TP-Link MiFi

The Best Unlocked MiFi Devices for Travelers in 2017

In Accessories, Get Connected by Patricia Rey Mallén41 Comments

Public Wi-Fi isn’t our favorite way to stay connected on the road. Weak signal, slow speeds and dire hotel networks that work intermittently or not at all, getting online while traveling can be quite an ordeal.

For most of us, being Internet-deprived on the road is little more than an annoyance, but for others (such as business travelers or online entrepreneurs), not being able to log in is a real problem.

If you belong to the second group, you may consider not relying on public Wi-Fi any longer. Instead, especially if you’ve got multiple devices or a locked smartphone, bring a connection wherever you go with MiFi.

MiFi, or mobile Wi-Fi, typically comes in the form of a small gadget that uses a SIM card (local or international) to connect to local cell networks. It shares that data connection over a private Wi-fi network, letting you connect several devices to the Internet at the same time.

Many companies rent or sell cheap MiFi devices, typically at a relatively high daily cost for international use. Just like smartphones, though, you can buy MiFi devices unlocked.

These let you pop in a local SIM card wherever you are, and take advantage of much cheaper data rates. Here are our top choices for 2017, complete with their best and worst features.

Note: We recommend carefully checking the regions supported by any MiFi device you plan to purchase. Not every device supports the cellular frequencies used in every region or country, which means you may get slower speeds, or no data at all, in some parts of the world.

Best If You Want to Keep Things Simple: Novatel Wireless MiFi Liberate

Novatel MiFi
Novatel‘s Liberate honors its name by being  extremely easy to set up and manage, liberating you from the hassle of complicated gadgets. This makes it the best option for inexperienced MiFi users, or those who crave simplicity.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Supports 4G, 3G and 2G networks
  • Up to 150Mbps download speed, with its Wifi network reaching up to 30 feet
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP Service 3 Pack or higher), Mac OS X (10.6 or higher)

The Good

  • Setup is simple. Just turn it on, and let it create the Wifi network with a default password that you can change later
  • There’s an intuitive, touchscreen interface. You can operate it like you would a smartphone, with all information right there on the screen
  • MicroSD slot, with 2GB card included

The Bad 

  • It’s usually sold through a provider, such as AT&T in the US, but is available unlocked on eBay
  • While compact, it’s not small enough to keep in your pocket
  • It uses an uncommon battery type, a 2,900mAh pack that looks like AA batteries but isn’t. This makes it hard to find replacements if you run out of power and can’t recharge right on the spot.

Best for Frequent Travelers: GlocalMe U2

GlocalMe MiFi

Started as an Indiegogo project, the GlocalMe U2 is an interesting option, letting you roam inexpensively with the inbuilt SIM, or use a local one, whichever you prefer.


The Specs

  • 12 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G, 3G and 2G supported
  • Up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 5 devices
  • Controlled exclusively via app, available for Android and iOS
  • Works with both “cloud” and local SIMs, meaning you can purchase data plans directly from the manufacturer or drop in your own SIM card

The Good

  • Good coverage. It works in over 100 countries, connecting to local mobile networks
  • Seamless transition from one country to the next. You can get connected as soon as you arrive via the inbuilt SIM
  • If you’d like to use a local SIM card, you can. The device supports full-size and micro SIM cards from local networks in the countries where it offers coverage
  • Compact design, no larger than a smartphone – easy to carry and store

The Bad

  • Data plans for its cloud SIM are generally more expensive than local SIM cards, and differ in price from country to country
  • Its “unlimited” cloud SIM plans aren’t really – they’re capped at 2GB, after which the download speed drops to a meagre 128Kbps
  • You’ll need an adapter like this if you want to use nano SIM cards
  • Connects fewer devices than other MiFi services. That’s fine if you’re traveling by yourself, less so if you’re traveling in a group

Best for Fast Downloads: Huawei E5786

Huawei MiFi

Huawei’s E5786 biggest promise is its power: working on 4G/LTE, it promises double the speed when downloading , with a sleek and light design.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G, supports 3G and 2G
  • Up to 300Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher); Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • Unbeatable speed when downloading, with a max of 300Mbps vs 150Mbps (or less) on most other devices
  • Double the bands. Unlike most other devices, E5786 offers both 2.4GHz and 5GHz options for its Wi-fi network, and dual-band LTE
  • Battery life remains strong despite increased power: 10 hours, plus 500 in standby
  • You can charge your phone or other USB devices from it in a pinch
  • Super easy to travel with – at 0.6 inches and 5 ounces, it’s one of the smallest MiFis on the market

The Bad

  • It’s not cheap. At over $200, this device isn’t something you’ll pick up on a whim
 

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Best on a Budget: TP-Link M7350

TP-Link MiFi

If you’re looking for an unlocked MiFi device that won’t break the bank, we recommend the TP-Link M7350.


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 4G/LTE, 3G or 2G
  • Up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 devices
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher), Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • The price: it sells for between US$70 and US$150, depending on the retailer
  • Lightweight and compact, and can be transported in your pocket
  • Can be controlled through its tpMiFi app, available for Android and iOS

The Bad

  • It comes with a microSD card slot, but unlike some other devices, doesn’t include a card
  • Not as generous in terms of features as other devices (though all the basics are covered)

Best for the Weekender: ZTE MF65 Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

ZTE Mifi

For those quick trips where you want to unwind, but not completely disconnect, for a couple of days, ZTE MF65 offers you a no-frills, inexpensive MiFi device. It’s basic and quite slow, so don’t expect to be sharing the connection with a bunch of gadgets. Then again, wouldn’t that be a good thing for a weekend away?


The Specs

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Runs on 3G and 2G
  • Up to 21Mbps download, 5Mbps upload
  • Supports up to 10 users
  • Supports Windows (XP and higher), Mac OS X (10.4 and higher)

The Good

  • Perfect for quick getaways with basic Internet needs. You probably won’t be able to stream the latest Game of Thrones,  but do you really need to on vacation?
  • Small and light, excellent for carry-on or the glove compartment
  • The price: it can be found on Amazon for less than US$40.

The Bad

  • It’s slow, with no support for 4G/LTE. Don’t expect great speeds.
  • It comes with a microSD card slot, but unlike some other devices, doesn’t include a card
  • Doesn’t support nano SIM cards

All images via manufacturers. Main image via TP-Link

About the Author

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City.
She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

Comments

  1. I don’t quite understand the purpose of a mifi. Assuming you are travelling you would want an unlocked phone, so why not just use your phone and setup a wireless hotspot?
    First and foremost I’d rather have an unlocked phone first than a mifi. However I do have a mifi as a secondary device with built in Sim for those times when I arrive in country and dont want to mess about looking for the best phone/data sim package.

    1. If you’ve already got a MiFi, I guess you already understand the purpose of it? In most cases, if you’ve already got an unlocked phone, and only need to share an Internet connection with other devices occasionally, you’d just set up a hotspot on your phone. For those who have a locked phone, or who don’t want to drain their phone batteries by leaving the hotspot running for long periods, an unlocked MiFi can be more appropriate.

    2. I agree. And if you were going to buy one for the reasons mentioned in Mr. Dean’s reply, why not just buy a cheap android phone in the country you’re in. You can use it is a hotspot, and as an unlocked phone, on about the same budget.

      That being said, most countries cell providers sell their own branded Mifi’s for less than 20 bucks and are guaranteed to work on their systems.

      1. Buying a branded MiFi locally is also an option, but mainly for infrequent travelers, or those who keep returning to one country, because it’s locked to that provider. This article is geared towards those who want the flexibility of using one device and local SIM cards in many countries.

        A cheap Android phone works too, for those who want to go down that path.

        Personally, I just buy a good unlocked phone and use it with local SIMs, hotspotting as necessary. Given how many companies continue to rent and sell MiFi devices, there’s definitely a market for them among a segment of the traveling population.

  2. Gave to agree with stuart, I can’t find a need for these things, seems simpler to just switch to a t mobile phone plan. I’ve been traveling the world for years and years with a t mobile phone with free international data plan, just works for free in country after country, seemless, when you step off the plane you have service

    1. Totally agree, but not everyone is from the US, or wants to switch to T-Mobile even if they are. Cheap or free international roaming is still a rarity in most of the world, sadly.

    2. Just a note to be careful… Someone I know did the exact same thing as you — traveled for years on a T-Mobile plan. A month or so ago, they let him know they were canceling the plan. Apparently there’s something in the fine print of your contract that says it’s free as long as it doesn’t go into excessive use (or something like that). I’m not sure what the threshold is for excessive use, but people who are planning to be location independent for long periods of time (or indefinitely) might not want to depend on a T-Mobile plan if there’s the possibility of it being canceled on them.

      1. Yep, it’s happened to a few people who travel extensively overseas with a T-Mobile plan. Definitely worth being aware of!

  3. Thanks for the heads up, never heard of any average user having any plan revoked. Quite the opposite really, had a $1200 data charge last nov 2016 due to a 24 day Mediterranean Cruise i was on, one glitch with the International free roaming is cruise ships networks if your phone switches to them are not covered for free. T mobile refunded the charges without batting an eye.

    Where t mobile goes the rest slowly follow…. unfortunately reluctantly….check your other usa carriers they all have plans of some sort for international use, not any where like t mobile but at least starting to. I know for sure at&t does

  4. Keep the gadgets coming, always enjoy getting your updates!

    I’m waiting for them to put a small solar panel into a cell phone to trickle charge and extend your battery time, or how about a trickle charging rolex, movement charging device like in my submariner? Lol

  5. Love all the new gadgets Dave and the site redesign is cool. My question is this: If I buy a local sim and add a cheap data plan (currently in Thailand for 199 THB or about 5 USD/ month extra and link it to my MB Pro, how is getting a MIFI going to serve me better?

    1. Thanks Philip! Assuming you mean you’ll be using the SIM in your phone and tethering it, there’s little benefit to a MiFi for your situation. It’s most useful for people with locked phones who can’t use local SIMs in them, or those who want to share a connection between multiple devices without draining the battery on their phones

  6. Hi Dave, thanks for a great article. We are currently a couple travelling all over UK & Europe for 3 months. We bought a three.co.uk Sim which allows 12gb data per month for Ukl20 & includes all countries…. Yaaay thought we… Until we discovered it’s locked for hotspot/tethering. So we can’t hotspot our tablets or other phone. No Netflix on tablets. 😀 It appears the best option is a Mifi. But where to buy one in Switzerland or Italy is the next challenge. 😁 Cheers

    1. Yeah, it can be tricky buying in other countries, especially if there’s a language barrier. If you’re going to be somewhere for any length of time (or can receive mail at a hotel or elsewhere further along in your trip), Amazon has English-language sites in the UK and Germany, and most vendors are happy to ship within the EU.

  7. I have an unlocked Galaxy S5 and my carrier is Metro PCS. I travel to areas where Metro provides cell service, but not internet service. I thought I was going to buy one of these to gain wifi access, but now wonder if there is a way to tap into another carrier (such as AT&T) just using my unlocked phone? I’m new at this, so a detailed response will really help me understand.

    Thanks!

    1. You do have another option — just getting a SIM card with an appropriate data package from a different carrier, and swapping between your Metro PCS SIM and the new one as needed. Remember that you won’t have access to your normal phone number when you do that, though. Calls will go to voicemail, and texts will queue up for a few days, or until you put your main SIM back in.

      Since this site is aimed at travelers, we typically recommend prepaid SIM cards that can used while visiting a country, and then discarded. Assuming you live in the US, though, you can also consider post-paid options, which may provide somewhat better value.

      Either way, you’ll need to decide which company is best for you, likely based on coverage in the areas you’re going, and the cost. Take a look at this post (and the comments) for various suggestions. If you’ll be using the new SIM infrequently, you’ll also want to check how often you need to top up your data package before the company disables it for inactivity. Usually it’s at least three months, but again, just double-check if it’s likely to be a concern.

  8. Dave, I’m looking for wifi routers which can be carried from one country to another and which accept sim cards of different operators from different countries, to use for team meet-ups. What would be your recommendations? Any advice would be massively appreciated!

    1. Any of the routers in this article meet your basic requirements, but I’d suggest the Huawei E5786, for a few reasons. The most important for use with a team is that it can handle up to 10 connections, and is one of the few such routers that supports high-speed LTE data — the more people you have connected, the faster speeds you want to have. It’s also small, light, and has good battery life.

      I don’t know how big your team is, but if you’re going to have close to, or more than, 10 devices connected, I’d suggest getting two such routers, with a SIM card for each. A single cellular connection, even LTE, is usually too slow to handle much more than that in real-world conditions.

  9. Hi Dave, do you know for the devices you recommended – does it all support a wide range of spectrum? or spectrum band like ie 700MHz, 1800MHz?

    My only concern would be for this device to be compatible with as many local SIM cards and local tel cos as possible since that’s the purpose of purchasing one.

    1. It varies depending on the device. In general, the more you pay, the more frequencies are supported. That said, you’ll get at least 3G coverage in most countries with most devices, since there’s a less global variation in 3G frequencies. With 4G/LTE, though, it’s a different story.

      You’ll want to check the exact details for any device you’re planning to buy, though, if you need coverage for a particular frequency band.

  10. Hi Dave,
    I live in the Philippines and have both Mifis from SMART and Globe cellphone nets and have an iPhone that works wit them, but don’t know if these Mifis would/can work in the US?

    If they do, what should I get from the US?
    Is there anything to do here in the Philippines before I go?

    1. Without knowing the manufacturer and model of your Mifis, or whether SMART and/or Globe lock them to their own networks, I can’t really answer your question, sorry.

      Generally, assuming they’re unlocked, you should be able to get 3G coverage on AT&T or T-Mobile’s networks with most Mifi devices, using a prepaid SIM. There’s nothing to do in the Philippines as far as the devices themselves go, but you definitely need to confirm whether they’re SIM-locked or not. Many carriers lock their Mifis, especially the discounted/subsidised models.

  11. Hi Dave,

    I am travelling on a Glocalme and I am highly satisfied with the product because of the virtual SIM Cards. Its true that the price for the data is generally a bit higher than buying a local Sim Card. But when I stay in a country for short and also calculate the price for the SIM-Card I have to pay, then glocalme often turns out to be cheaper not to mention all the trouble to get a local Sim Card in place like eg. India.

    However, I am looking since a while for another brands with virtual sim cards but could not find any. Do you have an idea why this is? In my opinion thats the technology of the future.

    Best,
    Oli

    1. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing different about Glocalme’s inbuilt SIM to other international SIM cards you can buy (see here) — you buy voice/text/data packages from Glocalme, and use them in whatever country you happen to be in.

      The interesting bit is having that SIM inside an Mi-fi device that also has a standard unlocked SIM slot, so you can choose which one you want to use — the inbuilt SIM if you’ve just arrived or will only be somewhere a short time, or a local SIM if you’ll be in a country for a while and want to save money.

      It is a bit surprising that other companies aren’t doing this, although it might be that it’s seen as too complicated to explain and sell to average customers, or because there’s less money to be made — for most of these companies, they’ll make far more on selling the high-priced international service than on the device itself.

  12. Hello,

    I work in Remote Areas across the Caribbean, Haiti to be exact. My job consists of uploading and downloading for a good 50% of the time if not more. I have to share data with my partners across the globe. I need something that goes fast enough so I can work efficiently. The time is very valuable in the field I work especially when it comes to my boss making decisions.

    Thank You

    Chris

    1. Your speeds will be restricted much more by the mobile networks in Haiti than the MiFi device you use to connect to them. There’s a little bit of LTE coverage in parts of Port-au-Prince with Natcom, but other than that, it’s 3G at best, and 2G or nothing elsewhere.

  13. Hello,
    I’m interested in your opinion on the Skyroam Solis. I don’t see anything on the Solis or its predecessor from Skyroam. Your thoughts, please.
    Thanks
    Glenn

    1. It’s not an unlocked Mifi device — you can’t use a local SIM card in it for cheap rates, which is why we haven’t discussed it here.

      At $9/day for up to 500MB/day of LTE data, it’s comparable to some of the other international SIM cards (or hotspots with international SIM cards in). You can check out our thoughts on several other variants of those here.

  14. I have used the TP Link MF7350 model for 2 weeks last June…It worked grandly!
    I think it was one of best devices because it very diffused in Europe expecially for MiFi rental services.
    Witourist mobile wifi rental in Italy works only with TP-Link and ZTE 4G devices and the TP-Link one is rented as the TOP model.

  15. Not sure if this is the right place to post this question. But as a traveller I sometimes end up in some remote locations that have spotty cell service. I get a few bars, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Do MiFi Devices have a ‘stronger’ or more ‘powerful’ connection to the networks ….or would it be the same as a cell phone?

    1. I doubt you’d notice much, if any, difference, unfortunately. The battery life on many MiFi devices is relatively low as it is, so they don’t tend to ramp up the cellular radio power very high.

  16. Hello,
    I’ve just bought an unlocked mobile hotspot on eBay to take on my trip to the UK. Planning on buying a local data only sim there. I was wondering if there’s a way to check if it is indeed unlocked, before I leave for my trip, and make sure that it will work with the sim I buy in the UK? (I bought a Alcatel 4G LTE Linkzone MW41)

    Thanks

    1. Hi,
      The best way to find out ahead of time whether it’s unlocked is to try using it with two different SIM cards from two different providers (eg, AT&T and T-Mobile, assuming you’re in the US). They don’t have to be data-only SIMs, but they do need to have cell data access. Beg, borrow, or steal from a friend. 🙂

      I can find very little information about that device online, particularly as regards a reliable list of the cellular frequencies it supports. As a result, I can’t tell you whether it’ll work in the UK or not, sorry!

      1. Thanks for the help!! “GSM bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900” – is this perhaps the info you needed?
        So with the assumption and hope that it works in the UK, should it work with not-data-only SIMs too? (so a normal sim with a text and call deal)

      2. Yep, that’s helpful – thanks! Based on that, you should get at least 3G coverage with any of the UK providers.

        And that’s correct about using a normal SIM. If you get a better data package with a normal SIM than a data-only one (which sounds silly, but often happens anyway), you’ll be able to use it in your hotspot.

  17. So the mobile hotspot came in the mail and I tested it with an AT&T sim and it worked fine! (supposed to be a T-mobile product) So I guess it’s unlocked. Now, assuming pre-paid is the type of sim I need to get, how do I keep track of how much data I’m using and make sure I don’t go over? like if I buy 2GB worth of data for example, and use it in the mifi and not my phone, is there a way to keep track? Or will it just stop working once I’ve used all 2GB? I have no idea how prepaid sims work.. (I don’t even know if that’s the type I’m supposed to get 😂) I’ll be overseas for about a month, Amsterdam and Norway for 3 days each and then the rest in the UK. I’m thinking I’ll buy the cheapest one in Amsterdam for Ams+Nor and then buy another one in the UK with a UK carrier so it has better coverage all over the UK. Good idea or no?

    1. You’d usually get an SMS when approaching your data limit, but since the SIM will be in a hotspot rather than a phone, you won’t receive that text. Some providers offer an app that lets you monitor the usage, or you can often do it via their website. Failing all that, it’ll just stop working, or get extremely slow.

      Buying a cheap option for Amsterdam and Norway, then switching to a UK SIM, is a good choice, mainly because competition in the UK prepaid SIM market makes it noticeably cheaper than the Netherlands and Norway. You may also get better coverage, depending on which provider you choose to go with.

  18. Is there any option where purchasing a sim isn’t needed? I don’t want the hassle in a place I’m unfamiliar with. Travelling to Nigeria. Thank you

  19. Hey Dave….I just ran into this one online and looks like a winner….but can’t find much about it. My daughter will be in Vietnam for 5 weeks, then Capetown for 5 weeks then Buenos Aries for 5 weeks all going to school so she wants to be able to crack open her MAC and do work any time, any where without worrying about wi-fi and coverage. Does this look like it would do the job? MIOWIFI Global HotSpot https://miowifi.com/product/miowifi-buy/
    Looks like $199 to buy then she will just need to get a Sim card in each market? Thanks for your help.

    1. I’ve never heard of that device, but from reading that link, it looks like you can’t use local SIM cards in it. Instead, you need to buy service from the provider — so it’s basically a hotspot with an international SIM card inside. If you’re looking for something with maximum flexibility, I’d go for the GlocalMe U2 mentioned above (or the similar G3 model), which lets you use either the ‘international SIM’ approach, or stick a local SIM card in to save money, as you wish. The devices themselves are a bit cheaper, too.

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