Gadling gear review – Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service is one of the only true pay as you go mobile broadband products on the market. The service is as simple as it gets – you buy the adapter at your local Best Buy for $149.99, then you add money using your debit/credit card, or a prepaid Virgin top-up card (available at thousands of retailers) whenever you need to get online.

The adapter

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go adapter is made by Novatel Wireless. It is the same top of the line adapter sold by many other mobile operators. The adapter itself is quite small, and comes with the installation software stored in flash memory (for Windows and Mac). The adapter also features a built in MicroSD card reader, which means you can pop a card in and use your mobile broadband adapter to store important files.

Installing the adapter is simple – you plug it into a spare USB port, let the autorun installer do its work, and at the end, it’ll open a registration page. Once you provide some basic personal information, you go through a quick programming procedure, and the modem is ready to use.

The Virgin Mobile broadband service

The service itself is great – Virgin Mobile uses Sprint as their network provider. The Sprint broadband network is everything it should be – reliable coverage and good speeds. I did 10 different speed tests all around my area, and the average speed was always well over 1 mbps, which is on par with many residential DSL speeds.

When you plug the adapter into your machine (after installing), it activates the connection manager. Simply click connect, and you are online. I tested the connection extensively, and actually found it to be extremely smooth. On several occasions, I had switched from my home broadband to the Virgin Mobile service without even noticing any drop in speed.

The cost

This is sadly where we reach the one downside to the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service – the price. There is no way to beat around the bush – the Broadband2Go service is not cheap. To use the service, you pick from one of four different plans:

$10 – Expires in 10 days – 100MB data allowance
$20 – Expires in 30 days – 250MB data allowance
$40 – Expires in 30 days – 600MB data allowance
$60 – Expires in 30 days – 1GB data allowance

As you can see, access does not come cheap. That said – if you have ever spent $20 to access the WiFi in a hotel, you’ll find a $60 investment for one month of speedy access to be quite reasonable. For comparison – a postpaid mobile broadband account from one of the major operators costs the same as the 1GB plan on Virgin Mobile, but those plans usually come with a 5GB limit. In other words, for the luxury of no contract and no monthly fees, you lose 4GB each month.

There is however one major advantage to the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service – there is absolutely no commitment involved. You can add credit to your account when you need it, and if you don’t select an auto-replenish option, you will never be charged a penny for not using the service. Personally, I find the expiration periods (10 days/30 days) to be too short and the data allowance on the $60 plan is just too low.

Final thoughts

The pros of the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service outweigh the cons. The adapter is good, the speeds and coverage are good, and the connection software is well made. The cost upfront for the adapter and the price for access are a pain to deal with, but since Virgin Mobile is one of the only real pay as you go options, you won’t have any other choices. Other non-commitment services on the market include:

Verizon Wireless Daypass
– $15 for 24 hours unlimited usage.
Cricket Wireless – $40/month for unlimited data but the service
Slingshot – from $24.95/month (at the moment, no retailer appears to be selling this service)
Rovair – $63/3 days (Rovair is a mobile broadband card rental service)

There are several obvious target audiences for the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service. For starters, it is a great way for foreign tourists to get online if they are staying in the United States without any other connectivity option. With mobile data roaming rates around $20/MB, picking Virgin Mobile could save them a fortune.

I’m also convinced that anyone else who is regularly on the road could benefit from the service – keeping the adapter in your bag for emergencies is a great way to access the Internet when things turn sour. There are no costs involved in keeping the service active, and you can be online in a matter of minutes for just $10, as long as you are within range of the Sprint network.

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service only works in the US, and there is no option to roam. Since the adapter works on the CDMA sysyem, it will be of no use to anyone in Europe and there is no unlocking option that can make it work elsewhere.

Keeping in mind the this is the only real prepaid service available at the moment, I’m going to give the Mobile2Go service my two thumbs up.