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Mobile Hotspots Roam CES

A new class of products enables business owners to share 3G wireless broadband connections for mobile crews, particularly useful for temporary facilities such as conventions and construction sites.
A new class of products enables business owners to share 3G wireless broadband connections for mobile crews, particularly useful for temporary facilities such as conventions and construction sites.

Yes, the name is Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual mega-convention which started Thursday in Las Vegas. But amidst thousands of consumer products at CES you can expect to find at least a few items of interest to the small and midsize business market. An example, spotted at two separate pre-show events, is a new class of product that amounts to, essentially, a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Basically, you plug a 3G cellular modem into a Wi-Fi router. 3G, of course, refers to third-generation digital wireless service, which gives you broadband speed over a cellular connection, with throughput as high as 5 megabits. You can get subscriptions from the big three wireless carriers (Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon) for $35 to $75 per month.

The first and best-described example was the Netgear MBR624GU 3G Mobile Broadband Wireless Router, unveiled at a Netgear pre-show press conference. The device, they explained, is aimed at mobile crews who need to swoop down and set up an office, at an event, convention, or construction site. Only one member of the crew needs to have a 3G subscription in order for the other members to get on-line. The subscriber needs a 3G modem with USB output that can be plugged into the router, which has drivers to support all the leading modems and 3G services.

Being cellular, the connection will also work while in motion, and the MBR624GU is also aimed at the RV market -- in fact, there's an optional car battery power converter for it.

A similar device, announced last month, was being shown at the Novatel Wireless booth at a pre-convention press party. (These parties involve fancy food to lure the press and are lined with exhibit booths. In terms of the number of booths and attendees, a CES party can be bigger than some entire industrial trade shows that I've attended.)

Called the MiFi, it was about the size of a saucer and was described to me as having a range of about ten meters. The limitation is intended to stretch the life of the battery, said to be 40 hours standby and 4 hours of active use. Anyway, if you are going to use it in a vehicle, 10 meters is plenty.

No pricing for the MiFi was given, with Novatel stating only that will be "commercially available in 1H09 through a variety of Novatel Wireless' global tier-one operator customers and retail channels."

CES will run through Sunday, with 2,700 exhibitors, and 130,000 attendees hailing from 140 different countries. Stay tuned for more news from the show.

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