Palm Mobile Hotspot Revisited

I’ve been testing the upgraded Verizon (s vz) Pre Plus and Pixi Plus for about a week now, and feel that Palm (s palm) did a good job with them, even if they were evolutionary refreshes, not revolutionary ones. The new feature I was especially anxious to test was the Mobile Hotspot capability, which allows up to five devices to use a phone’s 3G connection over Wi-Fi. Mobile Hotspot turns the phones into a MiFi in function, and the Verizon monthly fee for the service is $40 as opposed to $60 for the MiFi. The initial testing I conducted of the Mobile Hotspot connection speed was disappointing, but I was able to test the feature on my recent trip to San Francisco and am happy to report it worked well.

I consistently saw good bandwidth in San Francisco using the Mobile Hotspot with my MacBook (s aapl) over Wi-Fi. I had connections with download speeds over 2 Mbps, and good upload speeds as well. This is more in line with the speeds I see with the MiFi, and is the way the technology should work. While I am happy to report that the Mobile Hotspot works as advertised, it is not clear why my initial testing compared so unfavorably with the MiFi speeds.

My analysis of the poor initial results and the good speeds observed on my trip pointed out two factors that differed in the two testing regimes. The initial testing I conducted was using an evaluation ThinkPad x200 to connect to the Palm phones using the Mobile Hotspot, at various locations in Houston. That testing showed consistently poor connection speeds when compared to the MiFi results in the same locations. While location is always a big factor in 3G connection speeds, since the MiFi always produced much faster speeds at the same locations, the conclusion I reached was the Mobile Hotspot as implemented on the Palm phones was not performing well.

Seeing markedly faster results in San Francisco, I wondered if the Verizon network was much faster there than in Houston. But, even if that is the case, it still wouldn’t explain why the MiFi works properly in both cities. That led me to think about the equipment being used for the testing in both cities, which varied. In SF I was using the MacBook with the Palm phones since that’s the computer that I carried on the trip. So this morning I repeated my testing in Houston using the MacBook instead of the ThinkPad, and much to my surprise I got consistently fast connection speeds just like in San Francisco.

That left me with the conclusion that the Mobile Hotspot connection was not working well with the ThinkPad x200, and further testing has confirmed it. The x200 is running Microsoft Windows 7 (s msft), and all of the WLAN settings are standard. There is no reason I can fathom why the ThinkPad is choking the Mobile Hotspot connections, but that is exactly what is occurring. I would love to hear from experts in Wi-Fi connections how this could possibly happen? All of my other Wi-Fi connections work properly on the x200, it’s just the Mobile Hotspot connections throttle down to a crawl. The x200 sees the Mobile Hotspot as a standard Wi-Fi hotspot, it doesn’t even realize 3G is in the picture so that shouldn’t be a factor. Leave a comment if you have an idea what is happening and how I can fix it.

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

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