Wi-Fi hotspots are like police officers: there's never one around when you need one. Or they're around but password-protected. (The hotspots, not the cops.) Or they're open but not working properly. (Again, the hotspots.)
I've had it happen too many times when I want to set up shop with my laptop or tablet, only to discover there's no Internet access available. That's why I'm a firm believer in BYOMH: Bring Your Own Mobile Hotspot.
These pocket-friendly gizmos create a personal Wi-Fi network that taps into a carrier's high-speed Internet, then shares that connection one or more of your devices. They're incredibly convenient.
But expensive, especially if you buy from a carrier like AT&T or Verizon. You'll not only pay a pretty penny for the hardware, but also get locked into yet another two-year contract -- with monthly rates as high as $50.
Fortunately, there are less expensive options for users who don't travel a lot, who only occasionally need mobile-hotspot convenience.
Here's one of them: the DataJack MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot, which normally sells for $89.99 but can be yours for $49.99 when you use coupon code DEALNEWS1 at checkout. Shipping adds about $10.
That purchase also entitles you to a free month of service, albeit with DataJack's low-end, 200MB data plan. Thankfully, there's no contract here, so you can let your service expire if you want, then reactivate it as needed.
In case you're not familiar with it, the MiFi 2200 creates a local-area Wi-Fi network for up to five devices. It also has a microSD slot for storing data, which is a handy perk.
So, what's the catch? DataJack's coverage areas aren't as extensive as with other carriers, so be sure to check the coverage map before buying.
The company offers a variety of service plans, starting with $9.99 per month for 200MB. That may not sound like much, but it all depends on what kind of devices you're using and what you're using them for. If you're just checking e-mail on an iPad or reading some blogs on your laptop, that should be more than enough. Streaming Netflix, on the other hand? That'll blow through your 200MB in about 10 minutes.
You can also get 500MB for $19.99, 1GB for $29.99, and 5GB for $49.99. Those rates may seem a bit steep, but they're competitive.
Option #2: TruConnect, which sells the MiFi 2200 for $99 and charges $4.99 per month minimum for service, plus 3.9 cents per megabyte of data used. (So 200MB would cost you $4.99 plus $7.80, or $12.79.)
TruConnect taps Sprint's 3G network (as does DataJack, I believe, though this isn't stated anywhere), but again you should definitely check the coverage map to make sure the MiFi will work where you need it to.
Needless to say, when it comes to inexpensive 3G hotspots, you've got options. DataJack offers the lowest cost of entry I've seen, and potentially the lowest rates for service. But I definitely like TruConnect's pay-as-you-go pricing structure, which stops you from overpaying for data you don't end up using.