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Mobile Gadgets for Linux Gearheads on the Go

Wi-Fi and MiFi

  • December 4, 2009
  • By Paul Ferrill

Connecting to the Internet when you're away from home or office basically comes down to either a Wi-Fi hotspot or some type of wireless broadband access. It's not that hard to find a free Wi-Fi hotspot these days what with Starbucks and McDonald's locations within reach of most. If you happen to be an AT&T customer your options are even greater. The downside to using Wi-Fi is you do have to find one of those hotspots and get connected, which can be an adventure in itself. You're also competing with the rest of the patrons for bandwidth.

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If you're one of those mobile computer users constantly on the go with a need to stay connected to get your job done, you've probably at least considered if not purchased some type of wireless broadband device. Older versions of these devices came in the form of a PCMCIA, Cardbus or ExpressCard device. Newer versions typically come in a USB form factor. If you're really fortunate you might have a laptop with the capability built right in. While most of the latest Linux distributions provide support for a good number of these devices, it's not a slam dunk to get one working with your hardware.

Wi-Fi on the Go

One of the best options to come along in a while for Linux users is the MiFi device from Novatel Wireless. These devices are slightly larger than a credit card but pack a whole lot of functionality into that small package. Novatel has MiFi models for Verizon and Sprint customers available from either wireless vendor typically on a 2-year contract. One of the neatest things about using one of these devices to get your always-on Internet connection is that it works with any computing device with Wi-Fi. The Novatel MiFi 2200 functions as a wireless access point supporting up to five simultaneous connections.

Connecting to the MiFi couldn't be easier. From Ubuntu it should just show up as an available Wi-Fi access point in your network manager. By default the MiFi uses WPA encryption with a default key printed on the back of the device. You'll be presented with a dialog box asking for a password the first time you try to connect. Once connected you can access the device Web page from the IP address of 192.168.1.1 and change any of the default settings including the password.

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The MiFi itself has one on/off button and two green LEDs. One LED is for a power indication while the second shows that the device is connected. The second one also blinks to indicate traffic. Connecting to the MiFi Web page presents a summary of information about the device including IP address information, bytes transmitted and received, connected time and security settings. There's also a signal strength bar graph like you would see on a cell phone along with a battery indicator and what type of high speed connection you have (such as EvDO Rev. A).

We tested the performance of a MiFi 2200 on the Verizon network in a number of different scenarios including a moving vehicle, inside a residence and in an airport terminal. Speeds varied depending on multiple factors with the in-home test showing up the slowest. We did see a few drops in the moving vehicle, but you get about the same results with a typical cell phone conversation. The airport terminal (Atlanta Hartsfield) provided the best speed of all. Overall, the MiFi 2200 is a great little device that should meet any road warrior's mobile Internet needs.


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