Review: Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 and $40 unlimited 3G Broadband2Go plan

virgin mobile mifi 2200 review

This morning, Virgin Mobile flipped the switch on their new $10 and $40 Broadband2Go plans. We mentioned them earlier this week, but as a quick reminder – for $10, you get 100MB of data, or unlimited data for just $40. These new stand-alone plans make Virgin Mobile the cheapest nationwide 3G operator. Best of all, these new plans are contract free, do not require activation fees or a credit check.

The Broadand2Go service is available on the Novatel MiFi 2200 WiFi 3G hotspot or Ovation MC760 USB modem. The USB modem is like every other on the market – you plug it into an open USB slot, install the software, and get online.

The MiFi 2200 is what deserves some attention. Even though this device is not brand new (we reviewed the Verizon Wireless version last year), the Virgin Mobile MiFi is the only prepaid version available in retail stores.
virgin mobile mifi 2200 review

Using the MiFi 2200 involves a one-time activation. The process guides you through a couple of steps, including a few fields for personal information, and picking a Virgin Mobile account password. You then pick a payment method, and activate the modem. The Virgin Mobile network uses Sprint – who actually own Virgin Mobile. The advantage of this is that you’ll have access to a reliable nationwide 3G network.

Connecting to the modem is simple – it broadcasts a WiFi network name called “VirginMobile MiFi 2200” making it easy to locate. Its password is printed on the bottom on a label, but you are free to change that using its configuration pages.

Up to five devices can connect to the MiFi at the same time, which makes it ideal for conference rooms, or sharing a single connection in a hotel room.

virgin mobile mifi 2200 review

I performed several speed tests with the MiFi, and usually saw no more than 700 Kb/s – which is on the low end of what I’d like to see on a 3G connection. As a reminder, the Verizon Wireless version we tested last year easily hit 2.5Mb/s, or over three times faster than on Virgin Mobile.

Of course, all kinds of factors can impact 3G speeds, and Virgin advertises the speeds as “between 600Kb/s and 1400Kb/s” putting my speed tests within their promise. One plus for them is that there does not appear to be any kind of limit on the amount of data you can transfer, nor do they limit your speeds once you exceed a limit. To them, unlimited really does appear to mean unlimited.

Update: I’ve been performing more speed tests since this review went live, and have experienced speeds up to 1300Kb/s several times. As always with broadband – your mileage (and speed) may vary.

Still, the speeds are quite usable for web and email, but they may be a little on the slow side for data intensive apps like video streaming. Bottom line is simple – you are saving $240 when compared to most other mobile broadband solutions.

virgin mobile mifi 2200 review

At $149.99, the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 is a decent deal (Walmart has it on sale this week for $119.99.) At this price, it becomes a handy tool to carry if you regularly run into $20 WiFi at a hotel and need to get online. The $10 plan offers 100MB for 10 days, which should be enough for a couple of web and email sessions.

The MiFi 2200 charges off MicroUSB, and an AC charger and USB cord are included, as is a protective pouch. If you’d rather not use WiFi to connect to the unit, you can plug it into your laptop and install it as a regular USB broadband modem.

Update: For some reason, Virgin chose to disable the wired USB option on their MiFi.

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go MiFi 2200 is available at Virginmobileusa.com and in select retail stores.

Virgin Mobile surprises mobile broadband world with $40 unlimited 3G data plan

In the U.S., the mobile broadband market is relatively boring – very few operators offer prepaid service, almost all of them stick to the same pricing method, and in most cases, there is no such thing as a bargain. Sure, there may be a few exceptions, but when compared to say Europe, the mobile broadband market over here is really dull.

Last year, Virgin Mobile entered the market with the first widely available prepaid broadband solution – but did so with fairly mediocre prices. Earlier this year, they upped their top tier data allowance from 1GB to 5GB, but the price was still the same as all the other big players. Starting soon, their plans are set to change again – but this time, the move is actually quite revolutionary.

For $40, you’ll be able to activate your Virgin Mobile adapter and get 30 days of unlimited data. Low usage customers will get 100MB for just ten bucks. At the moment, your choice of mobile adapter is for their $79.99 USB modem or the $149.99 WiFi hotspot enabling MiFi. And just like with the current offering, their plans are contract free, no credit check required and no recurring charges.

This obviously makes Virgin Mobile the perfect solution for tourists visiting the U.S. or domestic travelers who need a short-term data solution. For $150, plus $40/month, you get yourself a mobile 3G broadband solution that will allow up to five devices to work at the same time, all on a network with excellent coverage and speeds (Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint.)

In keeping with their smart marketing, Virgin Mobile announced the new plans on Facebook of all places. Their Broadband2Go adapters are available from Virginmobileusa.com or Bestbuy retail stores.

Virgin Mobile relaxes limits on prepaid broadband offering

More Virgin news this afternoon, but this time it is from another of the Virgin brands – Virgin Mobile. Last year, we reviewed the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go adapter, and as a quick reminder – this prepaid no-contract 3G service allows you to get online anywhere you are within the Sprint coverage area. Unlike most other products, the Broadband2Go service does not use contracts, and you are free to use the service whenever you want, by using a Virgin “TopUp card”.

Back when we reviewed the service, the most expensive plan cost $59.99, and came with a paltry 1GB of data transfers within 30 days. Virgin just loosened that limit, and now offers 5GB for the same price. This puts the Broadband2Go service on the same price point as “postpaid” or contract 3G services, making it a very interesting deal.

The adapter also dropped $50 – and now costs just $99.99. The adapter is available at your local Best Buy or directly from Virgin Mobile (with free shipping and no activation fees).

The US has long been lacking in the prepaid data marketplace, so it is refreshing to see a company finally introduce a decent prepaid data product. As we mentioned in the review, the speeds are great, coverage is fantastic, and the adapter itself performs very well.

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.