from multiple providers and hence more preferable.
Key features to look for in a MiFi dongle
Support for multiple networks: If you insert any SIM card, the device should automatically be able to detect the network and automatically configure the correct settings. In other words, your MiFi device should always be Internet ready.
No need to install additional software: Usually, 3G/4G dongles come bundled in with software that helps you to connect to the Internet. This may be inconvenient for people who don’t want to install a separate software just to connect to the Internet. Sometimes, the packaged software may even be incompatible with the OS, rendering the device useless until it is manually configured with the OS. A MiFi device should be usable without any software installation. Usually, MiFi devices can operate even when connected only to a power source. It also has a device configuration page, accessible via web browser, to manage the device and its connections; hence platform independent.
Smartphone Apps: Some MiFi devices also provide apps to help manage the device remotely using smartphone apps.
Doubles as a USB Dongle: The MiFi device can also be used as a 3G/4G dongle by plugging it to a USB port and using it as a LAN to access the Internet via the SIM card. However, for this feature to work, the device installs a network driver in the OS. This driver is platform specific and may not be compatible with your OS.
A better alternative to Connectify Hotspot
Connectify Hotspot is a software that can share a computer’s Internet connection over WiFi. But a major drawback in this case is that a 3G/4G dongle is required as an Internet connection source in the first place. So you actually end up using Connectify along with a 3G/4G dongle. A MiFi device on the other hand does the job of both the dongle and Connectify in a single hardware. Also, Connectify lacks a seamless experience due to several conflictions and instability issues on different OSs.
When using Connectify, you also need to have your WiFi-enabled computer turned on in order to keep the WiFi hotspot alive. The power required to run the hotspot in this case is much higher compared to that required to run a portable USB MiFi device. Hence, such a device is more economical when it comes to power consumption.
To connect to the WiFi hotspot created by the MiFi device, just go to the WiFi settings on your smartphone or laptop and select the hotspot network. After providing the correct network password, you will automatically be redirected to the configuration page, where you can log in to the management portal and turn on Internet sharing over WiFi. Once Internet sharing is turned on, other users can directly connect to the WiFi hotspot to browse the Internet.
USB MiFi devices also help to reduce power consumption of connected hosts indirectly and save more battery life. This is because a number of tests performed on a variety of devices have suggested that WiFi is significantly more power efficient than a 3G or 4G data connection. Hence if you are connecting to a WiFi hotspot using a MiFi device rather than directly using cellular data connection on your smartphone, you might end up saving a considerable amount of juice.
If you want more flexibility in accessing the Internet, you may get one of those portable USB chargers and juice it up before going on a vacation. When you need Internet access, just plug your MiFi dongle into the USB charger and (provided the device is under mobile network coverage and supports data tethering) you’ll be able to run a WiFi hotspot anywhere in the world.
What do our readers think about this idea of sharing a data connection over a WiFi hotspot? Would you use this trick for downloading large software updates? Sound off your valuable opinions in the comments below.