After soft-launching 3G services, Vodafone has a new device, the Vodafone R201 MiFi, that acts as a portable WiFi hotspot and lets customers share a 3G mobile connection. It supports 5 simultaneous connections and offers speeds of upto 7.2 Mbps (theoretically) over HSDPA. Vodafone says that the device has a battery life of upto 4 hours when running on battery. It can also be powered by mains supply or USB, and is priced at Rs. 5500.

Vodafone has still not launched 3G formally and have not announced 3G data tariffs on its website. However, seeing the trend, it will probably be priced significantly higher than 2G data and there will be data caps. Also, we don’t know if the device is locked to work only with Vodafone SIM cards. We would recommend buying a device from an independent manufacturer which allows swapping SIMs.

Tata Photon and Reliance Netconnect already offer the same kind of Wifi routers on their high speed EVDO networks. A lot of mobile phones including Android phones running the Froyo and above iteration of the OS, the iPhone 4 and Samsung Wave come with built-in WiFi sharing. In addition, third party software like JoikuSpot can be used to enable Wifi sharing on Symbian and other devices.

Cybercafe Rules?

(Nikhil adds) The question you have to ask here is whether India’s badly drafted Cybercafe rules – still in draft, hence not enforced yet – would be applicable here. According to the IT Act, “Cyber Cafe means any facility from where access to the Internet is offered by any person on the ordinary course of business to the members of the public”. We’re not sure if these guidelines would be applicable to a WiFi device like this, but ISPs like MTNL have, in the past, asked users to disclose if they’re running a WiFi network. A device like this, and indeed Android phones, allow users to set up public WiFi networks.