Friday, 19 June 2009

Prospects for MiFi and other "home hub" MBB products

Over the last week I've met with a couple of interesting vendors. The first was Novatel that manufactures the natty MiFi device, which works as a WiFi router with HSPA/EVDO backhaul (left). Currently supplying to Verizon, Sprint and Telefonica. The latter were very enthusiastic about the prospects for the device the last time I spoke with them. Although it's a slick piece of kit and very user friendly, I can't avoid the thought that it's still a peripheral and ultimately peripheral devices become subsumed into the main device (think WiFi or Bluetooth card, screen, keyboard, mouse). So where's the opportunity for a standalone device? One interesting idea is that it offers a way for iPhone users in the US to roam onto other networks, using the iPhone's in-built WiFi to connect to the hub. Rather niche though. Another is to facilitate group connectivity through a single subscription, but ultimately MNOs can replicate this through group plans that are more flexible, e.g. because they allow the multiple users to be using their connectivity from different places. There is no immediately obvious killer application, although there are some juicy niches.

In my recent report Mobile broadband devices: from USB modems to where? (see here for Analysys Mason coverage of MBB devices) I was rather sceptical about the prospects for these "home hub" products making a breakthrough into the mass market. I have assumed that they will make only a minor dent in the dominance of the USB (and later embedded) modems.

More universal appeal depends on the usability. If it proves to offer a better user experience than the USB modem then it will gain traction. It can do this through offering a better user experience, not least by improving on the clunky PC client that is a frequent source of frustration to MBB users. Also, the fact that there is a built in Linux-based processor and expandable memory in the device itself adds to the potential use cases.

1 comment:

  1. When my partner go away, I usully take a 3G router away and a wireless access point. This enable us both to use the 3G connection, and is exactly the setup I'm using at the moment. The mi-fi unit looks as though it wold be more portable and more convenient, but also looks as though it would have a major drawback for me, which is that i won't be easy to interchange dongles from diferent operators. I have to work out which operator gives the best signal, then go into the router's set up page and put in the apropriate APN. If I decide it would be better to use a different operator, I have go back to the setup page again, and so on. What's needed is for the device to remember several APNs and their associated dongles. The mifi will probably be locked to a single operator, which will be even worse.