Monday, September 06, 2010

Using Your MiFi with Prepaid: No Easy Task

I bought a new MiFi for use in Europe with prepaid mobile broadband.  Unfortunately this is no easy task as I'm discovering after burning through 40 Euros in 12 hours here in Berlin.

MiFi is a great solution for mobile broadband.  The device is small and compact and works nicely.  Nothing to complain about there.  But getting online in Europe (or just about anywhere else) is difficult and tedious.

Yesterday was a good example.  I wandered around Frankfurt airport looking for a place to buy a prepaid SIM card for mobile data.  I found an o2 store.  When I asked for the SIM card for mobile broadband, at first they did not understand what I wanted.  After some back and forth, they got it.  The o2 package is 15 Euros for the SIM card and another 25 Euros for 5GB of data in a month.

Apparently, the way it's supposed to work is that the package is requested by SMS message and then once activated (about 30 minutes later) you can surf.  Problem: MiFi devices from Novatel don't offer SMS.  So no way to request the package.

The store employee used his phone to request the package, but since I could not see the SMS message in question or the reply, I can't know what happened.  All I know is that one morning later, my account is empty and I get a top-up message instead of when I log in.

I'm going to try today to switch to T-Mobile and see if that's a better experience.  In the UK, you can do everything from a web interface, no SMS required.  Hopefully, it's the same in Germany.  Of course, in a foreign language, everything is much more confusing.  And your average mobile store employee still has no idea what an APN is, nevermind the username and password.

It may be a tiny fraction of the cost of roaming, but man it's a lot of work getting mobile prepaid broadband to work.

MiFi Image, From


  1. Hi Paul nice to meet you via google alerts :)

    Anyways, how much GBs did you use with 40EUR? I run a portable wifi company (mifi rental) and am thinking about expanding to other European countries. Can you provide some more info on French and German markets? Is it very hard to get data only sims for those countries?

    Please let me know, thanks.


  2. Unfrotuantely, probably less than one. The o2 thing never worked properly. I finally got a new card with T-Mobile.

    In general, with some trial and error, I've been able to get SIM cards for data pretty easily in:

    - China
    - Hong Kong
    - Germany
    - UK
    - Sweden
    - Finland

    In every case, you're at the mercy of stupid shop assistants who don't know what an APN is. An angry lady at the o2 store grabbed my iPad from me and tried to "configure" it, not understanding that I was using a MiFi.

    If I had to choose again in the future, I would pick a MiFi that can send/receive SMS messages and has a display. The Novatel MiFi has a whole range of colorful flashing signals on the device, which I cannot understand. Would it have killed them to put a display on the damn thing?