February 02, 2013, 7:23 AM — The scoop: Mobile Hotspot MiFi Liberate, by AT&T, about $200 (but check for rebates that could bring it down to $50), plus data service rates ($50 per month for 5GB).
What is it? This device serves two purposes for the mobile traveler. First, it has a 4G wireless (LTE) connection for accessing the Internet from notebooks, smartphones or tablets (via Wi-Fi). Second, the internal Wi-Fi on the MiFi allows up to 10 devices to also share the same connection -- making it useful for groups of people to use, or in the case you're a mobile traveler who needs Internet access for a notebook, smartphone and tablet at the same time.
[ IN PICTURES: 25 crazy and scary things the TSA has found on travelers ]
Why it's cool: The biggest joy is the 4G LTE access, which provides some excellent download and upload speeds (upload especially) compared with having to use a hotel's Wi-Fi connection -- or -- shudder -- a 3G connection. In my case, uploading videos was made much easier through a good LTE connection (averaged 6Mbps upload in my tests) than having to fight for a 1Mbps (or lower) shared Wi-Fi connection.
The other fantastic feature is the Liberate's colorful touchscreen display, which provided details such as the number of devices connected, status of the 4G network and GPS location coordinates. Setting the device up was amazingly easy -- you can even quickly access the unit's Wi-Fi password in case you forget it or want a colleague to connect. The Liberate comes with a USB cable and charger, but I found I could use the device for a full workday (AT&T says up to 11 hours of continued use is supported) without needing a recharge.
Some caveats: All of this blazing fast speed could cause you to go over your data plan before you know it. In my tests, I found myself using the allotted 5GB of data pretty quickly. In a week's worth of downloading email and uploading videos at the International CES show in Las Vegas, I racked up 3.65GB of data out of my 5GB allotment. While a typical user may have less data usage on a business trip (video uploads are about 100MB to 150MB), frequent travelers may find themselves facing overages on a regular basis.
Fortunately, one of the icons on Liberate's display shows your "data usage," so you can get a sense if you're downloading or uploading too quickly (for non-critical data transfers, just switch to the hotel's Wi-Fi). Unfortunately, AT&T doesn't offer an unlimited plan for more data.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five) for the device, 4 stars for the service.
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.