Vodafone UK launch ‘Mobile WiFi’ in UK but don’t call it ‘MiFi’

by Ben Smith on 16th August 2010

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Today Vodafone UK have announced their ‘Mobile WiFi’ product. It’s a roughly credit-card sized (and a centimetre thick) gizmo that shares a mobile broadband connection between up to 5 devices over WiFi.

Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a MiFi. Except Vodafone can’t call it that because – in the UK at least – Three have the name locked up.

Still, names aside, it’s a familiar story. The device is a Huawei-made unit, weighs 90g, has a MicroSD slot for sharing media, offers 7.2Mbps downloads over HSDPA, charges by USB and has a small screen to display connection details. We haven’t confirmed yet, but looking at the specs we’d guess it’s the same as Three’s recently released 2nd generation device which has a different skin but similar specs.

Pricing looks ‘interesting’… Vodafone’s offering is much, much more expensive than Three’s. A 5GB monthly allowance from Three on an 18 month contract will cost you £8 each month less (£17) than Voda’s offering (and that ignores the 25% discount Three offers handset customers on some mobile broadband products). Contrary to what Voda’s site is saying right now they’re not offering a rolling contract or PAYG option right now.

But you don’t buy from Vodafone primarily on price… Their network has a reputation for being rock-solid and although Three has better 3G coverage now, Voda don’t rely on a partner for 2G coverage so we expect (confirmation pending) their ‘Mobile WiFi’ devices will also operate on 2G (unlike Three’s) which will be handy in out-of town locations.

This news is some-what overdue for Vodafone UK – the Voda brand has been rolling out Novatel devices in other european networks, but has been slow to introduce the offering here. We’re not sure why they’ve ditched Novatel in the UK, but it may have something to do with the growing price gap between the their offering and Huawei’s units, which Three has been able to offer for less than £50 on pre-pay tariffs whilst the Novatel unit is still more than £200 SIM-free.

If I already had reason to be a Vodafone mobile broadband customer I’d switch to a device like this in an instant – it functions just as well when connected by USB for single use but the flexibility it offers is brilliant. Vodafone’s corporate customers should lap it up. However, for personal use where both networks have good 3G coverage the price gap on with the Three unit is to big for me to ignore (for now).

Sorry Voda.

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