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My top tip for data roaming in the States: The $99 Best Buy Connect MiFi unit

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I’m having a wicked time now that I’ve got myself a Best Buy Connect MiFi unit. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you’ll have seen the videos I’ve been publishing about how much I’m enjoying being free from the stupid mobile data roaming rates that my operators are trying to foist on me.

In New York, I didn’t have that much fun unless I was near a fixed WiFi hotspot. I refused to give in. I refused to reward my British operators with money for roaming. Indeed you can watch me going slowly nuts in this video discussing this very issue.

So when I got off the plane in San Francisco airport last night I did a double-take as I walked by one of those funky Best Buy vending machines. They’re a brilliant, brilliant addition to the world. They contain all manner of headphones, headsets, USB memory sticks, iPods, iPod Touches and so on. They usually also have a variety of phones, accessories and so on.

I spotted a MiFI unit though. That’s what turned my head.

It was $99.

I checked the label next to the MiFi that said “powered by Best Buy Connect” — that’s the name of the Best Buy MVNO. The sticker pointed out that service was provided by Sprint. Good. I do find Sprint highly reliable especially from a data standpoint.

I looked at the offer: Buy the MiFi unit for $99 and you’ll also get 3GB of prepaid data to use across 30-days. Plus the ability to prepay for more data if you need it.

I did some quick sums in my head and then got out my credit card.

Here’s the first video I made giving the overview:

Here’s another video demonstrating how I’ve been using the MiFi unit:

In terms of data costs, here’s the chart:

Screen Shot 2011 10 17 at 02 55 52

$50 gets you 3GB of data to use across 30-days — that will probably be the option for me.

The next time I’m back in the States (probably November) I can imagine topping up the MiFi unit when I arrive.

I’m seriously pleased with the experience. The purchase was ultra easy. I had the box in my hands about 10 seconds after deciding to buy — and I opted to have a receipt emailed to me.

Then when I got to the hotel room, I unboxed it, charged it up and went through the registration options in about 3 minutes and — boom — the connection was activated.

I didn’t have to speak to anyone, call anyone, panic about anything, it just worked. Brilliant.

And today I’ve been walking about San Francisco with my own personal hotspot. It’s just making my life that bit better because it’s nice to be able to check email, do map lookups, do search queries and so on when you’re out-and-about.

To know that I’m not being absolutely nailed for data is such a pleasure. I’ve had the device live for 10 hours and I’ve used 300mb already. Admittedly that’s been more than normal as I’ve uploaded three Socialcam videos with it too. But it’s working away brilliantly.

So there you have it — a top tip for US data roaming!

Note: I’ll need to check but historically, whenever I’ve been into a Verizon or a Sprint store, they’ve either *never* had MiFi units available or they’ve been strictly for 2-3 year contract customers only. They haven’t stocked prepaid units whenever I’ve been in. So I do recommend buying through an MVNO like Best Buy Connect. I’m no doubt paying a bit of a premium but I don’t mind ($50 for 3GB is quite a lot — but it’s nothing compared to what I’d be paying my UK operators).

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