Wed, 05/27/2009 - 13:25 — rec
I've been using the MiFi with Ubuntu for over a week, from Seattle to Santa Fe on a road trip, and it's been great. Particularly nice when you pull into a hotel that claims to have network access but can't explain why it doesn't actually work. And it worked while driving down the road, too, well enough that I needed to discourage video viewing.
The device is a black rectangle smaller and thinner than an iPhone with a power switch, micro USB connector, status LED, a battery compartment, and a sticker identifying the network SSID and password. It comes with battery, micro USB cable, AC wall wart to micro USB charger, and a cloth slip case.
To perform the initial activation of the MiFi or to download updates, it needs to be run from Windows or MacOS and connected via USB to install the VZAccess Manager application, drivers, twiddle the device state, and activate it on the Verizon network. You also need to run in this mode to receive text messages, eg containing passwords for your myverizon accout. When connected via USB it works as a USB CDMA modem and as a cdrom drive that provides the Windows or MacOS software and documentation.
After activation, when running on battery or off the AC power supply, the MiFi boots as a wireless access point, automatically connects to Verizon, and routes up to 5 connected devices to the internet. No problems with this mode, we had a Windows machine, an Ubuntu machine, and a T-Mobile G1 all connected through the MiFi from a weigh station north of Brewster, Washington. There is a web server running on the box which can be accessed wirelessly to check status and configure the usual access point / router options.
The puzzle comes when you connect as a USB device to Ubuntu. It identifies as a cdrom drive with ID:
Bus 006 Device 005: ID 1410:5041 Novatel Wireless
At this point, I thought to google the problem and found a Verizon forum post with the magic answer to my puzzle. If you eject the VZAccess Manager volume which mounts as device 1410:5041, then it comes back and connects as a wireless modem / cdrom with ID:
Bus 006 Device 007: ID 1410:6000 Novatel Wireless
The network manager picks it up as "Auto Mobile Broadband (CDMA) connection" and you can make a 3G connection by simply selecting it from the network manager menu.
It would be nice if the MiFi could be tricked into operating as a wireless access point while charging over a USB connection. It would be nice to get access to the text message capability while connected from Ubuntu. It would be nice to find a way to access the GPS which is reportedly onboard the Novatel. And it would be nice if the web server provided the same capabilities as the VZAccess Manager application does under Windows.
But on the whole, there's little to complain about. Now that I've discovered how to make a connection to the CDMA modem under Ubuntu, me, my laptop, my MiFi, and my micro USB cable are ready to roll.
The price for the MiFi from Verizon on a month-to-month non-contract basis has jumped from $270 on May 17 to $400 yesterday. The prices with contract have also jumped. There should be comparable devices available from Sprint and for GSM networks real soon, but I'd expect intense competition for components and manufacturing capability over the near term.