My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

Summary:Rarely does a gadget come along that has major impact on mobile technology. There is one gadget that has changed the way we approach mobile connectivity, and is the most significant gadget that has come along in years.

The best part of my job is getting exposure to virtually every gadget that comes along. Sometimes I get to see them before the buying public, sometimes at the same time. As much fun as playing with gadgets can be, often it is a case of "more of the same". Rarely is there a gadget that is groundbreaking, with implications that has major impact on mobile technology. There is one gadget that has changed the way we approach mobile connectivity, and it is my pick for the most significant gadget that has come along in years. I am referring to the MiFi.

Not too long ago mobile connectivity was only enjoyed by a few road warriors willing to put up with high cost and a some hassles. Primarily this was in the form of a mobile broadband modem, either USB or air card, that plugged into a laptop allowing it to tap into a data network on the go. These modems were usually not that cheap and would only get one laptop on the network at a time.

The first MiFi hit the scene and changed the entire mobile broadband playing field. This gadget was slightly bigger than a credit card, and was a 3G modem and WiFi router all wrapped up in one small package. Using the MiFi it was possible to connect up to 5 devices to the 3G network at the same time, and all wirelessly. It created a personal hotspot that allowed any WiFi-enabled device to tap into existing 3G networks.

For the first time, devices without a USB or PC Card slot could tap into the 3G network. This opened the door for devices without integrated 3G modems to use the technology anyway. The user simply hit the power button on the MiFi gadget, and up to 5 devices in the area were instantly connected via 3G.

In one fell swoop the MiFi invented the mobile hotspot. The concept was proven to be valuable, and manufacturers raced to produce similar devices. Phone makers realized the potential and started including the mobile hotspot capability in handsets. This has proven popular with consumers and it is now easier to find a phone with integrated mobile hotspot capability than it is to find one without the feature. All because of that original MiFi.

The existence of mobile hotspots extended the usefulness of devices like the iPad that only offer WiFi. Consumers liked that due to the lower cost than those with integrated 3G modems, and they didn't need a carrier data plan. They could connect to existing hotspots, yet use a MiFi or other mobile hotspot via WiFi and connect anywhere. Verizon sells the iPad bundled with a MiFi for that very reason.

The MiFi is my pick for the most significant gadget to hit the mobile space for quite some time. It has permanently changed the way we consume mobile broadband. The appearance of 4G networks such as Verizon's LTE network offers such high-speed connectivity that 4G MiFis may change the way we consume home broadband, too.

What's your choice for the most significant mobile device? Sound off in the TalkBack.

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Topics: CXO, Hardware, Tech & Work


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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