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Testing Virgin Mobile's Broadband2Go


By steve - Posted on 21 February 2011

UPDATE 2/21/2011: It gets worse. I can no longer recommend Virgin Mobile for anyone but those that have no other options. The monthly price went up $10 from $40 to $50 per month and the cap went down from 5GB to 2.5GB before you get throttled. If you have the current plan, you're OK for now, but if anything happens (like your credit card expires) and your plan doesn't stay 100% active, you'll lose the $40 plan and be forced into the more expensive, more limited $50 plan. STAY AWAY FROM VIRGIN MOBILE!

UPDATE 1/17/2011: While my information in this review remains accurate and true for most aspects for Virgin Mobile's BB2G product, they just announced that they are discontinuing the unlimited plan and it is now an "unlimited to 5GB, then you'll be throttled" plan. I can't recommend it anymore as a DSL replacement or "use it if you can't get DSL" plan, except for the lightest of users. When will these companies realize that the real world uses more than 5GB a month?

I decided to try out Virgin Mobile's Broadband2Go data service. We have good Sprint coverage around here and that is the network VM uses.

I chose the USB modem since I didn't need the mifi shared service and the device cost a lot less. I have a router at home that takes USB broadband modems, so that was nice, too.

The modem is an Ovation MC760, so it is compatible with many 3G compatible routers. The cost online was just $79 and the monthly prepaid service is advertised at $40 per month unlimited (without limits). The low cost, Sprint 3G network, and $40 per month all pointed to a pretty good deal for my use.

I ordered the modem online directly from Virgin and had it in two business days. The cost online was $79 vs. $99 from Best Buy, so I went that way.

I did have a few problems installing it...

Initial Installation Issues

The first problem I ran into is that I run as a reduced rights user, even when installing software, so it was either that or the fact I run Windows 7 64-bit that I couldn't get the modem software to install. The software comes as a simulated CD drive right on the modem. The "CD" was detected, I clicked that I wanted to run the autorun software, then I would either get an odd error, an error about "missing transforms" or errors that the drive or file didn't exist.

It seems that after a few minutes of attempting to install, the system would turn off the simulated CD and prevent the software from installing.

The workaround was to remove and insert the USB modem, open the simulated CD, copy the files from there to a folder on my system, then right click on the "LiteAuto.exe" program, then click the option to "run as administrator". After that, the install program kicked off and we were off and running.

Activation

When the device is not activated, you only get access via the 1XRTT connection. Don't worry, if you have 3G in your area, once you get your account setup, you'll be running at the higher 3G speeds.

After install, the VM BB2G app will pop up with an button to "activate" the service. When you click the button, a browser window will pop up and you can sign up for your service. If you use Chrome, it will probably timeout before you can see something. Hit refresh, if it times out. 1XRTT is not fast and the sign up site isn't as lightweight as it should be, considering this is what you have to use.

Filling out the forms and setting up your account will take a few minutes.

At then end, you'll get the "One Last Step" screen. Be sure to print this and keep it handy. You'll need the information in a minute when you program your modem and you'll need it later, when you want to update your account information for your new Virgin account.

Follow the directions on the sheet and program your modem.

After I did that, I went from 1 or 2 bars of 1XRTT to 3 bars of EVDO Rev.A, the Sprint name for 3G.

Setting Up Your Account

OK, so you're communicating, but you still have to set up your account. Click connect and VM will through you to your account and let you pick your service. I went with $40 unlimited for 1 month with auto-renew. I've heard of people not turning on auto-renew and, if they don't go to the service and pay again, they lose their account have have to reset everything with tech support.

Go with the auto option and cancel whenever you want. One of
the nice things about VM is that you can "put your service on hold" and reactivate it later, without penalty or problem, as long as you do it within 12 months. If you wait longer, you'll have to setup a new account.

You'll be billed on the same day each month, so activate the card on the day you want to be billed.

One "not nice" feature is that you'll lose any value you have on your account if you change things part way through the month. For instance, lets say you have $10 left on your account and you want to disable the account for 3 months. You'll lose that $10.

Performance

Two big reasons for trying the Virgin Mobile service was the unlimited/flat-rate service, the better price, and better performance from the Sprint network that I've been getting from Verizon. So how does it measure up?

Tests on my tower with Verizon yielded download speeds of 300 to 400/Mbs. Uploads are about 100/Mbs.

The same tests with Virgin (Sprint) yielded download speeds of 550 to 850/Mbs and uploads of 250/Mbs.

So far, so good. The overall experience is slightly better than a cafe or library connection around here.

However, once I get the connection set up to test for sharing, I expect to see slightly slower performance.

First Impressions

Overall, I think the ordering, setup, and use of the Virgin USB modem and connection was pretty painless. I had a little trouble with the install, but came up with an easy/quick workaround.

I like the service, so far. I'll update this in a few weeks as time is usually a good test and better than first impressions.

If you are looking to replace your existing wide area wireless connection or dumping dial-up or satellite, you should definitely consider Virgin Mobile and the $40/month all-you-can-eat plan (if you have decent Sprint signal). It's a bargain compared to the other wireless ISPs.

Issues

Here are the issues I've run into:

  • PPTP VPN doesn't work.
  • Virgin has changed the plan rules 2 times in 2 months and, if I want to make a change or touch anything on my plan, I get threatened with my $40 "unlimited" plan getting pulled.
  • The network occasionally flakes out and stops working for awhile. (This is not uncommon with WWAN products from other cell companies.)

Stay away from Virgin for broadband access. They've changed their plans 5 times in 12 months.

I bought this as a replacement for my cell phone *and* to replace my Verizon on-board card (had a need to run multiple PCs at once). I have a dell streak using wifi with the Virgin mobile mifi on the $40 a month unlimited plan. Its barely worked for SIP/VoIP and all of a sudden today I can't seem to check email or use SSH. This is unacceptable. I've also noticed alot of problems w/ the mifi right before the renewal date. I'm considering selling the mifi on ebay, along w/ the $40 a month plan as it is no longer available.

I don't get why companies insist on providing degraded services because they can't anticipate demand. what a crock of sh*t. I looked into sprint, but their device apparently has some major heat problems; waiting for the sprint mifi to come out and then I'll switch over. Screw Virgin mobile...they took a good thing and messed it up; they deserve what they get. Stupid English Rednecks.

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