Virgin Mobile unveils pre-paid broadband service, wireless USB card


Dubbed Broadband2Go, the new 3G broadband service comes without a contract, and it might be the perfect fit for those who don’t need on-the-go 3G data access on a regular basis.

Set to go on sale in “late” June at Best Buy, Virgin’s Broadband2Go service uses a 3G USB dongle (the MC760, if you really want to know) from Novatel Wireless. The two-inch, one-ounce dongle is about the size of a standard USB thumbdrive, complete with a Virgin Mobile logo stamped on the side; you can also get an optional external antenna for areas with a weak signal.

The MC760 (which runs on Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network) doesn’t come cheap compared to the 3G cards on other big carriers—$149.99, to be exact—but you can snap it up without signing a two-year contract.

The data plans aren’t especially cheap, either: we’re talking 1GB for $60, 600MB for $40, or 250MB for $20 (all good for 30 days, after which the access expires), or 100MB for $10 (good for 10 days).

Yes, that’s pricey considering that 5GB on Verizon Wireless or Sprint costs $60 a month; however, the beauty of Virgin Mobile’s pre-paid broadband offerings is that you only pay for them when you need them.

For example, I pay $60 for a month of broadband on Sprint with a 5GB cap, but I really only use my 3G card a few times (maybe) a month. Ideally, I’d only pay during those times when I use the card heavily—such as during trade shows (like CES in January and CTIA in April).

So … two months of service with a cap of 1GB/month comes out to $160 a year on Virgin Mobile’s plan (and by the way, a gig a month is just fine if you’re just Web browsing, checking e-mail, and downloading the occassional song or image, although it’ll run out fast if you’re streaming video or downloading HD movies). Instead, I’m Sprint about $720 a year (gulp) for wireless broadband that I’m only using sporadically, at best. (Come to think of it …)

Of course, road warriors who need regular 3G wireless access on the go are probably better off sticking with a traditional, post-paid broadband plan with 5GB of bandwidth, but for those of us who don’t need broadband cards all the time, Virgin Mobile’s new Broadband2Go service might be just the ticket.


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