Verizon MiFi's Greatness has 4G Catch

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- At last, a ray of 4G, small-business hope.

I am writing this column on what is probably the only 4G small-business networking option that is at least almost worth the money: the Verizon ( VZ) Wireless MiFi 4510L 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot ($99 with a two-year contract and online discount).

This latest in LTE personal hotspots from Verizon came to market in mid-April and, like most such portable devices, connects any Wi-Fi enabled device to the Web. For sure, the unit is far from perfect. You will still taste the 4G rage of overpaying for underperformance. But in about a month of testing, which included my regular road trip of cellular death from New York to Maine and back and solid usage with Apple ( AAPL) iPhone 4 and iPad, several PCs, a Verizon Droid 2 and a BlackBerry ( RIMM) PlayBook, I found this MiFi to be useful and a reasonable way to connect to my office while on the go.

What you get
This is, without question, the smartest way as of now for a small-business owner to stay connected while out of the office.

The MiFi Mobile Hotspot is simple. It is essentially an itty-bitty cellular data connectivity appliance from San Diego-based Novatel Wireless ( NVTL) that brokers a connection between Verizon's almost hilarious mishmash of cellular standards and a dead simple WiFi connection.

Since this device is designed from the ground up to do just one thing, it does it well. So there is not of the usual 4G wireless kludgefest of handoffs, incompatible software and incomplete deployments that must be managed by already taxed PCs, smartphones and tablets.

Instead, you simply press a button, let the MiFi fire up and find the cellular network. Then you access the local hotspot using your device's Wi-Fi connection, just like, say, you were in Starbucks ( SBUX). And then the MiFi stands there, like a cellular majordomo, ushering data in and out of whatever device you are running. Up to five devices can be supported at any time.

And performance was, in fully covered areas, impressive: Verizon 4G offers cable-modemlike business data access. Overall, I felt I could trust this device to keep me linked to my office as I traveled.

Which is such a relief when dealing with 4G, I can't even say.

What you don't get
Don't expect the MiFi to be an alternative to your office data connection, or anything close to low cost.

Yes, you will dig your MiFi -- but your MiFi will dig you right back. Literally. First of all, this thing is not cheap: $100 for the device plus insurance, add-ons including chargers and other stuff -- and then the killer, $80 a month for 10 GB of access -- which if you are moving large image files or video won't be enough. And when Verizon says 10 GB, it means it: Plan on paying $10(!) per GB after that. And don't plan on using this device to replace your landed office connection unless your business does hardly any downloading at all.

Also, as good as the MiFi is, it can only work where there is coverage -- and that, friends, is still trial-and-error stuff. You must still demo this unit for the allowed 30 days in your local usage area and, if it does not work for you, bring the sucker right back.

Bottom line
Without question, I'd give the MiFi a test run. It's fast, easy to use and reasonable to buy. And if you are lucky to have legit 4G coverage, it will offer amazing service. Just keep in mind, you are still dealing with America's bait & switch 4G deployment: it only works where it works.

If you're one of the chosen few where all the networking pieces come together, more power to you. If not, be prepared to wander yet longer in the digital wireless diaspora -- waiting for a better solution to come over the horizon.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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