I recently purchased a Novatel MiFi 2200 on Virgin Mobile (USA) as an emergency fallback networking device for Tech Field Day, and it saved our bacon on-site at Symantec.
It literally saved our bacon. See, being a security company, Symantec had a strictly-controlled network that did not allow live streaming to Ustream. Since the CradlePoint PHS300 was in use by the delegates, we were forced to send the live video stream over 3G. If the MiFi wasn’t available, no one would have heard the delegate requests for bacon at future sessions!
But the MiFi only lasted a few hours before the battery ran low. This is when I discovered the obnoxious design flaw: The MiFi 2200 requires a special charging cable. The bundled charger works, but normal folks (like me) might assume that any Micro-USB cable will work. They would be wrong.
A quick Internet search reveals that I’m not alone in my frustration here. My friends over at the EVDOForums have documented that the MiFi puts 1.4 volts on “pin X” of the USB cable, just like certain Motorola devices. Although any old Micro-USB cable will fit (including the one from my Jawbone Icon) it will not charge the battery.
Unlike the iPhone and iPad, which sense charger amperage using resistance across the data pins, the MiFi and Motorola require a voltage on a normally-grounded pin. This seems a less-elegant design, implemented with a simple resistor between pin-X and ground.
The solutions are simple but annoying:
- Don’t run the battery down – This is an option for casual users, but I’m not one of those.
- Install the drivers and charge from a laptop – This is probably the simplest solution, since the MiFi will supposedly charge from any cable on a PC when the drivers are installed. But it didn’t work with my MacBook Pro, takes much longer to charge anyway, and requires a powered-on laptop.
- Pack the official/original charging brick/cable – This dramatically increases the travel bulk of the MiFi, which is a common complaint with ultra-portable devices.
- Get an appropriate cable – I haven’t tried this exact cable, but a proper Motorola Micro-USB charger cable should work.
The MiFi also requires a fairly powerful USB charger: Reports say it draws 800 mA when charging, so many old 500 mA chargers (and PC USB ports) won’t cut it even with the proper cable.
What Doesn’t Work
I’ve tried a wide variety of USB power sources and cables and was not able to get the following to work:
- A plain-jane USB to Micro-USB cable I had lying around
- The cute and short USB to Micro-USB cable that came with my Jawbone Icon
- The tiny Mini-USB to Micro-USB adapter that came with my Motorola H800 bluetooth headset
- A BlackBerry-brand USB to Micro-USB cable I didn’t know I had
- The “power-splitter” Mini-USB cable that came with a Seagate portable hard drive
- The original 1 A iPhone USB brick
- The tiny 1 A iPhone 4 USB brick
- The 2.1 A (10 W) iPad USB brick
- A Staples-brand mini surge protector with USB power ports
- The USB ports on my MacBook Pro (even after installing the drivers)
In summary, both the cable and the charger need to be right. You can’t just plug in a 1 A Micro-USB cable and have it work. It has to have the special “Pin X” magic.
It was nice to hear vendors talk about making Micro-USB a standard for portable devices, but it would have been nicer if they actually standardized the pinouts and sensing scheme as well. An average consumer will be frustrated when they plug in a device and it won’t charge, and will likely assume that the device is defective.
Plus, now I have to carry along the MiFi power brick. I hate that.
I’ve heard of people having the same issue as you are experiencing. i use the micro-USB from my Droid device. It charges but takes a long time AND needs to be charged often. Which based on your post makes me wonder if it’s ever fully charged.
Thomas (aka @Niketown588)
Jason Spencer says
I think that you may be onto something here. Though I’m not a heavy user, I just started having this issue. The bigger problem for me is that I have a cable for a WD Passport that seemed to be working. It certainly will keep power to the device and lets me use it as a CDMA device on the MacBook Pro, but I think my issue as of late is that it won’t charge – it would in the past when no running on battery.
I realize now that I’ve not been plugged in the last few times, so it’s running on empty and not pushing the charge voltage. My other issue is that I tried connecting the OEM brick, but it seems to not be charging at all now.
Any thoughts on how to get it to start charging at all again?
Race Ath says
My Virgin Mifi will not charge either…must I purchase a new battery? Is that another solution we should add on the list?
The 6 foot charger for a Amazon Kindle works on the Verizon Novatel Mifi. I use it to tether the mifi and my laptop. Does this help you all? I know Amazon sells replacements for their Kindle cords.
Thank you for your very helpful article. I have had similar issues with not being able to charge my Sprint Novatel 4082 4G/3G Mifi with a USB cable. Your insight that Motorola micro USB cables might be compatible worked for me. I purchased the generic i-GO USB Charging Cable with the Motorola/Nokia micro-USB tip (tip labelled as: A97, Rev D). This has solved the issue and I can now charge my Mifi through the USB port via my late 2010 Macbook Air as well as my Sanho Hyperjuice battery sold through the Hypermac store. I charged the Mifi from the tip after draining the batter first to make sure it was actually charging as I have had false charging indicators with other cables. Finally don’t have to carry the Mifi Power bric! Thank you again.
Guy Montag says
Just found this out with mine after leaving the brick at home for the first time. In case anyone else out there still has one, it will charge from my laptop (but you can’t use it at the same time) and from the “smart” USB on an Anker backup battery.
Phew! I had thrown away the original cable and charger so was horrified that I may never be able to charge this thing again…thankfully I have an iQ Anker charge pack and can confirm this works for charging the device with a normal micro USB cable. Annoying, but better than carrying a proprietary cable.
Ronnie Matthews says
This sounds like something apple would do.