The 7730L has been an admirable performer, but this nearly two-year-old design has been unable to take advantage of the latest LTE technology advancements. We had begun to wonder if perhaps Verizon was waiting until the 5G era to release a new truly next-generation hotspot.
But to my surprise (though Cherie predicted it and won our bet) - a successor to the 7730L has popped up on Verizon's website this week - the new MiFi 8800L.
And though it looks nearly identical to its older sibling, under the hood there is a major step up in raw cellular capability.
It may not be 5G - but for the next year ahead, this might be the new performance king for those seeking hotspot data on Verizon's network.
Now if only Verizon actually made it easy to acquire data plans worthy of this device's performance potential...
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The MiFi 8800L: What's New?
On paper, the x20 modem is capable of beyond gigabit LTE speeds, with a peak theoretical download capability of 1,200 Mbps, and a peak (Category 13) upload capability of 150 Mbps. This blows the 7730L's peak theoretical Category 9 speeds of 450 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up out of the water.
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The x20 achieves this by enabling up to 5 download LTE bands and 2 upload LTE bands to be combined - including using LTE-LAA technology to allow cellular towers to take advantage of unlicensed 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum that is not being used. LTE-LAA was NOT supported in the 7730L - which could only combine 3x LTE bands.
But of course - all this raw capability only matters in places where Verizon's cellular towers have been fully upgraded. In many areas, the 8800L will likely not have much opportunity to shine, but over time as Verizon's network evolves the 8800L should provide a nice cushion of technological future-proofing until the era of mobile 5G technology fully arrives.
And always remember - real-world speeds, of course, will always be much less than peak theoretical speeds.
Also new in the MiFi 8800L is support for what Verizon is calling "Auto VPN" - an advanced feature that allows you to configure the 8800L so that ALL traffic is routed through any OpenVPN-compatible VPN service that you subscribe to. Using this feature will automatically shield every device on your network from Verizon's surveillance - and we are frankly surprised to see Verizon offer this. This is the first time we have seen this sort of integrated VPN capability provided on a mainstream mobile hotspot.
There is One (Minor) Downgrade...
One other difference of note compared to the MiFi 7730L is that the MiFi 8800L drops support for CDMA cellular technology - which means that it is NOT compatible with Verizon's legacy 3G network. This would have been a major red flag a few years ago, but it is growing extremely rare to find areas where Verizon has 3G and no LTE coverage. But if you do know that you will be spending time in any of these places - do keep this in mind before upgrading.
What's the Same?
Other than these key new features - the MiFi 8800L carries forward most of the capabilities of the 7730L.
It supports up to 15 connected devices, simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, a guest network, local file sharing, a 24 hour claimed battery life, and it can even double as a USB battery pack for other devices.
We are particularly pleased to note the presence of two 'test ports' - seemingly identical to the 7730L. These are not officially sanctioned antenna ports, but like the 7730L, it is very likely that these ports should support using a 2x2 external MIMO antenna to boost the internal capabilities of the MiFi 8800L in weaker signal areas.
Open Question - Answered: The Qualcomm x20 modem thrives when it is paired with four antennas, allowing for 4x4 MIMO operation. But it also supports 2x2 MIMO. Verizon's specs are not clear on whether the 8800L has 2x or 4x internal antennas. If it only has two antennas to work with, the 8800L's theoretical peak performance will be cut nearly in half, and the advantage over the 2x2 MIMO 7730L will be significantly diminished.
We have reached out to Verizon and to the device manufacture Inseego (formerly Novatel) to try and confirm this key technical spec.
UPDATE: The official press release announcing the MiFi 8800L went live the day after we first ran this story - confirming that 4x4 MIMO and full gigabit cellular are supported:
"Two, three and four channel carrier aggregation, Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technologies and 4x4 MIMO combine to create a wider pipe that enables gigabit speeds topped off by superior connection reliability in high-usage traffic areas – all in a compact and lightweight package."
Getting an 8800L
New mobile hotspots tend to only be available direct from the carrier for the first few months before they eventually become available to third-party resellers or on the used market.
Currently, the only way to get a MiFi 8800L is directly from Verizon for $199, or $99.99 with a two-year contract.
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Here are the plan options on Verizon's current postpaid plans:
- Verizon shared tiered data plans: you can purchase and add the 8800L to this shared data for $10/month.
- New Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited or Above Unlimited plans can add the hotspot for $20/month (with 15GB of high-speed data and then throttled to 600 kbps).
- You can get a data only "unlimited" plan for $80/month that includes 15GB of high speed usage a month (and then throttled to 600 kbps).
- Or you can purchase a data only non-throttled plan for a hotspot device, starting at $15/month for 1GB of data up to $730/month for 100GB.
Getting a Verizon 8800L without activating a new line of service, or having a current hotspot line to upgrade, could be a challenge for a while.
Member Exclusives Below:
Topics covered as member exclusives:
- Getting the 8800L for a Legacy Unlimited Data Plan (gUDP)
- Verizon Hotspot Comparison Grid to 7730L, 6620L, MHS900L, MHS291L
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Summary: Should You Plan to Upgrade?
We can't say for sure until we have a chance to test it hands-on, but on paper, the 8800L looks like a major improvement.
We will be getting one in ASAP for head-to-head testing against the 7730L and other past flagship hotspot devices.
Assuming it performs as expected and we do not find any glaring issues, we expect that the MiFi 8800L will become our new 'Top Pick' mobile hotspot on Verizon.
The 7730L is still a good hotspot so, for now, at least, so there is no need to rush an upgrade.
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