Cell phone carriers absolutely adore monthly data plans. Want email on your new phone? Buy a monthly data plan for $40-60/month, to go along with the other charges for phone service and text messages. Want an easy Internet connection on your laptop so you don’t have to hunt for an 802.11 wireless network? Buy a notebook with a built-in cellular modem or a separate USB modem, along with another plan. Spouse wants a netbook? Pay Verizon or AT&T for yet another monthly fee.

mifi So it’s no surprise that the carriers are coming up with creative new ways to sell devices that require a monthly data plan. David Pogue of the New York Times highlighted a particularly clever one: a battery-powered, credit card-sized router that sets up a small password-protected 802.11 wireless network for up to five nearby computers.

The Novatel MiFi 2200 gets an Internet connection through Verizon’s network, then broadcasts a wireless network for about thirty feet. With the MiFi in your pocket or your briefcase, your notebook can get online without a USB modem sticking out. Basically you’ve got a little wireless bubble that follows you everywhere.

If the person next to you in the park wonders how you’re getting a wireless connection, you can show her the password printed on the bottom of the device and she can get online too. No worries about security – when you walk away, you take the wireless network with you.

There’s only one button on the MiFi, to turn it on after it goes to sleep. The battery is supposed to last for about four hours of use, or about 40 hours of sleep.  Verizon will sell them for about a hundred dollars – with a contract for a data plan, of course. Sprint offered its own version a week after Verizon and there will be more to follow.

Not everyone needs one of these but it will be just right for some people – and it’s more proof of what an interesting world we live in!

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